Updated: Oct 15
Do you ever experience a lot of inner-dialogue chatter? I do, all the time. It can be exhausting. I’ve given these different “voices” Archetypal names/labels. For instance, I have the Critic, the Achiever, the Perfectionist, the Nurturer, the Sage, etc. What often happens is that a few of these voices are louder than others and they can drown out other parts of my inner narrative.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to rein in these voices and provide more space and time for other Archetypes to have their say. While I’ve been taming my Perfectionist (I now call myself an Imperfectionist!), I still struggle with self-doubt. When my Perfectionist joins forces with my Critic, Achiever, and Driver, they tend to get really vocal and create a lot of self-doubt, sometimes to the point of paralyzing me from making choices or taking action.
Archetypes aren’t “good” or “bad”
I truly believe that each of these voices or Archetypes have important parts to play in our lives. But sometimes, when certain voices gain too much control/power and weigh us down, it’s hard to see any benefit that comes from them. That’s the way I thought about my Critic for a long time. The story I told myself about my Critic was that the Critic was lame and was constantly causing me to second-guess and doubt myself. I recognized that my Critic could get verbally abusive and at times, brow-beat me into a state of paralysis, which made it hard to take action. For a long time, I only saw my Critic as the “bad guy” and figured the ideal thing would be to get rid of the Critic all together (typical either/or thinking). But in truth, each Archetype has strengths and weaknesses and anything taken to an extreme can be unhealthy.
Back in May of 2020, I was working with my coach, Jody (https://jodykennett.ca), on this basic issue (dealing with my Critic). It’s a topic I seem to keep coming back to. But that day, she asked me some powerful questions, specifically, “how does your Critic help you?” Ironically, this idea is not new to me, I just get so stuck in my head that I forget the very tools I use to help other people! So, it took an outsider, my coach, to help me see what I already knew (which is precisely the power of coaching—a good coach helps you find the answers that are already inside of you).
My Critic has helped me
Of course, my Critic has been helpful. I looked back at my life and saw that my Critic pushed me to do my very best, to give 110% when necessary, to seek to improve myself. Without my Critic, I doubt I would have accomplished the things I have nor stick with my commitments.
I also began to see that my Critic usually acts out of fear—fear of not being enough, fear of rejection, fear of humiliation. When my Critic goes into overdrive, I have to remember that it’s just a scared kid, really. And when I see my Critic from that perspective, I can reassure it, calm it, and take care of it.
All of this brings me to last Thursday. Lately, my Critic has been demanding attention—it seems to constantly raise its voice and rarely shuts up. When my Critic isn't too demanding simply reminding myself of the beneficial role of my Critic or envisioning myself wrapping my arms around my Critic and comforting it helps. But those things are not always enough. I’ve been wrestling with the self-doubt that my Critic invokes for many weeks now. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of coming up with a goal or idea that I’m excited about only to have my Critic knock it down. And I haven’t been able to quiet my Critic enough to allow myself to move in the direction I desire. I find myself crippled with self-doubt.
Team building with Archetypes
What’s a person to do? One day I was talking with Paul, a fellow coach who works specifically in leadership and team building (https://www.paulcasey.org). He spoke about getting team members together and giving each person a chance to speak. That gave me an idea—what if I treated all my Archetypes as team members and invited them to the table, giving each a chance to speak their peace? What would happen if I looked at each Archetype as a team member and figured out how the team can work together for the betterment of the project (my goals)?
First, I needed to figure out who belongs to my team. The obvious ones are the loudest voices—my Critic, my Driver, my Achiever, and my Perfectionist. But they can’t be the only members because it’s too lopsided, as they tend to create a lot of self-doubt. An effective team has members with a lot of different skills and abilities. So, who can counter the Critic, Driver, Achiever and Perfectionist? I figured I could utilize my Sage, my Nurturer and my Fan. These are all familiar Archetypes to me, ones I’ve interacted with and accessed before.
But I felt like there was one missing—the Risk Taker. I’ve never really seen myself as a Risk Taker. I acknowledge that I have courageously done things that I was afraid to do, but I’ve been hesitant to take risks and do things when I think I might fail. I’ve got issues with Failure (that’s its own post and a story I’m working on rewriting). I knew the Risk Taker’s voice would be hard for me to hear or believe. But then again, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, what else do I have to do?
Keeping it real
I decided to go all-out. I made name cards for each Archetype and set them around a table (weird and silly, I know, but I need some weird and silly in my life now and then). Then I acted like the CEO and opened the meeting, telling each of them they had 3 minutes to speak, with no interruptions, and then we’d move to the next Archetype. They could talk about their concerns, complaints, and/or their ideas for supporting the project. (Luckily, they had much better manners than those involved in recent US political debates…)
Along with getting time to voice their opinions, I also started a dialogue between opposing Archetypes. For instance, I opened a conversation between my Critic and Nurturer, recognizing that they both help me and they can both be detrimental if they’re the only ones speaking up.
Having never done this before, I had no expectations, other than recognizing that one board meeting would not change everything over-night. Like any team, to work effectively and efficiently, you must meet regularly and maintain an open conversation. But you’ve got to start somewhere…
So, I recorded the “minutes” of the meeting. In case you can’t tell, I went all-out on this. The main reason for this experiment is to integrate thoughts with actions. If I simply thought about doing this, nothing would change in how I basically operate. I know about my different Archetypes, I know I need to listen to each one, and I know they all have value in my life. But knowing all of that and just thinking about it, doesn’t change things. It’s one thing to know something and a very different thing to embody the ideas.
I needed a new process, ideally one that included somatic activities as well as changes in my thought patterns. I needed to incorporate my physical senses with my mental ones. The somatic exercises came in the form of making name cards, drawing pictures, and actually writing down the dialogue that happens in my head.
And this process required me to slow down and actually sit with my thoughts. It forced me to have those conversations between Archetypes, rather than just think about doing it. Slowing down and taking the time to do this provided the attention to the differing narratives, which in turn is instrumental in rewriting my narrative. Similarly, in my coaching experiences, when I have an hour to talk through a particular idea with my coach, it actually moves me forward and validates the importance of what I’m focusing on.
Listening to the members on my team
What were the results? I ended up with 6 pages of notes. I recognized that my Driver, fondly, sounds an awful lot like my dad. After letting each Archetype have their say, I had a little conversation with each of them, thanking them for all they do for me and also suggesting some of them tone it down while others speak up more. I realized there’s a potential for my Risk Taker and Achiever to do some mischief—they might egg each other on to the point where my Critic becomes frantic that I’m not taking enough risks, etc. And I found out that I don’t know my Fan as well as I’d like. It would be nice for my Fan to show up more often, she has a lot of fun things to say and helps boost my confidence and energy.
The real measure of success will be whether or not my self-doubt continues to paralyze me. This board meeting is an attempt to change my narrative so that in the future my self-doubt doesn’t keep me from making choices, taking action, and cause me to feel so bad about myself. I’ve rewritten enough of my own stories to know that it won’t happen overnight, but I also know that I’m well on my way (that right there can be seen as a balance between my Driver and my Fan). Rewriting your story can be difficult, but you can have a lot of fun with it too! I’ve been showing my Archetype placards to my friends and family and I’m keeping them out on my desk because they remind me to balance those voices in my head. And the silliness of it all breaks my negative thought patterns, which is often enough to keep me from spiraling into my old stories. Plus, it makes me smile.
I have some great activities to help guide you through an exploration of your own Archetypes. If you’re interested, sign up for a 2-session series called Discover You! where we will get familiar with your go-to Archetypes and learn ways to call in other Archetypes that might help you at different times.