Perhaps the most difficult challenge in life is managing personal insecurities. also known as your inner-critic. We all have them, yet few people are brave enough to admit they do. Many of us don’t even acknowledge them because sensing inadequacy in oneself can, at times, be too painful to cope with. Through consistent negative self-talk and self-sabotaging behavior, we induce recurrent self-fulfilling prophecies that reinforce distorted beliefs about ourselves.
It’s amazing how we go from young children, essentially free of insecurities, to adults who second guess everything except ideas that confirm (or seemingly confirm) deeply held toxic thoughts about ourselves. This happens because we let other people’s uninformed opinions (aka assumptions) about us become our understanding of ourselves. And because those assumptions are so inaccurate but yet influential, our thoughts are often incongruent with our intrinsic belief system about who we are, which is why our inner-critic is so hurtful. Do you really believe you would care about being a loser or a screw-up if you truly believed deep down you were worthless? Absolutely not! You’ve been fed these negative ideas for so long by yourself and others that it’s hard to actually see yourself outside of the context of these distorted beliefs. I talk about this concept in more detail in Combating Anxiety and Depression with self-compassion.
When you were a child, your self-image was a blank slate. For most of us, over time, the feedback we got from our parents, friends, classmates, and others, as well as various circumstances, began to contaminate that blank slate, shaping the way we see ourselves. Therefore, if most of the early feedback in your life was negative, i.e., people telling you you’re too fat, too dumb, too ugly, etc., you begin to see yourself through the eyes of your detractors. Usually, the same could be true, vice visa. People who receive positive feedback during their impressionable years tend to engage in positive self-talk more than self-criticism.
Why Is self-criticism so hard to stop?
It’s challenging to silence our inner critic because it’s often our harshest critic, mainly because it knows exactly what critiques will hurt the most. Our inner critic makes up more of ourselves than any other part of us. The inner critic is the basis of most of our decisions or general thoughts. The inner critic is what tells you not to speak your mind when you have ideas at work. The inner critic tells you not to wear those clothes you like; it also makes you “play it safe” and not follow your dreams. The inner-critic is that nagging voice that tells you you’re not good enough. It makes you question any inkling that you’re not a worthless sap, destined to be yellow starburst in an unusual pack of Pinks. Your inner-critic is a ruthless bully. And there is no way to silence it unless you confront it.
Confronting your inner critic requires a lot of reflection. Because the inner-critic’s is deeply rooted in early life experiences, it’s not always obvious where the inner critic gets its ammunition. We must fully analyze the way we think and how we talk to ourselves to be in a position to eliminate that dreadful inner-critc.
Often the most hurtful things we think about ourselves are rooted in trauma. Most people define trauma as a dangerous or life-threatening event, which surely fits the bill to be recognized as trauma. But most of us never have a near-death experience, a chronic illness, or an encounter with a natural disaster, so we mistakenly believe that trauma is not a part of our lives. The truth is, we all experience trauma, just to varying degrees. In other words, like beauty, trauma is in the eye of the beholder.
For some, trauma is witnessing death, rape, or some other violent incident. Trauma for others might be ordinary experiences like childhood bullying, poverty, overly critical parents, termination from employment, being cheated on, or even something as slight as failing a college course.
Regardless of what the source of your trauma is, it behooves you to address it. The more you ignore your trauma, the more it amplifies the voice of your self-critic. The louder the voice of your inner-critic, the more influence it has over your life.
There’s a saying in fitness: “We are what we eat,” meaning our physical health is a culmination of the things we put in our body. If we want to be healthy, we must nourish our bodies with healthy foods and abandon toxins like junk food, drugs, and alcohol. Well, the same can be said about mental health: we are what we think. And if you want to be mentally fit, you can’t continue to feed yourself poisonous thoughts. Nourish your mind with healthy, realistic thinking patterns.
Even the most self-assured people at times can be critical of themselves. Personally, I believe self-criticism is a part of being human. And humans are imperfect. We can never completely rid ourselves of self-criticism. Because it’s virtually impossible to fully eliminate your inner-critic, the goal is to silence it enough so you can hear the rational part of you speaking life into your endeavors.
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