"Sometimes I feel like all I do is criticize and nag my children and husband--and myself!" -- Heather
"The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice." - Peggy O'Mara
We all have an inner voice. Its job is to protect us. Often, it tries to do this with warnings, judgments, and criticism. That's why we sometimes call it the inner critic.
Go under the criticism, and you’ll find fear. Fear that if we aren't good enough, we won't be loved. Which ultimately means we won't survive. That seems crazy, right?
But when you get a call from your child's teacher, and you worry that he's not succeeding, that you as the parent will be judged and found wanting, you go straight into survival mode. Fight or flight. So by the time you see your child, he looks like the enemy.
But there's more. Your child has fears, too. They come out as clinginess, or defiance, or aggression, or demanding-ness. As humans get older, fear usually evolves to self-criticism, rigidity, controlling-ness, as we try desperately to make everything perfect. Just so we can be good enough to survive.
Fear tells us it's helping. But does fear really help anybody change for the better? (Hint: When we feel attacked, we defend. Our natural desire to cooperate vanishes.)
Does your inner critic help you feel more relaxed, empowered, loving?
Does your inner critic help your kids feel more loved, secure, open, eager to please?
When you react to your child from fear, worry, or anxiety, you lose your empathy and compassion. Your child becomes an object to control, instead of a person to understand, nurture and love. You can't make good parenting decisions. And what you say to your child from fear isn't the inner voice you want to pass on.
Wouldn't it be lovely if your inner voice could become your cheerleader, encouraging you? It IS possible to transform the inner critic.
1. Stop, Drop and Breathe.
Simply noticing your tendency to speak negatively to yourself as you go through your day will loosen the grip of those negative tendencies. When you notice a negative thought, just stop. Drop It. (Beating yourself up is not the way to get yourself back on track.) Take a deep breath. That pause gives you a chance to switch gears.
2. Soothe your anxiety.
Your negative thoughts come from fear. When you hear that negative, bullying voice in your head, find a mantra that reassures you: "It isn't an emergency... I can handle it." That will ease the fear that's gripping you, so your inner voice relaxes.
3. Talk to yourself like someone you love.
You wouldn't let someone speak to your child that way, right? You deserve compassion too, no matter what. Train yourself to transform those negative thoughts into something more encouraging. "Nobody bats 1000.... I'm doing my best.... I am more than enough.... This is good enough for now."
These three steps will start transforming your inner critic into your inner “Nurturing Parent.” Think of it as "re-parenting" yourself. Within a month of repeatedly shifting from criticism to compassion, you'll actually be rewiring your brain.
And you'll find that you're a more encouraging parent to your child, which means that he or she will be developing a more supportive inner voice, too. As Mothering Magazine founding editor Peggy O'Mara says, "The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice." Wouldn't it be wonderful to gift our children an inner cheerleader instead of an inner critic?
In the next few weeks, watch for more Spring Cleaning for Your Psyche interspersed with our regular posts about kids and parenting. Also in this series:
Go Out of Your Mind...And Into Your Body
How to Love Being with Your Kids? Dive Deeper.
Let Your Heart Take Over