The woman sitting across the table from me said, “I know I’m ugly.” Instantly, I thought, she just told me what her inner critic was telling her. I looked her. She wasn’t going to be the next cover girl; nor was she ugly. She had beautiful green eyes with lashes not needing mascara, blemish-free, teeny-tiny pore skin I would give my eye teeth for, and perfectly aligned pearlies surrounded by full lips. There was a lot to like. And I gave her my opinion (of course).
We all have one, an inner critic, that is. According to my therapist (yes, I have one of those too), the inner critic shows up during childhood as others criticize or correct to the nth degree. As children we internalize the negativism as a voice, often a destructive voice, inside our heads. We tell ourselves we’re ugly or fat or can’t accomplish our goals or aren’t smart enough to understand this or nobody cares about us. Whatever the dialogue, it is often not the reality.
Thirty-five years ago I read book after self-help book, took an employer-sponsored course called “Context Training” and learned to ditch much of my inner critic by separating fact from the fiction in my head, just as I hope I did for the woman mentioned above. Books like “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale changed my life as I became more self-confident, enjoyed more success and became still more confident in my abilities. I embraced failure as opportunity instead of failure. My inner critic became a squeaky little buzz of white noise that was quickly silenced when doubt knocked on my door.
As a caregiver the voice recently tried to resurrect itself as I struggled with new challenges. Faced with mounting stress, my caregiver coach (yes, I have one of those, too) told me, “The stress will never go away.” My inner critic started saying things like, “You’ll never have a day of peace, so why plan for one?” or “You’ll never get to relax, so why try?” It took me awhile to realize my inner critic was getting louder. I needed to duct tape its mouth before a tough situation became tougher.
Self-acceptance, self-compassion, self-love is the first step to silencing your inner critic. Today I did the best I could do with what I have to do it. Even in retirement, if life presents you with a crappy hand, as with any other time in life, tell yourself how much you did right today and how much went right today. Remind yourself that most people do most things right most of the time. Give yourself a break.
Oh, I’m no Little Mary Sunshine. I still need to unload on someone. My therapist gets paid to listen; my family and friends are there for me. However, I remembered how our thoughts influence our view of life, our way of handling life and our confidence…the power of positive thinking. That’s the next step. Be mindful of your thoughts. What you put in your mind is like what you put in your body. You want a healthy diet of positive thoughts.
I started keeping a gratitude journal again. I might write something like, “I got up this morning to the sun shining, birds chirping, a garden full of flowers with more to come, a yummy breakfast, worked in the art studio with alcohol inks, talked to a friend.” Separate the fiction in your head from the facts of your life. Instead of thinking you are ugly, think about your beautiful green eyes.
Or, remember making a list of pros and cons when trying to reach a decision? It works for silencing your inner critic, too. Make the two columns and write down all the good things about your life and then all the negative things about your life. Chances are you can find more good than bad. And recognize the negatives, not as failures, but as opportunities for improvement.
My stress may never go away, but it can be reduced with positive thinking. I just had a chance to relax by writing this post. It gave me a slice of peace. You see? I just gagged my inner critic! And you can, too.