Inner Critic Between Cultures

The Inner Critics & Cultural Beliefs We Take With Us

no matter where we go.

You might have heard about Inner Critics, or Gremlins, Saboteurs, Limiting Beliefs etc. They all are names for the voices we hear in our head, telling us we are not good enough, or we need to be careful, or we should not be doing that, etc. And generally speaking we heard them early on in our lives and they were there to protect us from physical or emotional harm and help us navigate the society we live in. 

Problem is we outgrow them eventually as we learn some new tools in live, but the voices will not cease. 

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I call some of mine my army of German Garden Gnomes (or Cultural Shadows) as they are so culturally colored and unfortunately in my case, they always show up as a group. They are not just what my parents or grandparents told me, but they reflect the values and belief system of my culture. Even though, I moved across the globe and picked up some new beliefs from different cultures along the way, these Garden Gnomes still try to hold me accountable to standards and norms that I no longer live in, nor are they even helpful in the culture I live in now.   

Since I often work with clients who have a multicultural background, I see the same happening for them. We do not only need to find our footing in a new culture, we also have to address the Cultural Shadow, the beliefs that are at odds with where we are at now.

While dealing with the “regular” Inner Critics is already hard, I think our Cultural Shadow are even harder to address, as it feels they are sneaking in through the back door. They are so ingrained in us and habitual, that we do not even see them coming. So, when I work with my clients, we also have to look at the cultural setting they grew up with and the one they are living in now. 

My German Garden Gnomes

Let me give you a personal example. While in the US you say “work hard, play hard” in Germany you say “Ohne Fleiß, kein Preis.”, meaning something along the lines of “you can only expect a reward if you worked hard for it.” While that sounds similar to “work hard, play hard” it actually is not, as Germans also have a norm around not showing off or flaunting your success in other peoples faces. This is based on the fear that others might get jealous or even might try to take it away from you. (Belief me they definitely can take away the joy). 

So when I started acknowledging my success verbally, it already felt like bragging of the worst kind. Now imagine how celebrating and doing a jig around the floor feels. When I do this now (and yes I do!), there are still days where I expect the other shoe to drop and that the joy (or success) is taken away from me. “Turn around, go back to work immediately, so that you can continue to secure the success. Don’t trust the success, it might be a fluke. Remember, you only earned it when you work hard. Don’t get lazy now.” - That is the army choir of German Garden Gnomes I still hear. Luckily, not as often, persistent or loud anymore.  

It Gets Easier Over Time

The good news is, I now know better, as I learned from other cultures and there is a way of being with Inner Critics that helps you and them to calm down and not shout so loudly from the rooftops. It’s a journey of awareness, acknowledgement, compassion and curiosity. One that I not only go through for myself, but also with each client I have, as we all have these Inner Critics (or whatever you might like to call yours). 

More About Inner Critic + Cultural Shadow Work

If you want to start learning about Inner Critics, I highly recommend Jay Earley, Bonnie Weiss: Freedom from Your Inner Critic. And if you want to understand better what your cultural background adds to it, think about all the phrases and idioms you heard throughout your life about money, wealth, hierarchy, behavior towards family, others, success, community, individuality, etc. Think of the folk and fairy tales you heard, the metaphors you use in your first language. 

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What Are Your Cultural Shadow Beliefs?

An Asian colleague ones said that in his culture there is a saying: “The tallest flower will be cut first.” Meaning if you stick your head out too much, or reach for the stars, or do not conform, you will lose the protection of the community, or you will not survive in this society.

What are your cultural beliefs? And how do they affect you? Do they still serve you?