My inner critics

“We have to learn to be our own best friends because we fall too easily into the trap of being our own worst enemies.” ~ Roderick Thorp

My recent post on perfectionism has had me thinking about the ways that I talk to myself as a result of this perfectionistic streak of mine. I’ve known for years that my self-talk tends to be very critical, so that’s not new news to me. I also know that this is not good for me. It’s something I’ve been working on for years without much success. I have noticed something very interesting about this phenomenon lately that needs further exploring. I’m also suddenly finding myself encountering messages about dealing with this tendency, which indicate it must be time for me to tackle this issue again at a deeper level.

The interesting thing I’ve noticed is that my inner critic seldom speaks with my own voice. My inner critic simply parrots back to me the criticism that I’ve received from those around me. The most insidious and devastating voices are those of the people who I care the most deeply about. I’m noticing that these people tend to be the ones that are not only my harshest critics, but they are also the ones that are most likely to try to tell me that this criticism is either good for me or that it is somehow a sign of how much they love me. This criticism for me is the hardest to defend myself against and the hardest to erase from my internal tapes—especially when I can see even a grain of truth in what the person is pointing out to me. (Ironically, the people who have created the greatest number of these critical tapes are the ones who are also most likely to tell me that I’m too critical of myself.)

This observation means that I need to work on several different fronts if I am going to make any change in my inner critic. First, I need to figure out why I keep attracting people into my life who believe that criticizing me is an appropriate way to show their love and care for me. Don’t get me wrong! I realize that some negative feedback is going to be part of every human relationship at times because, as humans, we will all eventually do things that hurt or annoy those that we care about most. So it’s not that I believe that I should never receive any negative feedback again; it’s that I tend to find people who make criticism a primary means of communicating with me. That doesn’t seem to be normal. So why do I do this? What attracts me to this pattern? What am I doing that attracts people who have such a need to criticize? I don’t have any answers to this beyond the obvious law of attraction principle involved—I attract people who criticize because I believe I deserve that much criticism. It’s clearly a question I need to start exploring in more depth. Once I figure that out, I need to determine how to go about making better choices. I will also need to figure out how to transform this pattern in established relationships to stop collecting more tapes for my inner critic to play for me.

The other major front needs to be figuring out how to delete these tapes that are currently stuck on replay. How do I get these voices out of my head? Dealing with these critical voices that are wrapped in messages of love and care are a challenge. How do I reject the criticisms without rejecting the person or their care for me? How do I acknowledge the truth that may be present in a criticism without letting it continue to beat me down? How do I let go of a criticism from my inner critic when I hear it echoed in continuous loops by other voices from those who care about me?

I am not at all sure even where to start there, but I did get a couple of resources this week that talk about this. (Synchronicity helping me out as usual on this journey!) The first was a video clip from Healing Quest talking about Emotional Fitness that featured Joan Borysenko talking about self-acceptance. She believes that the most important thing we can do for our emotional health is to stop beating ourselves up. She talks about the importance of learning how to observe that we are acting or feeling in a way that may not be the most useful at the moment but still accepting that this is ok. This blows my mind. I understand the concept, but the idea of being able to say that I’m acting badly towards others—and that’s ok—is beyond me at the moment. That is going to take a good deal of work to even begin to be able to implement, I think.

The other resource was a blog post from Chris Brogan entitled You Are So Stupid. He is also talking about how badly we talk to ourselves, but he takes a slightly different approach. He works on firing his inner critic and hiring an inner coach. He describes his inner coach as someone who is rather gruff and to the point, someone who can acknowledge his shortcomings in a way that encourages him to do better rather than just beating him up for not being perfect. I like this idea. I’ve never had a name for it, but I already have a bit of an inner coach that I use to encourage myself at times. This inner coach even calls me by a nickname that I allow few other people to use, and the use of that nickname is one of the cues to me that inner coach is talking. Interestingly, even though my inner critic often speaks in other people’s voices, my inner coach’s voice is always my own voice. I’m not sure what that means exactly, but I clearly need to spend more time listening to my inner coach that my inner critics.

I need to learn to become my own coach and my own best friend. I spend entirely too much time now being my own worst enemy and recruiting others to come on board to help. If I want to become the person I am meant to be, that needs to change. I need to emerge from this chrysalis with the inner critics left behind and the inner coach fully on board!