A few weeks ago at one of my ‘Talking About Anxiety’ events, a woman asked a question. This question gets asked in one form or another at every event I run.
We were talking about negative mindsets and how they affect our mental health. About how we need to learn to accept the truth that we are enough despite our (lack of) achievements or our (low) popularity or our (too large) dress size, despite our (lack of) wealth or our (poor) health or the (bad) behaviour of our children.
Mostly (although not always) these days I manage to speak to my inner critic quickly. I recognise the nonsense she is spouting and remind her of the truth: that I am enough and loved and have a place to belong and a contribution to make despite what my emotions and inner monologue might be trying to tell me.
It has taken years to develop this habit. Years of therapy and trial and error. Years of reading and thinking and discussing. Years of noticing.
At the event (and at every event before that) I was asked;
“How do I start do this? How do I start to develop this habit?
How do I take the truth I know for sure in this room, in this moment, and hold onto it in my day-to-day life and interactions, when I am bombarded with feelings of comparison and unworthiness, when I look around and think my contribution isn’t enough, that I am not enough?”
The long answer is: you have to do the work.
This is not a quick process. I am still doing the work. This is a marathon not a sprint.
Go to therapy.
Be curious about your inner monologue, about why it speaks to you the way it does.
While this is true, I also wanted to find a more immediate answer. Not a quick fix, but a starting point. Somewhere to begin.
I had ideas about what this might look like and today, while reading a parenting book by Philippa Perry* I found a good way to begin.
In this book, Philippa Perry describes a four point process for how to respond when you start to feel self-critical, when those feelings of worthlessness, or not-enoughness creep in.
(I have taken her ideas and re-worded them for this post so they are not directly related to parenting. The principles are the same).
When you become aware of your inner critic talking:
- Recognise the voice. No good will come from ignoring or denying. Burying feeling of low self-worth will only make you ill in the long term. Pretending the inner-critic is not there does not make her go away.
- Don’t engage or argue with the voice. Treat it like a a separate person, not a part of you. Acknowledge the voice without agreeing with it. By doing this you are separating yourself from the words of criticism the voice is spouting. You could even respond to your inner critic by saying, ‘Oh, that is an interesting point, but I don’t agree with you’.
- Expand your comfort zone. When possible do the thing your inner critic says you can’t do. By acting when your inner critic says you shouldn’t you will create memories, or evidence, you can pull to the front when self-doubt and the critical voice creeps in. These actions don’t have to be big. It could be attending a party your inner critic told you you weren’t good enough to attend, or a taking part in a conversation your inner critic told you you were too stupid to take part in, or (and please pay attention to this example) having a rest your inner critic told you you weren’t deserving of because you hadn’t achieved enough. (Prioritising self-care is a great way of creating an alternative to the critical voice. Every time you make space for you, you are telling the inner critic to quieten down and showing yourself you are stronger than it.)
- An added incentive. Every time you manage to separate from your inner critic and offer an alternative ‘truth’, you are building new habits and a new inner dialogue. This cumulative learning will act as an extra incentive to not go along with your inner-critic.
Next time your inner critic tells you you aren’t good enough, or clever enough, or popular enough listen (as I have said – denial helps no one, least of all yourself) but don’t accept her words. If possible act to create a storehouse full of memories that prove your inner-critic is talking nonsense. Begin this work today. In time it will become routine and the voice of your inner critic will start to quieten.
Try it. I’d love to know how you get on.
*Philippa Perry is a psychotherapist with over twenty years experience, and the author of a number of books. The book these ideas are from is: The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read. It is a fantastic read about parenting and how to build strong healthy relationships with our kids. I am really enjoying it. You can buy it here.
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