"It’s like a big stick that I hit myself with from the inside. Really, would I want anyone I love to do that to themselves" -- Jennifer Mayfield
Humans have somewhere between 10,000 and 70,000 thoughts per day. The majority of these thoughts are “negative.” Our minds are in the habit of judging, evaluating, criticizing, warning. You might think of this as your "inner critic."
The inner critic's goal is to protect us. It does this by constantly scanning for threats: potential dangers, past problems we need to keep reliving to prevent their recurrence (or prove we were right!), defects in our children that we need to correct, and deep flaws in ourselves that we fear make us unlovable and thus threaten our very survival. The inner critic has a negativity bias, meaning it's primed to look for negatives. And we can always find evidence to support our biases.
No wonder we feel worn out! Ignoring your inner critic won't help; because it will just escalate to get your attention. But you CAN greatly reduce its fear level, to transform your relationship with it. Here are 5 Strategies to retrain your inner critic for less anxiety and more love.
1. Honor the fact that your inner critic is trying to take care of you.
Think of it as a watch dog. When it starts yapping, resist rushing into fight or flight mode. Instead, take a deep breath. Thank your inner critic watch dog for trying to take care of you. Then hug it and tell to stop barking and go lie down. Reassure yourself: "I can handle this."
2. Explore what's scaring you.
What is your mind so afraid of? Put it into words, and you'll see how silly it is.
For instance, if you're yelling at your child because she was belligerent, ask your inner critic why your four year old's behavior is so dangerous. The response may be "She thinks she's the boss around here!" or "I can't get her to do what I say!" or "I have to nip this disrespect in the bud now!" But is this really an emergency worth your big guns? She's a four year old who just wants to be heard. She's desperate for your understanding and approval. Your job is to calm the storm, not escalate it. You can set whatever limits are necessary calmly and kindly. You don't need to be in fight mode.
3. Bring your deeper wisdom in.
Your mind needs a partner: Your heart. That's your inner truth meter. Put your hand on your heart and ask:
“How can I make something good happen here?"
A simple, heartfelt answer will pop into your head. Maybe something like "She's trying to grow into her own person.... Don't take it personally.... Keep your sense of humor.... Give her a hug."
4. Put your inner critic to work doing something useful.
Your inner critic just wants to serve. Give it a more constructive job. For instance, "This child seems to need some autonomy. Will you help me notice every time that I could give her a choice, or let her do something her way?"
You'll be amazed at what a good servant your inner critic is, alerting you to every time you could make a better choice with your child. Just don't let it beat you up when you make mistakes. Tell it: "Two steps forward, one step back still gets me where I want to go."
5. Choose love.
The inner critic is all about fear and judgment, so the antidote is love and compassion. No matter what mistakes you make, when your inner critic gets started on judging you, remember your own goodness. You don't have to be perfect to be more than enough.
Sometimes your inner critic will still panic and try to drag you off the deep end, but you can just remind yourself that there's no emergency. When all else fails, try laughter -- about your own "failings," your child's foibles, the cosmic joke of life itself. Even with all its challenges, life with kids can be fun — and funny. Even your inner critic can't complain when you're laughing.
There. Isn't that liberating?
In the next few weeks, we'll be interspersing more Spring Cleaning for Your Psyche with our regular posts about kids and parenting. Other posts in this series:
5 Strategies to Tame Your Inner Critic (this post)
6 Steps to Vaporize Your Negative Beliefs and Heal Your Self Criticism
Transform Your Inner Critic Into Your Inner Nurturing Parent
Go Out of Your Mind...And Into Your Body
How to Love Being with Your Kids? Dive Deeper
Let Your Heart Take Over