This blog goes along with the Healing Thru Tarot Episode 6 Podcast where we are tackling the important subject of facing our inner critic and learning ways to tame that critic and stop self sabotaging. First, let’s talk about what your inner critic is and how to identify when your critic is active. Throughout all of my experience as a clinical psychologist, the one thing I have noticed that we all share in common is an inner critic. Sometimes I will also refer to it as our inner gremlin. We all have them, even if you haven’t noticed yet. But, in my experience, most people know that voice really well.
When I say inner critic or gremlin, I am talking about the narrator in your head. This critic uses your vulnerabilities against you to poison relationships, prevent you from believing in yourself, and to sow seeds of doubt, which can stop you from pursuing your dreams out of fear. This inner critical voice wants you to accept their interpretations as reality. And they use the knowledge they have from your past experiences as evidence that you will fail, if you try to step out of your comfort zone or if you try to work on improving yourself. So, this critic can masquerade as our authentic self by using those past experiences that haunt us. This critic keeps us in a weakened, vulnerable state where we feel powerless and helpless. If you have a particularly harsh critic, like many perfectionists do, this internal dialogue can be so destructive that the internal abuse can lead to physical ailments caused by stress. It can also lead to anxiety, depression, insomnia and even suicidal thoughts. This critic will convince you to operate out of habit and never take risks that would lead to change. Our critics prevent us from working towards progress in our lives. This limits your ability to tap into your creative flow where new ideas are generated and epiphanies occur.
Here’s how you can identify if you have an active critic. Because remember, we all have one. Some people will just have louder versions than others. If you notice that this inner voice tries to convince you to stay stuck in negative cycles and unhealthy patterns, then this is the critic at work behind the scenes of your life. Your critic will use language like “You can’t, You should, you must,” and this language keeps you trapped in these patterns. So watch for this type of language in your self talk. When this happens, change the wording to “I choose to or I choose not to.” This puts YOU back in the driver's seat where you have the power of choice. The other wording of “can’t,” “should” or “must” takes all of your options and choices away and leaves you feeling powerless.
To break out of this stagnant pattern, view yourself as the Fool in the tarot and imagine yourself stepping into a new adventure or path where you can choose your own adventure. What paths would you want to explore? Experiment with change in your life. Switch things up and try something totally new. Or step into the Hanged Man card in the Major Arcana and shift your perspective. How does the situation look from a new vantage point? Does this offer you better options than you felt stuck with before?
The critic wants to stop you from seeing your way out. The critic is who imprisons us in the 8 of Swords card when we feel trapped with no escape and blinded to any escape routes. It is all coming from within even if we don’t realize it. Start to really pay attention to what your critic is saying. Notice what type of language is used. How do you talk to yourself? Would you speak to another human being that way? If the answer is no, then ask yourself why it is ok to speak to yourself this way day in and day out. Words matter and that is the vibration you are putting yourself in daily. If it is negative self talk, then that low energy stays with you throughout your day, and it impacts your mood, attitude, outlook and way you interact with others and how you feel or view yourself. I would encourage you to start to write down your internal dialogue every day for a month. Then review your responses to look for patterns. If the dialogue is mostly negative, then your critic is running rampant and could be the root cause you have been searching for to explain your depression, anxiety, anger or fatigue. As you become more aware of this internal critic, you are shining a light on the damage they are causing. And the brighter the light you shine on old fears, outdated ideas, and destructive habits, the better you can detect the falsity in those statements and beliefs. Your critic works overtime to convince you that you are not worthy of what you want and that you are not deserving of what you desire. But you ARE!
I heard Cash Peters say something profound last week, and I wrote it down because I knew I wanted to add it to this episode. He said “The thing you want the most is hiding behind the thing you fear the most. So you have to really want it and work for it and own it to have it.” That really resonated with me because fear and anxiety keep most of us from going after what we really want. Many times we just convince ourselves that we can’t go after our dreams because we are told internally that we will fail. We tell ourselves that we aren’t good enough, we aren’t special, we aren’t talented enough, etc. You can insert whatever excuse you give yourself here. We all have those doubts running through our heads 24/7, and many of us start to believe those statements are true so we cave to that fear and never take the leap.
Then I heard Bakara Wintner say something that really struck me this week as I was preparing for this episode. She was talking about fear keeping us terrified to make the jump we know we need to make in order to level up in our spiritual journey. She said something along the lines of “None of you have jumped and had it not been ok because you are still here.” And I thought “hmm, well that is true.” Even if we struggled with leaping, we ARE still here. I knew I was going to be talking on this topic this week when she said that; so my brain started churning over this and it all connects. Our critic feeds us these lies and fears, and we start to buy into that lie that if we make changes in our life or within ourselves that we will lose friends, we will be proven wrong, or we will be rejected or embarrassed. And so many of us choose what is familiar and known over the unknown. So, it is then natural for us to choose what we deem is safe. No one likes to face rejection for a new idea or life path.
I’ve faced that struggle. Making this podcast using my name was a huge hurdle I had to face because only a handful of people in my life knew I read tarot. That fear of having to deal with people that might disapprove wreaked havoc in my life for months, and I would second guess making that move until one day I just felt a switch flip within me. I felt at peace with the fact that it might turn some people off, and I realized that was their problem and not mine. I started to feel that it just wasn’t worth hiding part of myself any longer. And to be honest, this whole Covid 19 situation has helped me realize that the world needs massive healing right now, and we can’t heal if we aren’t able to be our authentic selves. So with all that going on, one day I just chose to step out into the light and into my power, and I felt the fear start to fade away. My critic lost the power in that situation. At that moment I just said “I don’t care what the consequences are, I am doing it anyway.” And when we do that we take the power back. The critic has no leverage over us at that point. See my critic was saying “You can’t come out of the tarot closet, you should stick to your usual pattern of hiding, you must play small and not show the world what you are passionate about.” That is how they keep control over us, if we continue to buy into the lies. They try to frighten us into not taking action. Never underestimate how manipulative this critic is. I think of the critic as a used car salesman who will do anything to sell you an overpriced broken down car. But armed with this knowledge we now have about the critic and their tactics, we can start to see the tricks they are using on us to keep us living in fear. Shine your spotlight on the critic and watch them squirm. They don’t like it when you are onto them and all their schemes.
Just shine that light on them, recognize what they are doing and laugh at them. It is just like in Harry Potter when they disarm the boggarts by changing the scenes in their mind to make them appear less frightening or threatening. The critic holds no power once you can see through the lies. You can change how you look at your critic just like they did in Harry Potter. It’s not so scary when you change your perspective.
If this sounds like a battle you are fighting, then I highly recommended reading the book Taming Your Gremlin: A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way by Rick Carson. I have used this book in my practice for 13 years now, and it really lays out this concept of an inner gremlin so well. Some of the concepts I am covering today are based on his material. I have successfully used this technique with hundreds of clients over the years in my psychological practice.
Now, we are going to look at the tarot and talk about ways the cards are warning us that our critic is causing trouble in our lives. The critic comes up for me with several cards.
The Devil card is the first card I think of when I envision my inner critic. This is a card of deception, doubts, fears, anxiety, addictions, vices, etc. This is what binds and restricts us. When we pull this card, we could ask ourselves, “Where am I lying to myself? How am I deceiving myself? “How am I dealing with my fears” “Am I running from them or letting them keep me from moving forward?” “What deals am I making that are costing me or keeping me bound in undesirable situations.” Then you will need to look at how to implement changes in your life to face those fears and release yourself from this bondage.
And only ask this if you feel mentally and emotionally prepared to hear the truth. When reading tarot there is nowhere to hide. The cards will call you out, and you have to be willing to hear what you may have been trying hard to avoid hearing or facing about yourself. You need to be in the right frame of mind to do shadow work and to ask these hard hitting questions. With shadow work what we have been pushing down deep inside ourselves may rise up to be faced once and for all.
Other major arcana cards that come up related to critic work could be the Emperor to signify where we are overly strict with ourselves and pushing ourselves too hard to the point of burnout. Ask yourself how to pull back on the overachieving and unnecessary pressure you are putting on yourself. The Hierophant comes up for me when I feel pressured to conform to societal rules that I don’t feel comfortable with. So, with this card look at what you feel you are giving up or not pursuing out of pressure from those that feel you should follow social rules or social norms. Where can you break away from the pack and carve out your own path that feels more in line with your own beliefs and morals instead of caving to societal pressure? Temperance can come up as a warning to balance yourself out and slow things down. This may be a call for moderation, if you have become too obsessive on one end of the spectrum causing an imbalance or substance abuse issue. Critics often drive us to one end of the spectrum either towards procrastination and stagnation or obsessiveness and becoming a workaholic. Finding balance in all areas of your life helps to keep the critic from pushing you to either extreme.
Judgment often comes up as a wake up call or a call to get on the right path. The critic could be trying to steer you away from that path, which would lead to enlightenment and happiness. And this card is the advice to resist the bad advice of the critic. It can also signify a judgmental attitude you have towards yourself and others.
The Moon can signify secrets hiding under the surface that are the root cause of the issue. This could be a call to do some shadow work and to look at subconscious thoughts that are the cause for the issue you need help with. And look at fears when the moon comes up. They could even be fears that are hidden below the surface that you haven’t really identified yet. The critic likes to keep you in the dark and uninformed so when you attempt to start inner work the critic may distract you to keep you from unveiling the relevant information you need to grow on your journey.
And the Tower can be the consequence of our actions, if we have been making poor decisions or even been too indecisive to make the call that needed to be made. Often we look at the Tower as a negative occurrence, but much of the time the Tower serves a greater purpose, which is to clear out the broken structure or system that was faulty in order to give us a clean slate to start to build a better structure on a more stable foundation. And this is that opportunity to rebuild and to do it the right way.
The suit of swords is the main suit I associate with the inner critic.
7 of Swords comes up for me when I’m avoiding something I need to be paying attention to. Here we can ask “When am I deceiving myself? How am I deceiving myself? What am I avoiding?” Also ask yourself what your intentions are at that moment. Are you engaging in any sneaky, underhanded behavior. It is also a warning to be aware of those around you who might be deceiving you or cheating you. In this case the critic could be the one deceiving you. So use this card to explore in what way the critic is dealing in self deception.
When I see the 5 of Swords or 7 of Swords I always think of Bakara Wintner’s saying “You playing yourself.” That is a card in postcards from the liminal space. I also think the 7 of Swords card comes up when we need to ask “When am I being manipulative and opportunistic at the expense of others?” Since the 7 of Swords is a sneaky, manipulative card we need to consider that we are possibly the ones engaging in this behavior. And the critic could be the reason. The critic wants to keep you suspicious of others and untrusting, which could lead you to act out in ways you wouldn’t normally. And since the 7 of Swords is also about avoidance, are you playing the victim and not taking responsibility? Are you avoiding accountability? It doesn’t help you to hide. So, explore the reason you feel stuck in avoidance mode.
The 8 swords is definitely a card that can represent your internal gremlin. The figure in the 8 of Swords card feels trapped, but they are really only trapped due to self imprisonment. The figure can get out of the situation, if she would take off the blind fold and see that she is not really trapped externally. It is self imposed and can represent how our fears and doubts keep us stuck in life when we have pathways out that we don’t initially see. Ask yourself why you feel trapped in this moment and start to envision ways out of the situation, if you change your perspective. Are there options and vantage points you haven’t considered yet that could lead to a way out of your predicament?
The 9 swords is the card of panic, anxiety, fears, nightmares, and insomnia. Ask yourself what outdated fears the critic could be using here to keep you in such a panicked state that you feel restless and worried, maybe even paranoid. Try to identify the exact language your critic has been using to stir up these fears. How can you rephrase that language? Remember just changing the words “I can’t,” or “I should,” or “I must” to “I choose to” or “I choose not to” can help lessen that panicked feeling because your chest starts to relax when you introduce choice back into your life. Try it! It is really simple to do.
The 5’s in all suits could come up when your inner critic is running wild. When the 5 of Swords is present, be aware of your interactions and motives where others are concerned. Are you operating under a win at all costs mindset. If you are, it might be time to pull back and reassess. This card is a warning to pick your battles. This fight might not end well for you. You may feel as if you are winning at the moment, but in the end you could lose friends by the way you acted in that scenario. The critic often convinces us that there is a great divide between ourselves and others and that we have to win no matter what. Pay attention to what falsehoods the critic is feeding you here to lure you into this type of mindset. For me, this card always signals that the ego could be an issue, and this might be a good time to check that ego and do some inner work to shed that ego, if it is causing chaos in your life. When locked in a battle, our instinct may be to win and go for the jugular, but we aren’t able to see in the moment what that behavior could cost us in the long run. Is winning really worth it, if it leaves you alone and empty handed? That’s what the critic wants. Don’t play into his hand. When the 5 of Swords comes up, ask “Where am I sabotaging myself, Where am I cheating myself and others?” And look at what this is costing you. What are you giving up for the win?
The 4 of Pentacles for me can signal the warning not to be so caught up in the need for safety that you never push outside your comfort zone for fear. Your inner critic can keep you paralyzed by running fear based scenarios through your mind constantly. That critic might say “If you take a chance or make a change, you might lose your job, your friends or face judgment and criticism.” Then you might pull back and pass on opportunities that would have been good for you. This card can also signify greediness, if you feel that you can’t give any of your resources to help others because that critic tells you that you would end up with less for your own safety. The 4 of Cups is similar here when you think about what opportunities you may be passing up because you didn’t see what was being offered to you. The critic deals in distraction as well.
And that brings us right to the 7 of Cups, which could symbolize indecisiveness due to constant distractions that waste your time or keep you from engaging in healthy activities that move you forward on your path. This card also signifies all the temptations we face in life including lust, materialism, creature comforts, money, addictions, etc. This card could be a warning not to be immobilized by distractions, too many choices or temptations or being tempted by wrong things. The critic will tempt you with all kinds of self destructive experiences along the way. Watch out for that tactic!
For me the 7 of Wands is often an internal struggle. The critic comes to mind when I think about what could be going on internally for the figure who is fighting off 7 wands in the image.These wands could represent expectations of others, what we think we “should” do, anxiety, depression, comparing ourselves to others, criticism or fears. It can feel like we are fighting constant battles internally without any relief.
If The 10 of wands card comes up for you, this could mean you are carrying too much on your shoulders and could be headed for serious burn out. Your critic could be driving you to take on way too many responsibilities out of fear of saying no to others. Reassess what you are shouldering and simplify your load, if possible. It is perfectly ok to say no, if you need to look out for your own health and well being. I see this as similar to what I was saying with the Emperor about overworking yourself.
The court cards in the reverse or on the negative side of the spectrum would also show self sabotaging behavior related to your inner critic like the emotionally manipulative reversed King of Cups or the dramatic and vindictive side of the Queen of Wands. The King of Wands on the negative side of the spectrum shows tyrannical personality characteristics. Many would classify that as sociopathic behavior as well.
So taking all of this information into consideration, look deeper into these cards we talked about to see if your critic is stirring up trouble and chaos for you. Also look at what your motives and intentions are when these cards arise and look at where you are making deals that aren’t serving you in your daily life. Asking these types of questions can help you tame your inner critic and help YOU get back in the driver’s seat. Disarming this mischievous inner gremlin can help you start to make more conscious decisions going forward and help you stop sabotaging yourself.
I created a custom spread to help us all tame our inner critic. I called this 6 card spread the Taming Your Inner Critic Spread. This spread is also posted on my pinterest page for Healing Thru Tarot on a board called Healing Thru Tarot Custom Spreads. Feel free to pin this spread to your pinterest pages.
A few notes here about the spread. The first card represents your inner critic. Study the image on the card you pulled. This could help give you a feel for the type of energy your critic embodies or the types of tricks they use to deceive and manipulate you.
For card 5, the card you pull will help guide you to how to side step the critic’s manipulative tactics
The card you pull for position 6 shows you how you can love yourself more. Here, we want to look at ways to begin the self love process, which helps to dissolve the hold the critic has on us. This helps to stop the cycle of verbal inner abuse and harsh self criticism.
I hope this spread and the content in this episode helps you to start to take the power back in your life and I hope you are able to tame that inner critic.
If you throw this spread for yourself, I would love to see the photos. Tag me in your post on instagram. I’m @healingthrutarot on instagram and use the hashtag #healingthrutarottamingcriticspread so I can see all your wonderful spreads.
Books and Decks shown in this blog or recommended are below: click on title to go to the product. Some of these are amazon affiliate links and it helps me out if you use these links. Thanks for your support.
Decks used in the photos in the blog include: The Light Seers Tarot, The Dark Mansion Tarot, The Way Home Tarot, The Everyday Witch, Postcards from the Liminal Space (sold out).
Link to podcast episode 6 click here
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