When we accept who we are, all of who we are, and know that we are good enough in every way, something magical happens.
For many of us our self critic is an ever present voice in our head or feeling in the pit of our stomaches. This week’s wellbeing blog addresses how this critic grows and how to control it.
We start growing our inner critic as a child, when you learn all kinds of things from authority figures; running around naked is bad (my body is bad, I’m not good enough), “stop being fussy about your food” (you have a food problem, I’m not good enough); don’t say this or that (I should keep quiet, I’m not good enough); “come on slow coach” (I can’t keep up, I’m not good enough); “You’ll won’t amount to much” (I’m not good enough), and on it goes. Often these things are said without any malicious intent, but the effect is the same.
Throughout our childhood and into our teens we continue to collect more and more ‘I’m not good enough’ stamps in our invisible sacks that we drag behind us like a ball and chain. By the time we are well into our adult years, our sacks are full of shame, guilt, repression and fear, and boy does that bag weigh heavy. It plays out in a wide range of mental, physical, and emotional ways; have you ever set out to do something then just given up, felt you failed, or just decided you’re not quite up to it? This is your inner critic opening up that sack and showing you why you can’t or why you shouldn’t.
Beating your inner critic is about changing negative thinking patterns, and behaviours, and replacing them with self compassion and kindness.
Re train your brain: Our brains become very good at deleting and distorting information. If we are focused on the negative, that’s what we’ll see and hear. Tonight as you’re going home decide to focus on something in particular, say blue cars, and notice just how many you see as opposed to how many you saw yesterday. This was one of my earliest memories when I was studying Neuro Linguistic Programming.
Try this for at least a month: Every day pay attention to all the great things about you; what you’ve done that day, the compliments people have paid you, how well you did something, why you are a loving partner or parent. Keep a daily note. If you start to feel you’re not good enough, have a look through what you’ve written.
If you hear your inner critic start up, ask yourself; ‘why am I thinking this?’, ‘is this fact?’, ‘how often does this actually happen?’, ‘what strengths/qualities do I have that can change this?’, ‘how would I prefer to think?’.
Accept your shadow side: Everyone has things about themselves that they are proud of and love, and are willing to shine a light on; and things we’re not so proud of or don’t like about ourselves that we hide in the shadows. This concept of the shadow self shows up in nearly every culture in one form or another. Charlie Morley* describes our shadow self as everything we’ve rejected, disowned or repressed about ourselves. The shadow isn’t our ‘bad’ side, rather it’s just something we’re keeping hidden, consciously or subconsciously. Sometimes this comes out in projection, for example we don’t see our own anger yet judge someone else on losing their temper. Sometimes it’s something we suppress or hold on to; when we try to hide parts of ourselves or repress something, however, we are not showing kindness and compassion to ourselves.
Try this exercise: Draw a big sun and inside write down everything you’re proud of, love about yourself, qualities and attributes you’d want to share. When you’re done, take another sheet of paper and draw a cloud, inside write down everything you don’t like about yourself, things you wouldn’t necessarily share with others, and negative emotions you’re holding onto (fear, guilt, shame, anger). This next stage is about you healing, freeing yourself and choosing to squash your inner critic. To do this may take some courage, and it may take some time, so be patient with yourself.
Draw a love heart around both the sun and the cloud. Look at all of the things in the sun and take a few minutes to let that resonate with you. When you’re ready, look at all of the things in the cloud. Choose to let go of negative emotions attached to people or situations, choose to forgive. Grudges and resentment will only damage one person, you. Look at those items and say “I’m choosing to let go, I forgive you”. Look at the things in the cloud that are attributes of you, and say “I see you, and I accept that you are part of who I am”. This isn’t suggesting that we shouldn’t strive to continue to grow, to be more patient, kinder, more thoughtful or whatever it might be for you, rather it means that you are accepting that this is part of who you are, right now.
*Charlie Morley, Dreaming through Darkness, 2017 – ISBN: 978-1-78180-735-4
Reframe negative self talk: Every time we affirm something that someone might once have said to us, we reinforce it as the “truth”, for example you spill something and say to yourself “I’m so clumsy”. This exercise is about becoming conscious of your negative talk and reframing, with compassion. For this example you might say to yourself “spills happen, it’s not a big deal, I’m a good person”. Another example might be that you’ve lost your temper, and you immediately think “I’ve got no patience, I’m such a mean person”. Now think about it properly, what were your triggers? Were you tired or hungry, what buttons did that person push, and how can you prevent it from happening the next time? Next, reframe it: “I lost my temper, it happened because_____, I’m still a good person”.
Initially you might only recognise negative self talk after the event, it might be hours later, that’s okay. As soon as you recognise that you’ve put yourself down, reframe it and affirm that you are a ‘good person’ or that you are ‘good enough’, no matter how long ago it was. After a relatively short time you’ll start to catch yourself as soon as you say something, then before you say it, and eventually you’ll reduce it right down and even stop altogether.
When we start to retrain our brains, accept ourselves, and be more compassionate to ourself, we gain a greater sense of control. This is where you’ll find peace, contentment, balance and happiness in your life.
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