Does Your Inner Critic Hold You Back? Try Doing These 4 Things…

I have to be honest – these past few weeks have been a struggle.

A little while ago, I stopped working with clients one-on-one to create the space to, well, create. I’m not a natural born entrepreneur (if those unicorns even exist) and what I’ve been finding most challenging is managing my time, my projects and my work flow.

There are endless distractions every single day, from a random snow day to a call from the school nurse to pick up a sick child, to half days and school conferences. And that doesn’t even factor-in trying to get enough sleep (hello peri-menopause), exercise regularly or stay on top of running a busy household.

They say that if you want to get something done, ask a busy person and I guess that’s partly true. When I was working with clients, I’d be on calls all day then squeeze in the other aspects of running my business, plus all the mom stuff and home life after hours too.

But now, that I’ve created the space and time I thought I needed, why am I no closer to reaching my goals?

  • Why does it feel like no matter what I do, I just can’t break this creative deadlock?
  • Why do I feel so un-relentingly trapped and paralyzed by my own thoughts?
  • Why does it feel like the more I struggle, the tighter the tangled-web becomes?
  • And why, despite all my tools and knowledge can’t I just get out of my own way, sit my butt down and write?!

I’ve pondered this a lot.

In doing so…


I’ve become painfully aware of the very loud and intrusive critical inner-voice that loves to wake me at 3am…

To go over every possible fear and catastrophic outcome, and then interrupt any daytime flow I do create with a debilitating barrage of insults and limiting beliefs.

These insults, negative thoughts and limiting beliefs are far-ranging, though repetitive, and include some of the following:

  • “You suck”
  • “You’ll never succeed”
  • “Who the hell do you think you are?”
  • “You don’t know what you’re doing”
  • “You don’t have the skills you need”
  • “You’re too old”
  • “It’s too late”
  • “No one cares or wants to hear what you have to say anyway”
  • “Why even bother…”

and so on. Perhaps you have a similar critical inner-voice running rough-shod through your head too…

What’s become clear to me though, is that it really isn’t about the distractions or obstacles we face in our daily lives at all.

It’s not the amount (or lack) of hours in a day, my ability to “be productive”, get stuff done or figure things out. I’m an intelligent woman and I do believe when the chips are down I can solve any problem.



It’s actually the much deeper, unconscious, trauma-related issues and patterns…

The critical voice, the limiting beliefs, the need to protect myself by staying small, that have been fueling my paralysis and keeping me stuck these past weeks.

Not only do I really need to explore this today, but I have a feeling that you may be experiencing this kind of thing in some areas of your own life too! ❤️

Perhaps for you, the challenge is around de-cluttering your home or finishing your college thesis. Maybe you find yourself staring at a stack of un-opened bills every night, too scared to face your mounting debt-crisis. Maybe you struggle to stay on track with eating healthily or exercising. Or maybe your struggle is around broaching some tough conversations in your intimate relationship.

Whatever it is for you, I know you can relate to some part of this, and I also know that if you’re reading this, you’re giving yourself the gift of understanding. And that’s fantastic – because it’s only when we become consciously aware of the patterns we’ve been running that we can begin to change them and move forwards in our life.


When you’re playing a never-ending game of whack-a-mole with your limiting beliefs… 

In a nutshell, limiting beliefs are repetitive, typically negative, thoughts that do not serve us. They disempower us, make us feel bad about ourselves, and can cause us to spiral downwards into futility and depression and if left un-checked, can keep us feeling stuck indefinitely.

In my case, instead of spending my days abuzz with creativity, I’ve found myself staring at blank pages, wondering where to begin and questioning if I should even bother because chances are “it’ll be garbage anyway”….

Can you spot the downward spiral?! 🤯 🤦🏻‍♀️


Limiting beliefs typically feel like facts…

The challenge is that although it’s easy to recognize these patterns in other people, the critical inner voice that speaks these limiting beliefs to us can be stealth-like and very sneaky. It often sounds like the sensible voice of reason, just stating facts.

Take a second to think about a challenge in your life right now and see if you can spot any of the limiting beliefs your inner critic might be whispering to you? You can use my list above if it’s useful… ☺️

To help you understand this further, let’s take a look at 2 Limiting Beliefs that have been pivotal in my recent struggle to move forwards:


1 – Fears Around Financial Success and Abundance.

Way back when I was 22 and starting out in movies as a freelance Script Supervisor, my salary (for 6 months a year working and 6 months traveling) was equivalent to $80,000 US. I remember proudly sharing this with my dad when I got my first paycheck. He was a middle manager at the time and had worked his whole life in a career he did not enjoy. His salary after many years climbing the ladder was less than my 22 year old starting rate. He was NOT in the least bit happy with me and said:

“You can’t earn more than me”.

Now, while I consciously understand that this was coming from a place of anger and frustration regarding his own career-dissatisfaction, what I took away from the conversation was a limiting belief that said:


“I’d better not earn more than my dad. He won’t be happy about my success. In fact he’ll be angry and resentful towards me”.


Although many years have passed since then and I’ve come a long way in my abundance journey, there’s still a little part of me that fears being too successful. Too abundant. Too anything.

There’s an underlying fear that my success will lead to someone else’s displeasure. And a belief that tells me success comes at a cost. That cost is abandonment and loss of love.

As you can imagine – this is one quick way to ensure you’ll avoid or sabotage anything that might lead to financial abundance or success – in my case – sitting down to write and create.


2) Threat of Punishment and Repercussions if You’re Too Happy,  Too Visible, Too YOU:

Growing up in an abusive home environment, there was an energy of constant comparison and belittlement. As a family, we were dis-connected; divide and conquer was the rule. You were docile and controllable if you were sad. Being sad or depressed meant they’d leave you alone. Isolation equalled respite from harm and a moment of relative safety.

There was no one supporting or cheering me on. No words of affirmation, no “you can do it, I believe in you”…

Anger was not allowed. Happy was squashed. Being too “YOU” was rejected, ridiculed and punished. Being good at something or too visible at anything was extremely dangerous and you could be certain there would be consequences.

These were the unspoken rules growing up in my family.


Overcoming our childhood limiting beliefs…

I have worked tirelessly to overcome these old belief patterns. Mostly with a great deal of success. ☺️

However, my growth, both personally and professionally brought things to a head recently, culminating in my receiving threats from family members trying to silence me.

I have not spoken about this publicly before, but the impact on me has been profound. And, while I work hard to keep on moving forwards, the threats and fears of repercussions mean that I still struggle to feel safe speaking up (even in written form), and to move forwards towards my goals and dreams.


This explains the push-pull paralysis…

Yes, a part of me wants to write, create programs and be visible in the world as a way to help other survivors.

But – there is another part of me desperately pulling in the opposite direction. This desperate part is my critical inner voice. She’s absolutely terrified of the annihilation she believes my being visible will cause. She does not care about my hopes and dreams or happiness. She cares only about my survival.

I share this very personal push-pull struggle today because I know that you may have experienced something similar in your own life and it may help you to know that you are not alone. You are not “unproductive”, “lazy” or “not good enough”. You are simply running some really challenging and conflicting survival-patterns that have been keeping you safe, but also stuck.


Take a moment to reflect on the patterns you’ve been running in your own life…

What is it that’s keeping you stuck and why?

If there’s only one thing I want you to take away today it’s this:


Our critical inner voice and our old limiting beliefs and patterns are NOT out to get us. They are trying to protect us and keep us safe from harm.


These habituated old patterns and old wiring still believe that moving forwards in life (in whatever way that means for you) is dangerous. Staying small, being invisible, being in debt or overweight can feel safer than moving forward into the unknown.

But here’s the thing – the tug of war we feel, this internal struggle to move beyond this old wiring and these old beliefs is really tough to break. But break it we must if we’re ever going to live the life we want and deserve.


So HOW can we overcome these limiting beliefs?

Once we recognize the phrases our critical inner-voice tends to use, and we’ve uncovered some old limiting beliefs and patterns, you may think… “what now?”


Here are 4 simple things
you can do…


1) Stop Comparing Yourself to Others:                                                                      

The NUMBER ONE thing we have to do to break these old patterns is to stop comparing ourselves to others.

We can make comparisons in any area of our life. We might compare our home, our body, our finances. We might judge ourselves against someone else’s talents, progress, success, or life journey as a whole.

For me, being married to Alex, a highly motivated, successful businessman is wonderful. And – it also means that by comparison, I feel like a total novice as an entrepreneur most of the time! 🤪

Yes, this feels vulnerable to admit – because it’s not very fun to suck at things. But, what I’m learning is that being a beginner; making mistakes and “sucking” are all necessary parts of the process. And the truth is that I AM a beginner at this side of things.

As Teddy Roosevelt says:

“Comparison is the thief of Joy.”

And I do want to find joy along the way.

I am not my husband with his decades of experience in this area. And so it would be futile to compare my Chapter One with his Chapter Twenty – or anybody else’s for that matter!

And so for you, perhaps this means being willing to take that first spin class or step foot in the gym even though you don’t know how to use the equipment – yet. Or maybe it means taking the plunge and opening just one of those bills piling up on your kitchen counter…


2) Be-friend Your Inner-Critic So They Become Your Inner Cheer-leader

I know – this one might feel impossible right now. But let’s see if these little tips can help:

  • Start to get familiar with the regular phrases your inner critic likes to use. When you jot these things down, you’ll most likely start to notice that there are repetitive themes that are triggered by certain events or people at certain times. For example, when your friend Sally tells you she lost 2 pounds, you might feel happy for her on the one hand, but inside your inner critic may be screaming “see-you’ll never lose weight. You’ll always be overweight”.
  • Try thanking your inner critic for trying to keep you safe.  As we talked about earlier, our critical inner voice is NOT out to get us. It’s a scared younger part of us that’s trying anything and everything to keep us safe. When we thank this part of us, it disarms them. They  become a little less scathing, a little softer and a little more compassionate.
  • Remind this part that they don’t have to take on all the responsibility for our safety today. From a trauma perspective, this part is young and had to grow up very quickly. But, just as we wouldn’t let a 5 year old drive our car today, we don’t want this fearful inner part driving the car of our life because of painful or traumatic experiences back then…It’s time to give this part a new role. A more fun and developmentally appropriate role. This could be something like asking them to spot any tiny little good thing that you do.


3) Reduce Overwhelm by Breaking Goals Down into Bite-Sized Pieces – Focus Only On The Next Small Step:

Very often we come up with a big goal like writing a book, running a marathon or losing 20lbs. But these big goals can be very overwhelming and can set us up for failure from the get-go. We can see the finish line, but we have no idea how to get there.

Notice instead what it feels like to break your goals or projects down into tiny, bite-sized pieces.

For example, If you have a stack of un-opened and un-paid bills sitting on the counter, make a plan to open and pay just one bill per day. Chipping away at something big like this, takes the edge off and allows us to feel relief in our body and nervous system.

Or, if you plan to run a marathon, start with running 1-2 miles a couple of times a week and build up your frequency, distance and stamina slowly over time.

This will make you goal much more attainable and it will also begin to grow the muscles of completion and success.

For me, this looks like breaking my projects down into tiny manageable chunks and putting less on my calendar each day. This result is that I set myself up for success and begin to thaw the feelings of paralysis.

Instead of adding to an already huge mountain of old evidence about why I’m a failure and shouldn’t even try, I’m creating new evidence about all the ways I’m moving forwards. Small chunks mean I can easily achieve the things on my list and feel like I’m making progress at the same time. This not only breaks the old patterns but also creates new neural pathways of inner confidence, trust and success.


4) Celebrate Every Win – No Matter How Big or Small!

For a long time I wanted my first blog to be word-perfect, my first interview to be seamless, my first email to reach thousands of people. But all this did was stop me from starting! The perfectionism was paralyzing. I focused only on the end point and not my progress along the way.

I had to unlearn these patterns. And instead of searching for external proof or validation, I had to learn to be my own cheer-leader. To be ok with mistakes and typos and flops. To begin to “fail-forwards” as they say. To understand that “done is good enough”. It was painful and liberating all at the same time.

Gradually, and with a little patience I know you can learn to do the same.

Maybe you’re eating really well most of the time, but after a challenging day you snack a bit too much. Please remember that this does NOT negate all the good effort you’ve put in or undo all the progress that you’ve made. Together let’s celebrate all of our progress along the way.

That might mean stopping deliberately to notice:

  • I received my first ever affiliate check in the mail
  • I wrote the outline for my program (finally!!!) and broke the creativity dead-lock.
  • I moved my body every day last week
  • I had that tough conversation with my spouse and it went better than I imagined
  • I made a start on opening that pile of bills.

I wonder what other little or big wins you can find in your life and add to this list today?


Finding your way forward…

You see, it really does come down to which patch of grass we choose to water.

Do you want to keep watering and giving energy to those old, habituated critical thoughts? Or do you want to acknowledge how much that part of you has tried to help you but is now keeping you stuck?

When we can do this we create a way forward that honors this fearful part, without giving them the keys to the car anymore.

You are fully grown. You are your own biggest advocate and cheer-leader and I believe that with a little effort and practice, you can get yourself un-stuck and moving in the right direction again in no time.

I see you and I’m here cheering you on! 🥰

P.S. If you’re still being tough on yourself and you need an extra little boost of support – go here to tap along with me:

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13 Comments on this post

  1. Karen you are so amazing. You speak to my soul and voice my words and thoughts. I am enjoying your blog and your newsletter. It is a touch stone for me and brings me back to my inner child, the voice I forget about. You ground me and help me see who I truly am. Especially I can understand why I am feeling frustrated , sad and upset with where I am. I miss tapping with you and seeing your smile on our calls. This is now a way I can have your support again . I love to tap along with you on the video clip.

    You have already succeeded !! You are courageous and brave to take this giant step forward. Just as you encourage each of us with your new choices know that you are AMAZING 🥰

    • Awwwww, thank you for your kind words Carol.🥹 It’s lovely to hear that you’re enjoying and finding my blogs and newsletter helpful too.

      I’m so glad that you’re coming back to your inner child again and again. That’s where the repair and magic of healing happens. Little by little, you can make any shifts forward you want to make.

      And I’m here for you, even in this different format.💕

  2. Absolutely loved this post and tapping. Just shared in on my insta.
    Thank you Karen. 💖

    • Thank you Elaine, yes – give tapping another go! Even just a couple of minutes at a time will help a lot. I love to set a timer on my phone. You can do it! 🥰

  3. Every single blog posting that you share, I resonate with very deeply. Thank you for your vulnerability, always being here and showing up. It helps me a great deal.

  4. Your blogs always resonate so deeply for me, opening up my heart, with a few tears or should I say buckets shed, allowing understanding through awareness to begin healing. I so appreciate your honesty, vulnerability and thoughtful writing around an area of my life that has created so many barriers, keeping me small. However, as I move forward in the next & best chapter of my life, taking baby steps toward my goals will make anything possible, as you have shown.

    Thank you Karen <3

  5. Thank you Karen for this wonderful post. This one really resonated with me as I too have that critical inner voice and several of the items on your list are also present on mine along with a few more. I too am so tired of being stuck, but I’ve come to realize that sometimes I have to wallow a bit before experiencing another surge forward. Thank you for reminding me again to break things down into smaller steps, this truly has worked for me. I’m really bothered by thoughts that I am attracting people very similar to my childhood abusers into my life right now; yet reading your blog is making me aware that perhaps the younger inside self wants to use this to propel me forward? Thank you for all that you do, Karen, and for giving us tools to move on with our lives too!

    • Yes, Mary, that’s a great observation.

      The way I try to look at it (not always easy I know) is that it’s not that we’re “attracting” people into our lives today who are similar to our abusers.

      It’s more that on an unconscious level our nervous system is looking for a way to re-negotiate past traumas and find a different outcome. For example, if we couldn’t fight, we may find ourselves in situations that now bring up that impulse within us, this is wonderful and very healing. What was once a thwarted survival response can finally be completed and therefore, healed. I hope this makes sense.

      Much love to you Mary. ❤️

      • Karen, I’m intrigued by your observation that our nervous system is trying to re-negotiate past trauma and find a different outcome. It’s occurring to me as I process this that I’m repeating the original outcome each time I wind up in one of these situations.(I always leave the person/situation without confrontation) So perhaps what I need to do is try to practice a different response to be ready when the next time the pattern occurs?

About Me

I'm Karen Ortner, an EFT Tapping expert, personal development coach, and childhood abuse survivor and I'm passionate about helping YOU in your healing journey!


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