Any of these voices ring a bell?
You have to do it this way. You are doing it wrong. You are selfish. You are being ridiculous. You want too much. You ask other people for too much. You can do it better than that. You are lazy. You aren’t worthy. You won’ be loved if you do that.
Then maybe you met my inner critic – or probably have one of your own. I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life dealing with this voice, finding ways to calm it, learning to reduce its effect on my choices and actions, and even listening to it. And yet, I hear it to this day. I expected that at some point, there would be something I could do and the voices would fade to dust. It never did.
I became sick a few years back, which is a different story for another time, however, during my sickness, I was frustrated and the voice became loud again. And the messages were even more pointed…
He’s going to leave you if you can’t take care of yourself. What kind of mother stays in bed all day? You are going to lose your job. People are depending on you. You are never going to feel better, just be productive anyway. If you are not serving others, you will not have value to them. A little pain shouldn’t stop you from doing what is expected of you.
Or the ultimate message: I am a detriment to everyone around me.
UGH. Ever felt this kind of weight? Maybe not this exact phrase, but your own little demon of a story? Maybe you know it as the internal story roller-coaster that feeds insecurity and powerlessness? Do you think it helped me or motivated me to get to a healthy physical, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual level? No way.
So how did I change it?
Short answer: I treated myself as I would care for a loved friend. And I introduced myself to my inner champion to balance the inner critic. Here’s a few things I had to change:
1. I started taking responsibility of caring for myself – and often that meant asking for help, instead of hoping someone would offer. If you are a type A like me, you may get close to understanding how incredibly difficult this lesson was to learn, yet a life-saver. People want to help. They just don’t know how unless you ask.
2. I started taking responsibility of my medical care. After doctor #3 that could tell me nothing, and the pills they gave me made me sick in new ways, I began to feel crazy. I tried to believe the doctors that the pain was all in my head, however, I returned to the ER over and over. I chose to do my own research. I found an integrative health school that I enrolled in just to feel better and over time with the change of many habits, I am better.
3. I started to prioritize myself at the top of the list instead of the bottom. It was difficult to say no to others in order to make time for me, and anyone who knows me now can tell you two things, (1) I have very clear boundaries around my time, and (2) it has been beneficial to my relationships and my health. I tricked myself over 2 years into adding better habits, by adding just a few minutes each day at a time. One little habit on top of another little habit starts adding up. Soon enough the good effects only reinforce and make the good choices easier over time. I also tracked how much self-care time I was putting in. Just the awareness and making it a priority caused it to increase.
4. I started to really listen to my body, thoughts, feelings, and intuition. I noticed when I was tense, or when I was tired or hungry and how that made me feel. I know now that when I am tired or feeling sluggish, I often just need water, and sometimes I really need rest. I don’t ‘tough it out’ so much anymore. I listen to my body and intuition. In the past, pushing so hard created breakdowns and bad moods. Those don’t happen if I check in with myself and prevent small things from exploding.
5. I started really focusing on what is possible instead of what is restrictive in my life. This goes for food, activities, relationships, work, etc. I look at all the food I can eat like vegetables and meat, instead of focusing on things that do not serve my body like sugar or dairy. However, this blossomed to other areas. I wanted to have more passion in my work, and I found my way there too, by focusing on opportunities instead of challenges. I learned to hear the voice of my champion which we all have, it’s just difficult to hear over the critic. (we all have one, it’s just hard to hear sometimes over the critic).
If there is something in your life that is not working for you, or if that critical voice is getting too loud, first take a breath.
Then remember, the emotions, the stress, the tears, the laughter are all part of dealing with being human. Let’s stop pretending any one of us is perfect or needs to be. Then try some of the things above that helped me.
What happens to the critic?
There’s no getting rid of her. She lives within me, and sometimes still keeps me safe. I have learned to calm her, and even love her. She is not evil, and her intention is not to stunt my growth or even self-sabotage. She is my protector, my little old granny sitting in the corner, scared of what the world will do to me. I know her now, I understand her intent, and she feels familiar without having power over me.
I wouldn’t get rid of the critic now even if I could. In my new perspective, she drives me to do better when I can, to stay motivated and passionate about what I do.
What do I do what she gets loud again? Breathe. Slow down and do something for me. After all, you don’t have to believe everything you hear, even if it’s in your head.