Your relationship with yourself is your most fundamental bond. How you treat yourself, how you speak to yourself and how you nourish yourself began with your family of origin. It continued to play out as you grew and developed. Now, as an adult, the quality of that bond is part of your day-to-day existence. Do you nourish it or do you neglect it? Do you treat yourself as your own best friend – with compassion and caring – or do you fill your day with negative self-talk and self-critical messages? Are you more in touch with the things you feel are weaknesses about yourself than you are what makes you unique and special?
Your character defects are not where you are bad, but where you are wounded. But no matter who or what causes the wound, it is yours now and you are responsible for it. – Marianne Williamson
In her book Voices, Paula Eder writes that any self-critical message can be neutralized with rationality or compassion or both. She refers to these two champions as the Voice of Reason and the Voice of Compassion.
What is your Voice of Reason (a.k.a. Your Adult Persona)?
It is a voice that is steady and reliable. It is all about the facts and nothing but the facts. Regardless of the situation you find yourself in, your Voice of Reason enables you to objectively sort things out. It enables you to make grounded decisions that spring from reality rather than distortion.
To be absolutely clear: Critical messages are always distorted!
Critical messages are the harbingers of your past. They are the wounded part of you that focuses on supposed defects that you have internalized from childhood on. What makes these critical messages so difficult to see and root out is that often they have been part of your landscape from the very beginning. In day-to-day or stressful situations they are your default response. You have given the car keys to your inner child, when it is the adult who should be behind the wheel.
How destructive are critical self-messages? Here are just 8 ways that negative self-talk and self-criticism affect you:
- Self-criticism takes you out at the knees. It undercuts your self-confidence, making valuable opportunities for growth and new challenges more difficult because of insecurity and doubt.
- Self-criticism isolates you.
- Poor self-esteem prevents you from setting firm boundaries and protecting your time and energy.
- Your critical self-talk makes you feel needlessly defensive. It distorts your perceptions of how others may see or react to you. You may assume others are judging you.
- Self-criticism blocks your creative energy. There is no room for expansiveness that fuels creativity when you allow internal negativity and self-doubt free reign.
- Taking risks becomes much harder. By undermining your confidence you are less likely to take strategic, calculated risks.
- Negativity infects your communication – both with yourself and with those around you. Misunderstandings become magnified.
- Numbing out deadens everything. By numbing out to avoid the pain of constantly hearing your critical voice, you are draining your world of passion, color and intensity.
How do you muzzle your Inner Critic?
The first thing is to recognize the critical messages and negative self-talk. See them for what they are. Then, take a step back to explore the thoughts, feelings and situations that trigger them.
Detecting the Critical Messages
One of the greatest strengths is the ability to recognize critical self-talk as it is unfolding. As you become more and more aware of when and how you put yourself down, you can counter these negative messages effectively without wasting valuable time and energy on them.
Here are some examples of self-critical messages to help you begin to hone in on your Inner Critic:
“I should have started this project last week.”
“If it isn’t perfect, then it’s no good.”
“I can’t do that.”
“I’m not brave enough to make this kind of change in my life.”
“I can’t get divorced. I’m not good at living on my own.”
“I am probably going to mess this up.”
“When it comes to managing my money, I am totally out of my element.”
“Someone else will do a better job than I can.”
Using these messages as a guidepost, take a few minutes and let your mind drift back to a recent stressful situation. Really immerse yourself in it. What critical messages did you give yourself as the situation unfolded?
Writing these specific critical messages down is, in itself, an assertive and empowering act. Seeing them written down turns them from convincing voices inside your head to messages on paper that you can analyze and dissect.
Some important things to keep in mind as you identify your critical self-talk:
Resist the urge to judge yourself. Judging your thoughts only perpetrates the pattern you are working to break.
Instead, allow yourself to feel how much more powerful and free you feel when you successfully identify and counteract the destructive thoughts that have held you hostage in the past.
Learning what triggers your negative self-talk, and what situations are likely to activate the pattern or negativity will enable you to be better prepared to proactively counter it.
Many of your limited playlist of critical messages are almost guaranteed to show up under certain circumstances. You may feel them as resistance, despair or insecurity. You may feel them in the pit of your stomach. They may push you to tears or unqualified anger. Show up they will. The more familiar you get with what triggers them, the easier it is to say: “Oh…that’s why I’m thinking these thoughts. They aren’t actually true, but they certainly feel true because [insert trigger here].”
Like anything else, these changes take time. Self-limiting internal messages are a bad habit, and like any bad habit, it takes practice and a new way of thinking and doing to replace them with something positive.
Here are a few of my common triggers and the counteractions I take to change the music:
Trigger: Perceived rejection.
Feelings: I feel invalidated or insulted by someone. Maybe I become defensive or shut down. Maybe I cry.
Counteraction: Embrace self-esteem. Decide not to take it personally or replay the incident from a neutral viewpoint.
Trigger: Professional or personal growth.
Feelings: I am outside of my comfort zone. Uncertainty, self-doubt, naked and exposed.
Counteraction: Allow myself to feel strange, knowing that it’s a symptom of growth. Allow myself to embrace my mistakes and successes.
Trigger: Over-scheduled or over-committed.
Feelings: I feel out of control or resentful of all the commitments I’ve made. I feel like I can’t gain any traction or get off the merry-go-round.
Counteraction: Say no to all new commitments. Focus on my basic needs like sleeping and eating healthy, schedule some free time for myself or ask for help.
Now it’s your turn. Write down your triggers, what feelings they bring up, and how you will counteract them.
Don’t expect to ever be 100% free of your Inner Critic, but know that it can play softer, that you have the power to mute it or skip to the next track with continued consciousness and action. Self-critical messages may begin to play automatically, but it’s your choice if you want to dance to the beat.
Are you ready to create your best life? Check out my book: [R]evolution: A Soulful and Practical Guide to Creating the Life You Want.