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The Sibling Rivalry Within: Inner Critic vs. Inner Nurturer and Your STEM Career

Ah, the world of STEM. A land of innovation, groundbreaking discoveries, and...relentless self-doubt? For many women in STEM, the internal monologue can sound less like a symphony of brilliance and more like a cacophony of criticism and whispers of inadequacy. Enter the inner critic and the inner nurturer, two powerful forces waging a constant battle within us, with significant consequences for our careers.

The Inner Critic: Your Personal Gremlin

Think of your inner critic as that snarky voice in your head, the resident gremlin whose sole purpose seems to be raining on your parade. 

Think of it this way: the inner critic is like that "helpful" friend who constantly reminds you of the ketchup stain on your shirt during a big presentation. It might have good intentions (protecting you from embarrassment), but the delivery is, well, disastrous. It thrives on negativity, specializing in:

  • Imposter Syndrome:  Ever feel like a fraud, constantly worried you'll be exposed as a "not-real" scientist, engineer, or mathematician? That's your inner critic whispering sweet nothings of inadequacy ([*Source: Pauline Rose Clance, Susan Imes]).

  • Perfectionism Paralysis:  The inner critic sets impossibly high standards, leading to procrastination and an aversion to taking risks for fear of falling short.

  • Negative Self-Talk:  "I'm not good enough," "They'll never pick me for that project," – these are all hallmarks of the inner critic's relentless negativity.

The Inner Nurturer: Your Cheerleader-in-Chief

Thankfully, we're not all doom and gloom. The inner nurturer is your champion. It is like your best friend who hypes you up before a date reminds you of your strengths, and helps you dust yourself off after a stumble. It is the voice that says:

  • "You've got this!"

  • "That was a brilliant idea, even if it didn't work out perfectly."

  • "Let's learn from this mistake and move forward."

The inner nurturer fosters:

  • Self-Compassion: It encourages you to be kind to yourself, especially during setbacks.

  • Growth Mindset: It believes in your ability to learn and improve, embracing challenges as opportunities.

  • Confidence: It celebrates your accomplishments and reminds you of your strengths.

Recognizing Your Inner Voices

So, how do you identify which voice is holding the microphone in your head? Here are some tips:

  • Pay attention to your self-talk: When that voice tells you you're a failure after a presentation gone awry, that's your inner critic.

  • Notice your emotions: Feeling anxious or discouraged? The critic might be at it again.

  • Identify the source:  Did someone make a critical comment that triggered your inner critic?

Identify the dominant voice: Inner Critic vs. Inner Nurturer
Exercise: Identify the dominant voice - Inner Critic vs. Inner Nurturer

Quieting the Critic and Strengthening the Nurturer

Now, let's get tactical. Here are some strategies to silence the inner critic and empower your inner nurturer:

Taming the Critic:

  1. Challenge Negative Thoughts: Don't just accept the critic's pronouncements as truth. Ask yourself, "Is this thought helpful? Is it based on reality?"

  2. Reframe Your Language: Instead of "I can't do this," say, "This will be challenging, but I'm determined to learn."

  3. Celebrate Small Wins: Acknowledge your accomplishments, no matter how small.

Empowering the Nurturer:

  1. Practice Self-Compassion: Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you'd offer a friend.

  2. Visualize Success: Imagine yourself achieving your goals. Visualization can boost confidence and motivation.

  3. Focus on Your Strengths:  What are you good at? Remind yourself of your skills and past successes.

The Importance of Balance

Let's be clear: a healthy dose of self-reflection and criticism is crucial for growth. The inner critic can point out areas for improvement, keeping us from becoming complacent.

However, the key is finding the sweet spot – a healthy balance between the two.

Imagine the inner critic and nurturer as two dials on a control panel. When the critic is cranked to max and the nurturer is on mute, you're paralyzed by self-doubt. Conversely, a silent critic and a blaring nurturer can breed recklessness.

The Challenges of Imbalance

An overbearing inner critic can lead to:

  • Missed Opportunities: You might shy away from applying for that promotion or presenting your research because you fear failure.

  • Burnout:  Constantly striving for perfection is a recipe for exhaustion.

On the other hand, an overly nurturing inner voice can result in:

  • Stagnation:  You might settle for mediocrity if you never push yourself outside your comfort zone.

  • Lack of Resilience:  You might crumble in the face of setbacks without the inner critic's (constructive) push to learn and improve.

Mastering the Mindset

Feeling overwhelmed by the inner critic vs. inner nurturer battle? You're not alone. Many women in STEM struggle to find the right balance. This is where a career coach can be your secret weapon.

Linda Macelova Consulting, for example, offers coaching programs specifically designed to help women in STEM navigate the complexities of their careers. Through personalized coaching sessions, you can learn to:

  • Identify your inner critic and nurturer: A coach can help you distinguish between the two voices and understand their influence on your thoughts and actions.

  • Develop strategies to tame the critic:  Your coach can equip you with tools to confront negative thoughts, reframe self-talk, and build resilience.

  • Empower your inner nurturer:  Learn techniques for self-compassion, celebrating accomplishments, and developing a growth mindset.

Remember, a career coach is your sounding board and cheerleader. They can provide a safe space to explore your challenges, develop strategies, and hold you accountable for your goals.

The Final Word

The inner critic and the inner nurturer are permanent residents in our minds. While they may create an internal storm at times, we can achieve the perfect balance by understanding these forces and actively managing them. This balance allows for healthy self-reflection that fuels continuous growth without succumbing to self-doubt. So, silence the critic's screeching and amplify your inner nurturer's empowering voice. With the right mindset and support, you'll conquer the STEM world, one breakthrough at a time.

Ready to take control of your inner narrative and unlock your full potential? Contact Linda Macelova Consulting today to schedule your FREE consultation and embark on your journey to a fulfilling and successful STEM career!


*Clance, P.R., and Imes, S.A. (1978). The impostor phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and Therapeutic interventions. Psychotherapy: Theory Research and Practice, 15, 241-247.



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