Do you ever feel like your harshest critic is the person staring back at you in the mirror? We all have an inner critic lurking within us. Join me, as we uncover the complex inner workings of the harshest critic we all face – ourselves. In this episode, we shine a light on our inner critic, dissecting its origins, impact, and the power it wields over our self-esteem and emotional well-being. The focus is on recognizing and understanding this critical voice within us, born out of past experiences, societal expectations, and early conditioning. As we unravel the web of self-doubt and self-criticism, we lay the groundwork for resilience, confidence, and ultimately, joy.
This conversation doesn’t stop at understanding the inner critic; we navigate the negativity bias, illustrating how our focus on the negatives often overshadows our accomplishments. This internal bias, if unchecked, can wreak havoc on our mental health, leading to anxiety, depression, and a warped self-concept. But all is not doom and gloom. We explore the transformative power of self-compassion, illustrating how it can not only help us overcome self-criticism but also propel us towards our full potential.
In the final leg of our discussion, we look at practical ways of harnessing self-compassion to tame the critic within us. We reveal how self-compassion can replace self-criticism, providing us with the resilience needed to navigate life’s challenges. Through this insightful conversation, we hope to inspire you to not just understand your inner critic, but also to befriend it, using its worries to your advantage. Remember, self-compassion is a commitment to staying with ourselves through the hardest times – a pledge to always be on our own side. Tune in, and let’s rally our resources to soothe our inner critics together!
Here is what you’ll learn on this episode:
– Understanding the concept of the ‘inner critic’ and its origins
– Exploring the damaging effects of self-criticism on mental health and self-concept.
– Discussing the proven benefits of self-compassion and its real-world applications leading to resilience, confidence, and happiness.
– Debunking the misconception that self-criticism is a motivator and exploring how it can lead to feelings of worthlessness and anxiety.
– Discovering the strength and bravery required in practicing self-compassion.
– Learning the process of replacing the inner critic with self-compassion, and the commitment to stand by ourselves during tough times.
Research referenced in the episode:
The Effects of Self-Criticism and Self-Oriented Perfectionism on Goal Pursuit
Powers, Koestner, Zuroff, Milyavskaya, Gorin 2010 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
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You can email me at: Leighagermann@gmail.com
I can’t wait to hear from you!
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Have you ever noticed a little voice in your head that can get pretty harsh and critical with you? If you have, you’re not alone. In today’s episode, we’re going to learn about our inner critic and how we can get to know her and get to work with her. This is Leadership Parenting, episode number 19, how to Soothe your Inner Critic. Did you know that resilience is the key to confidence and joy? As moms, it’s what we want for our kids, but it’s also what we need for ourselves. My name is Leigh Germann, I’m a therapist and I’m a mom. Join me as we explore the skills you need to know to be confident and joyful. Then get ready to teach these skills to your kids. This is Leadership Parenting, where you learn how to lead your family by showing them the way. Hey friends, welcome to Leadership Parenting.
Today we are getting into some really deep work, some serious focus. Today. I’m feeling really passionate right now and I’m filled with a lot of energy around this, so let’s get ready, because we’re strength training. Today. I want to set the stage for this the importance of how we enter this topic and how we approach it. The topic is working with this tendency that we have as human beings to be very self-critical. This has been top of mind for me this week, as I’ve had a bit of a theme running through my sessions for the past little while. As is usually the case, it’s probably not a new theme that is just showing up, but it’s particularly high in my awareness, specifically this week that I’m supposed to bring it up here with you guys so we can take it on together. And what we’re talking about today requires bravery and courage and wisdom, because women are under attack. I see evidence of it every day in my office as really good, strong women are suffering inside, dealing with self-doubt, feelings of unworthiness, feeling unloved and not good enough, and some of them struggling with depression and anxiety, often because they’re just worn out from this battle for so long. All of them are fighting a powerful force that attacks them with criticism, harshness and this kind of a punishing self-doubt, and that force is coming from the inside. The attack is coming from the inside, from our own inner criticism. So today I want to talk quite a bit about our inner critic so that we can start to have a conversation around this, start to become aware of this.
So let’s talk about what an inner critic is. The inner critic is an internal voice that tends to be harsh or judgmental and kind of unforgiving. Our inner critic calls us names, scolds us, kind of revisits our failures over and over again and can be very punishing to us for making mistakes. And I think that voice can come from past experiences, sometimes from social expectations that we pick up along the way, or maybe even early conditioning. Maybe this is something that got modeled for us, but I find it’s pretty common. I haven’t met very many people that don’t have an inner critic. So right off the bat I want to be able to identify this as a very common thing that we experience, and either our critics are really loud and kind of intrusive in our lives or maybe just they show up once in a while as kind of a soft voice.
Either way, I think it’s super important to be able to recognize when we’re experiencing that inner criticism so that we know what to do about it. Because when we start to hear thoughts, we start to become aware of those thoughts that we have in our head. It’s so easy to just take them at face value and silently or obediently listen to them and after a while, if we’re not aware of this process, that listening can turn in to believing and you may have heard that quote a house divided against itself falls. Well, I think that really applies to us as women when we are against ourselves. I’m not talking about noticing something that needs our attention, that we want to change and that we’re like, yeah, I need to own that and kind of be better at that. I’m talking about that really harsh criticism that makes us kind of shrink, that kind of makes us have so much pain and feel so terrible about ourselves that actually undermines or divides our ability to stand strong and have access to those parts of ourselves that we need to be able to move forward.
When we’re feeling down, when we’re having something that maybe even is not matching what our goals are. You know we spend a lot of time building defenses against dangerous external threats. Right, we’re, hopefully pretty good at setting our boundaries so that we’re not in danger from other people. We start to really focus on keeping our kids safe, keeping us safe, trying to be around people who are kind and good and supportive, and what is kind of sneaky is that inside kind of that Trojan horse inside our defenses, inside the safe world that we’ve been trying to build. It can be so easy to have that inner critic come in and kind of get at us where we are the most vulnerable. So it’s worth looking at the inner critic.
And I’ll say I’ve really studied that inner critic for decades and I’ve studied the critic from two vantage points. The first, as a therapist working with people. I get the privilege of sitting with them and creating this trusting relationship where they can tell me their inner thoughts and I can hear them as they’re talking about them. And that’s one way that I think I’ve become an expert on the inner critic because I get to hear that voice coming up for people and I watch how it affects them. That I’ve learned to study the inner critic is from identifying my own inner criticism and listening to her and studying her kind of techniques and her motivations and I’m getting really good at spotting her voice in my own head and when I hear her come up for other women and all those feelings she stirs up and as I’m getting to know her, you know I thought I’d become an expert at getting rid of her and actually I’m kind of sad to report that’s not been the case, because it’s so human for us to want to get rid of the negative, isn’t it? Anything that hurts us or makes life hard for us? We just want it to be gone.
And I’m going to add here that that’s kind of fuel for an inner critic. It’s that judgment that the inner critic shouldn’t be there. That kind of keeps the critic strong in our minds, maybe even stronger than before, because we look at inner criticism on that good old all or nothing continuum. Either I give into the critic and believe everything she says or I need to kick her to the curb and never hear from her again. Either she rules or she’s vanished right and completely gone from our lives. And I think this is our first misunderstanding and not what our goal is here today either.
So once again, I’m going to kind of bring you back around to awareness. Anything that we’re trying to kind of take hold of and get rid of is actually our cue that we need to have awareness and allow it to be there. Understand it, because in that holding it loosely, instead of trying to hold it tight and kind of squeeze it into into like smithereens, we’re really looking at taking the power out of it by holding it loosely, because actually there really isn’t a part of you that I think we should get rid of and I’m going to pause there for a second because that’s a pretty strong statement. There isn’t a part of you that we should get rid of, and that includes this inner criticism. I know it causes pain. We don’t want that. I get it and I don’t want it. I don’t want it for you.
And the good news is that there’s a way to work with it so that it loses its power to harm you. But the way of working with it is not kind of banishing a bad part of you. That bad is an air quote. It’s an understanding that that part of you isn’t bad. That part of you is actually trying to accomplish something. And when we can understand that, we start to become much more powerful in working with it. And this is that courage and bravery I spoke of in the opening of this episode. We want you to use some courage and bravery to work with this inner critic, not just try to get rid of her. And I’m here to witness to all of you that this brave work with ourselves, with our inner critics, it actually has the power to soothe and comfort and heal all parts of us, even that highly critical voice in our heads. So as you listen.
Today I’m inviting you to actually hang on to yourself a little tighter. There’s a way to look at this experience of inner criticism that can help us find that safe space within that allows us to be okay on this crazy wild ride that we’re all taking. And as we’re talking today, I just want to give you a heads up that your critic is probably going to join us. I mean, she truly might show up and she might be poking you and telling you that you’re in trouble. That lead just doesn’t realize how much worse you are at this, or that anything hopeful is not going to apply to you, and I just want you to be aware of that. Let her come. She needs to hear this stuff too.
And I want you to think of holding it all loosely. Do you know what I mean by holding it loosely? It’s like let it just sit in your awareness. If I handed you a bunny, I would say to you hold it loosely, because if you hold it really tight and you squeeze it, squeeze it, squeeze it, it’s going to struggle and struggle and maybe even get really mad and scratch and bite you and try to get away. And if you hold it too, too tight, you won’t be able to hold it for very long. It will hurt it, and so when we hold things loosely, we kind of let them come and we watch it and we realize that this doesn’t have the power to harm you. If you can just look at it and get a little distance from it, it’s going to serve you, it’s going to help you work with this and that’s our goal with inner criticism it’s to be able to get a new way of dealing with it.
So I was talking with a woman a bit ago about some goals she’s been working on and how she was doing with them, and I knew that her check-in was coming and we’d scheduled it on the calendar and I was excited for her because I knew she’d been working so hard at some things. And the time came for our meeting and almost at the very first minute she had tears in her eyes, big, painful tears. She got all choked up and started shaking her head, and so I waited for a minute for her to find the words. I’ve been doing so well. She said I’ve been feeling better, taking better care of myself, really listening to my body, really listening to my kids and setting boundaries and letting go of all the small stuff and all these are the things she’d been working on. And then she said and I lost it with my kids this week, not just once, but like the whole week. I’m just not cut out for this, I can’t do it, I’m the worst.
Have you ever felt this way or heard this dialogue or some version of this dialogue in your head? That’s our inner critic and she may sound just like this in your thoughts or she may sound a bit different, but the feeling you get when she takes control and starts getting harsh and comparing and judge you with you, those feelings that you get from those thoughts, let you know that she’s shown up. Where does this critical voice come from? You know, for many of us, I think it’s been around for as long as we can remember. For others, you may be able to pinpoint specific places where you noticed that she began to show up in your head.
I’ve actually found that, unless his parents were specific and intentional in teaching our children to have a growth mindset and be self-compassionate, our natural preset is going to be harsh and critical with ourselves. And I don’t mean natural like it’s supposed to be how we are, but natural meaning we have this kind of bias to notice the things that are wrong, and it’s built into our brains. It’s supposed to be there to prioritize the things that are wrong over the things that are going right or the things that are going well. So our brains are trying to notice things that are wrong in the world around us because then would be more likely to recognize danger when it’s present and thereby get to safety. And noticing the things that are wrong is called the negativity bias. It’s important for our survival, but it can wreak havoc on our emotional state if we’re not careful. Here are a few examples of that negativity bias at play when our focus is on the time we lose our temper with our kids compared to the full day we stayed calm and patient. Or when the focus is on the shape or size of a certain aspect of our bodies that we’d like to change, rather than seeing your beautiful smile or the deep blue of your eyes.
When you keep thinking about the thing you wish you knew how to do, rather than the gifts and talents that you already have competency in. Or how you might not be able to sleep because you’re beating yourself up over forgetting to go to your friend’s baby shower or birthday party versus noticing and remembering the countless times you’ve shown up to love and support her and start beating yourself up for that, rather than thinking about your consistent and helpful nature in following through with most all of your commitments. They keep track of the things that go wrong and then remind you and remind you and remind you that you’re messing up. Inner critics keep records and comparison charts and have incredibly selective memories, and I stress selective, because this voice only catalogs the things that are negative. And when I give those examples, are you able to hear anything in them that represents something positive? And I don’t mean is there anything positive about focusing on the negative? What I mean is do you hear that there are lots of things in those critical statements that are tied to things that matter?
Think about missing your friend’s party, or forgetting cupcakes, or wanting to be really good at something. All the stuff before the judgment, before that negative assessment. Those are the things that really matter to you. They’re connected to your values, they’re elements of your nature, they are the benevolence remember, assuming goodness. They are the benevolence in you. And then the critic enters the scene with judgment and criticism. But before that, there’s the reason why the criticism hurts so much. If you didn’t care about those things, the criticism wouldn’t show up, and if it did, it would not matter to you. And we’ve touched on this in an earlier episode. And I invite you at some point to go back and have another listen to episode number four on what matters most, where we talk about your values, because it will really help clarify this concept, this understanding and knowing how I can work better with my inner critic and kind of actually make friends with her.
I know how to work with her through her worries. My secret weapon in working with the critic is that I know she’s actually a double agent and I don’t think she knows it. She thinks her job is to point out all the bad, all the bad things I do, or balls I drop or mistakes I make, to look around and assess and compare and judge and nitpick and then point it out to me and remind me and punish me and maybe even scare me. So she acts like a really bad guy and I feel it when I hear her voice in my head it feels like I’m in trouble. You know, when I sit across from a woman who’s dealing with this kind of getting beat up by her inner critic like I know. I know for me what that feels like and I just want to hold on to her, to steady her and tell her she has another voice in her head and I feel desperate sometimes to help her find that other voice, because that other voice that can really help her get through this hard time.
And it’s hard because sometimes that critical monologue in our minds is kind of riveting, like it can kind of put us into this hypnotic state, like we can’t seem to look away from it or get free of that power of that judgment. It’s so strong and it can feel so true and that’s why the critic within us is so good at this and that’s why we need to get better at it than she is, because we do have the ability to break free of the critical view and see a bigger picture. The thing I’ve learned to do is to translate the message of the critic, and this is how she’s really kind of that double agent. Something she’s complaining about and railing on me about is actually the evidence of the thing I care about. In other words, she’s getting all upset and judging how something is being done, but what she’s actually pointing out is that I care about stuff. She’s giving me evidence that I’m actually a good mother because I’m worried about how bad of a mother she says I am. You know, if you didn’t care, there would be nothing for the critic to point out.
Caring is the power we have to carry us through all of this life of imperfections. That’s the bigger picture that we’re trying to hang on to. I’m not saying this is easy. I don’t do it perfectly. I get stuck sometimes I get like in that hypnotic trance of the inner critic. If we know that it’s a pattern, we can start to watch for it, and I think it’s important to understand why. Why is the critic ultimately doing all of this? And one thing I’ll throw out there is that it could be that she’s really trying to protect us by helping us kind of see things that matter to us, and she goes about it in a misguided way, because what happens is we start to over identify with individual things and we make it be bigger than it actually is.
We can mistakenly believe that these negative thoughts actually represent who we are as a person. We can mistakenly believe that our balls, that we drop, the mistakes that we make, actually define who we are and we can start to see ourself as fundamentally flawed, inadequate, unlovable, and that’s going to lead to feelings of guilt and shame and this really kind of what we call low self-esteem, right where our self-concept is painfully separate from our actual essential self. It can just really narrow our vision and make it hard for us to see those positive qualities or those strengths that we have, make it even hard to see our worth, and this has a huge impact on our lives and, dare I say, it’s even at the core of so much of the anxiety and the depression and the hopelessness that we deal with All around us. So the purpose of the negativity, bias and over identifying with things that our critic says to us or mistakes that we make, I think the purpose is to protect us. You know that inner critic is operating under the belief that if she points out your failings and shortcomings, you’re going to be better for it, and I’m here to tell you that she is mistaken. Her methods of trying to motivate you to be better and do better are not working, and research backs me up on this.
Researchers have asked the question does being critical of yourself actually motivate you to achieve your goals? There’s this group of researchers that actually ran five separate studies examining the associations of self-criticism and perfectionism in pursuing goals in the areas of weight management, musical performance and academic achievement, and I’ll link this study in the show notes. But let me give you a quick summary. In what they found In every study, self-criticism did exactly the opposite of motivating them. Each time the participants scored higher in self-criticism, their goal achievement went down. The researchers went on to suggest that if self-criticism could be decreased, then not only would goal achievement rise, but so would the general well-being of those that they studied. So we know that self-criticism is a terrible motivator and you don’t need research studies to tell you that.
You can look around at the people you know and love who suffer high self-criticism and notice how scary that is, notice how much fear they have, notice how much fear it engenders in you, and then think about how hard it is to move forward when you’ve got that much fear. When your inner critic starts focusing on what you’ve done wrong, or how unacceptable or broken you are, or that no one will ever be able to forgive you or that you won’t ever forgive yourself, she sends out a message to your brain that you are in danger and your brain is built to act on that alarm and ask questions later. It believes what you say to yourself, even when it isn’t true. If you listen to what your inner critic says, then it’s easy to see why your brain would interpret that as dangerous. For instance, if you are unacceptable, how could you possibly be counted on to take care of yourself or others in your life? If your value is less than others or you believe that you’ll never be worthy of the good things in your life, then it makes sense that your brain would interpret that as dangerous and push the alarm button. And your body’s wired to respond to danger with that strong physical response where it goes into fight or flight and your heart rate goes up and your breathing gets shallow, like you feel in trouble, it feels dangerous. And all of that is meant to help you mobilize when you’re being chased by a tiger or to help you get out of a burning building.
But when the threat is within ourselves, in our self-concept, we actually become the threat and thing that we’re fighting against and we attack ourselves. As we take a single situation and only focus on the negative without balancing out the whole perspective of our life and who we are, we end up making it about our character rather than about a specific incident. The critic thinks it’s going to keep you safe by jumping all over your mistakes or your disappointments. But in fact harsh criticism actually activates the fight-or-flight mode and makes it all worse. Our brains go deeper into survival mode when we’re attacked, especially when we’re attacked from the inside, and because that attack is silent, like it’s in your head, and it goes so fast, it bypasses our usual reasonable thought process and just starts to be accepted as fact. When we attack ourselves, our bodies respond with that feeling of dread, fear and anxiety and then we can use sometimes these feelings to justify the criticism. See how bad I feel. It must be true when, if we could actually stop and look at it critically, with calmness and reason, we would probably have a few questions. Maybe we would modify our harsh judgments, maybe we could be more understanding and seek to learn from what happened in our life and work with it, rather than kind of push the panic button and decide that it means something really awful about us. But because this process goes fast and that threat response is so quick, it slips by our reasoning mind, and that’s why we’re talking about this today, so that we’re inviting our mind to come on board here and recognize when this is happening.
So back to our mom, who sat in front of me with big tears in her eyes, feeling so sad and beat up. Can you hear that criticism rolling around in her head? Can you see it happening in your life sometimes? I know I can, and so I spotted it and I said to her you’re really hearing that voice in your head right now. It’s pretty critical, am I right? No words, just big tears and a nod. And then she kind of took a breath. Like for the first time in the few minutes we’d been together. She’d almost been holding her breath and I could just see her release it and take a breath in, which is such a good sign Because she knows she was making a switch. She knows the drill that the first step in working with that awful feeling we get, with self-criticism, the first step is acknowledging that it’s happening and normalizing it. And that’s what I said to her and that’s what helped her kind of queue in. Oh my gosh, I’m in a self-criticism loop here and I’m saying that to you guys here.
When you feel this awful shame, that yucky hard, hopeless feeling inside, I want you to just notice it, to name it Wow, the criticism is thick right now. I’m really railing on myself right now. Wow, this is feeling like the end of the world to me right now. This feels so heavy, so big, like there’s no solving in that yet it’s just noticing it and this is so powerful. This is the beginning of working with this. So I named it for her, like I want to kind of hold her hand and say, hey, I know exactly what’s going on here and it’s okay. It’s not as awful as it’s feeling to you. It’s the effect of that critic Breathe with me, work with it. It’s going to resolve and you’re okay, You’re more than this, you’re bigger than this, you’re safer than it feels right now, like this is a great time to just do the safe process that we’ve talked about, because we have to work with your body and all those big feelings that we’re interpreting to mean scary stuff. So we just need to hang on to ourselves and not let the critic run the show. And this is why I’m teaching you about the inner critics tactics and helping you grow your understanding so you can step into that darkness and search for a light switch.
And doesn’t it feel that way sometimes, like all that painful stuff going on in our minds, around our inner criticism, just blots out the light, like it can feel so dark. And stepping into the darkness to find the light switch can feel hard, even impossible. Most of us don’t want to do it Like we recoil from darkness. We get flooded by darkness and we either run from it or kind of give into it and it takes self compassion to reach for the light switch. That is self compassion to say, even in the midst of these harsh thoughts, these big feelings of embarrassment or shame or fear or hurt or sadness, I need to reach for some light. Right now I’m hurting, I need it. I know it doesn’t feel like I can do this, I shouldn’t, but I’m going to because I think I understand a little more about what’s going on and I’m in a trance with this self criticism. And it’s well meaning, maybe, but it’s not all of me that reaching. That reaching is what we call self compassion.
And self compassion isn’t just coddling yourself like being all soft and smushy. It’s actually the bravest thing you can do. It’s strength, it’s bravery, it takes courage. When you’re self compassionate, you’re being fair and collaborating with yourself in all situations, but especially when you’re feeling inadequate or like you’ve let yourself or someone else down and think about what it feels like when you have compassion for someone else. It begins by noticing that someone is having a hard time or is suffering in some way, and as you consider the feelings the person might be experiencing, your heart opens and softens for them, and these feelings are more than just pity. It’s a desire to help in some way, to try to alleviate the suffering by comforting or reassuring them, and self compassion is having this same kind of response and attitude toward yourself. In fact, my favorite way of defining self compassion is this it’s the power to come to your own aid, to be safe and attentive in your own presence.
This became the work that this mom and I had been doing together, and once she spotted the critic, we were able to reach for the self compassion and get to the core of what was underneath that criticism. All those tender feelings, how much she truly loved her children, so many things she cared about, were at play in her heart rate then, and like we were able to say oh, hey, critic, yeah, I see you and I feel you, but I’m hurting right now and I need to get to that. So, excuse me, I’m just going to step around you here for a minute and look at what’s going on with me because I feel it I’m hurt right now. I need some attention. We’ve actually been practicing that and once she took a breath it kind of clicked for her what was happening and she was able to kind of break that self critic trance that we’re talking about and it cued her to reach for the compassion and that’s when she started to feel more steady. That’s when she started to feel like a little more light came into the situation. And we need that steadiness to keep going, to keep working for the things that matter to us. We need that self compassion, not criticism, to guide her through our decisions and to help us get through those really painful times. You know, this mom is a very compassionate person for other people, just not so great at giving it to herself, and I can truly relate to that, and maybe you can too.
Kristen Neff, one of the leading researchers in the study of self compassion, has found that 75% of us are more compassionate to others than we are to ourselves. And I don’t know about you, but I think that is definitely not fair Because, remember, when we’re deep in criticism, we feel threatened and we can’t really have access to our full capacities when we are in threat mode. It causes just this huge divide for us and that’s why it’s not helpful. We need to be compassionate with ourselves, just like we need to be compassionate with others, and when we do this, we’re actually much more capable of being able to go in and make decisions, to learn from our mistakes, to be able to be comforted, get back up. You know, those are all of the definitions of resilience. It’s hard to be resilient without self compassion and there’s actually kind of a formula for reaching for compassion. And this is exciting because we’re not just saying to you okay, poof, now be compassionate instead of critical. Instead, there’s some things you can do when that critic shows up to get you through it, without harshness and blaming and criticism. There’s something else you can do instead.
Dr Neff identifies three things to help us do this, and I’ve actually added a little to that as well. First, we need to be aware of our struggles in the present moment. We use the word mindfulness for this, and I’ve been alluding to that throughout this episode. If we can just notice we’re struggling, just notice we’re having a hard time, that’s going to help us get this process started. Number two we need to decide to respond to ourselves with kindness, to treat ourselves gently and to be understanding and encouraging through a difficult time. And third, we remember that we’re human and imperfect, and so is everyone else. Everyone has difficult times. We are not the only one. Everyone makes mistakes, they feel embarrassed, fall short of how they’d like to show up. So when you know that you’re not alone, it can help you normalize this, to know that you are not the only one. Dr Neff caused this. Having common humanity In my work. I add a fourth component innate worth. Because you know, I believe essential self is actually our home base, recognizing that our worthiness does not depend upon our actions or our behaviors. These are all tools to help us reach for the light, to help us see ourselves through the hard times.
So when we’re looking at self-compassion as another option to that criticism that shows up, it’s almost like there’s a race, something hard happens and there’s going to be a race. Is the critic going to get to you first or is your self-compassion going to get to you first? And I think in the beginning I would put my money if this were a race and we were betting on it, I would probably put my money on the critic getting there first. That’s the negativity bias at play, and so our job is to kind of hold the space to recognize it, to use that mindfulness to get geared up that we’re going to offer ourselves something else, to kind of wait, wait, wait for a minute, let the self-compassion catch up and help us get through this difficult moment. I think the more we exercise this self-compassion, the faster it’s going to come to us when we need it, because it’s going to be familiar, and the more we’re going to be able to spot the critic and how she shows up and understand why she’s there and not feel so threatened by her.
You know, when I make a mistake, I feel the pain of that. I can feel that squeezing in my heart. I could feel that kind of six feeling in my stomach, and then the first thing I do is I say, oh man, there’s that kind of criticism and I can feel it and it hurts. Then I wait. I wait for just a second because I’m looking, I’m searching for that light switch, because the darkness has kind of held me captive for a minute, and I kind of takes my breath away and I can feel the pain of it. It kind of suck in my breath and I’m like, oh, I just I don’t like this. I just don’t know I can get through this and I can hear the criticism starting to come.
But as I’ve practiced this, I know I know I have an option to hold onto myself for a second and to reach for compassion, because compassion can help me get through this tough moment, even if I have the self-critic kind of mumbling in my ear, and this will soothe our mind and our body. So we can actually use our mind and our body to help us. Help us figure out this problem, help us learn from our mistake, help us pick ourselves back up and try again. This is by far the greater motivator, the greater builder, the greater problem solver and the greater comforting power to support us in our life. So the first thing I teach a woman I work with is that it’s not her fault that her critic is strong in her head. That critic’s just part of you and you don’t need to get rid of her. You just need to understand her. We just need to recognize that criticism might show up and that’s okay.
It doesn’t mean what we have been believing for so long that all those words are true. It just means that we care about something and our critic is trying to protect us or, weirdly, even help us. Misguided, though right. We’re not looking to control this, we’re looking to accept it, and we do get a choice in how we’re going to handle these hard things in our life. This is why we’re training for resilience. We’re training to have choices. So don’t be afraid of the waves of blame or guilt that come upon you when you notice that your inner critic has the mic in your head. She’s just pointing to something you care about in a misguided way, and we can read her message and choose not to embrace the tactics she’s using.
In fact, as soon as I start to hear a negative, critical voice in my head, I take a deep breath and start reaching for self-compassion instead. It’s a great cue, because if there’s something that you wished you did differently, right. If you notice something that you’re critical of, something that you wished you’d done better, or that you’re disappointed in, or you’re feeling embarrassed, for the truth is that you’re not alone. If you ever feel alone, just think of me over here making mistakes too. I’m making lots of mistakes. I’m forgetting to do things I said I would do, and I often feel bad about it, but I don’t have to go deep into self-criticism, and neither do you. You’d have compassion on me, wouldn’t you? So think of me, or your sister, or your child or your best friend, and recognize that we’re all dropping balls and we are all still lovable. You still love us and you can still love you. So put an arm around your shoulder, just like you’d put an arm around mine.
Self-compassion is more than just being kind to yourself. It’s being able to turn towards yourself when you’re in a difficult situation and reach for acceptance and forgiveness and understanding and a kind of internal strength. It’s really rallying your resources within you and applying them to help yourself. I think of it like a commitment to stay with myself through some of the hardest times of my life, where I’m on my own side, and I want you to think about the same thing, and this is a process. I’m still working on it and it’s exciting. It’s so exciting to think that we can become this safe place for us to land, that, no matter what happens, we can stay connected and in support of ourselves.
I was talking to a woman who is dealing with some really harsh things going on in her extended family, some things that were not very nice, some things that were really painful to her and you know we use self-compassion there too, because all of that stuff that was coming externally at her, you know not maybe the self-criticism, but the criticism flat out straight up from someone else was triggering some of that thinking in her own mind. And we had this great discussion that you know, when you’re able to recognize that, okay, you might not be perfect, but you can apply compassion at any point and hold on to yourself and take care of yourself and learn and grow and change. Whatever you decide you need to change and still be okay. When you know you can do that for yourself, then you can do that in the face of other people’s criticism of you as well. We are building your internal strength from the inside out and that is going to bless your life in so many ways I can’t even begin to describe it. Think of the relief that can bring to our lives. So I’m training for it unabashedly and I invite you to join me. So here is your homework
Number one- notice your own beliefs around motivation, particularly your personal motivation.Do you have a belief somewhere, maybe taught to you explicitly by someone that you need to be kicked in the backside to be motivated. And if you do, please go into the show notes and read the research and do your own research by watching your kids and those you love and see how love and kindness is actually way more powerful than fear in motivating us.
Number two start to listen for that voice of your self-critic. You could even give her a name and you’ll notice throughout this whole episode. I talk about this voice, this self criticism, like it’s a her, like she’s separate from us, and this is called externalizing and it is actually a tool to help us see that our thoughts are just thoughts and we get to decide if they’re helpful to us or not. We don’t have to believe every thought that goes through our mind. I want you to start to listen for when the critic is talking and kind of get to know her voice by observing her and consider that you don’t need to believe everything she says to you.
And number three- I want you to consider how it might feel to be on your own side, to reach out and be gentle to yourself, like you might be to me or to your child or your best friend and it’s okay if you can’t quite do it yet. Just consider that it might be an option to be on your own side and this might feel like you’re breaking a rule, like it might be a family rule, like you’re not supposed to be kind and soft and understanding to yourself. I don’t know, maybe you got it explicitly from someone, maybe you didn’t grow up with that and somehow you just ended up with it. Remember that negativity bias. It’s not uncommon for us to be critical and harsh with ourselves. So I want you to consider that it might be okay to be on your own side and the way that starts is to recognize that you’re valuable just because you exist. You have an essential self and she’s there. There is nothing you can do, no mistake, no ball. You drop. That will change that and I really want you to consider you can drop the motivating by fear and pick up motivation by love.
This episode was important for us to really lay out the vision of what we’re trying to do here, to be able to acknowledge this self critic, to kind of bring her out into the light, to give her a name, maybe to start to externalize her, to start to recognize that you’re not alone if you hear her in your head and to be able to learn to work with her, and we needed to give an episode just to her, and so next episode we’re going to really focus in greater detail on how we can directly and specifically apply self compassion. So I don’t want you to feel hurried or stressed here. Just let these ideas have a little room in your mind to feel familiar, and we will strengthen them. So, in quick summary, self compassion is a skill, it’s a way to think that we can learn, and this is really good news because with some awareness and some practice, you are going to get good at this and the relief that can bring to your life the power and the peace it is so worth training for. So I want you to consider joining me next week and we’ll go over some steps that will help you practice this in much more depth and detail. So thank you again for your time today. I’m sending you my love, all you brave and powerful mamas. You inspire me with the work you do and I hope you can start to feel how much you are needed and loved. I’ll talk to you next week, take care.
The leadership parenting podcast is for general information purposes only. It is not therapy and should not take the place of meeting with a qualified mental health professional. The information on this podcast is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition, illness or disease. It’s also not intended to be legal medical or therapeutic advice. Please consult your doctor or mental health professional for your individual circumstances. Thanks again, and take care.