Tag Archives: Inner Voice

Birth of the Inner Critic

Gremlin SquashedLast week I wrote about that inner critic who sits in our head and screams about everything we do wrong. We all have one. Some critics are tamer than others. Some critics are downright abusive. But most of us can agree that it’s there. So what is it and how did it get there?

We come in to this world whole and unscathed. But at some point in our childhood there occurs a heartbreak. The first of many. This is unavoidable. It is part of the human condition. It can happen through a single event or through an accumulation of events. We can be hurt through physical or emotional abuse or through the teasing of siblings or peers. It could happen at home with our family or out in the community. But, it happens. At some point we get the message that who we are is not ok. Or that at least some part of us is unacceptable.

It is at that point that the critic is born.

There is a part of us that is determined to stop this heartbreak from happening again. It becomes a policeman or an over-protective parent. It monitors our behavior. It keeps us hidden in order to keep us safe. It tries to control us in order to protect us from ridicule, rejection or abuse.

So the critic, then, is actually trying to help us.

The problem is that sometimes this critic becomes too powerful. And too big. And too mean. Sometimes that internal voice does us more harm than good. It cripples our confidence and interferes with our growth and development. It uses harsh, abusive words. It needs some serious sensitivity training!

So what is one to do? The first step in managing the critic is to notice it. Without judgment. Without agenda. Just notice it. Study it. Notice when it is most active. What words does it use? What does it try to protect you from? Just watch it. Be curious about it – like an anthropologist studying human behavior. And remember. You do not have to believe what it says. I’ll repeat that (again and again…). You do not have to believe what it says.

In the coming weeks I will write more about the inner critic as well as some of the other voices you may notice inside your head. If you can have an inner critic, why not an inner cheerleader? Or an internal wise old woman. And of course there is the inner child (No. I’m not trying to give you all multiple personalities! This is all perfectly normal, I promise!). It’s fun to get to know yourself in this way. Take this journey with me!

First Published 2011


12 Nov 2013

Inner Gremlins – Which Voice Are You Listening To?

Tantrum GremlinOur minds are filled with chatter most of the time. There are thoughts running around in there all day long. Sometimes we are tuned in to the noise. Sometimes we’re not. But unless we are 100% focused on our current activity, chances are we are thinking about something. And those thoughts have a profound effect on our emotional well-being.

One of the first things I do with clients in my therapy practice is to “out the critic.” That is to say, I call attention to that negative voice inside your head that comments on everything you do. You know the one. It’s the one that says “I can’t believe you just said that. You are so stupid!” or “Don’t do that. You’ll make a fool of yourself.” Or “You will never get it right…” Usually there is no end to the miserable things it has to say.

But here’s the thing… Are you ready for this?… It’s profound…

You don’t have to believe it.

Did you hear that? You don’t have to believe it. It doesn’t speak the truth. In future posts I will write about where this voice comes from and what its function is. But for now, suffice it to say that you do not have to believe what it says about you.

The next time you hear that voice inside your head saying mean things about you, just notice it. Say to yourself “Hmm. There’s that mean voice inside my head again.” That’s it. Just notice it. Don’t judge it. Don’t try to make it go away. By all means, don’t beat yourself up about it (it would be totally unfair to give the critic one more thing to be critical about!). Just notice it and remind yourself that it doesn’t speak the truth. That alone can make a difference in how you feel.

First Published 2011

08 Nov 2013

What to do with your Inner Brat

grumpy faceI’m tired.  I’m tired and I’ve had one of those weeks.  You know the kind I’m talking about.  The kind where you’re out of patience before you even get out of bed.  The kind where your kid looks at you funny and you scream at him for his insolence.  I like to think I’m above this kind of behavior.  After all, I’m a therapist.  I work with other people on their family issues – I’m not supposed to create my own, right?  Aaah, children are humbling aren’t they?  And none of us are perfect (I’ll save the topic of perfectionism for another issue).

So, why am I yelling at my children?  Well, as I mentioned, I’m tired.  (Aren’t all moms tired all the time?) Why am I tired?  Not because I’m working long hours on a project that has an immediate deadline.  Not because I’m trying to recapture my youth by partying with old friends.  Not because I’m enjoying rare quality time with my spouse, and not because I’m a busy bee waxing my floors at all hours of the night.  No.  I’m tired because I’m too stubborn to go to bed.  I have no other explanation.  I’m not going to bed because I’m not going to bed.  I’m also not eating nutritiously and not drinking enough water – just because.  Why does this happen?  Once again, I’m a therapist.  I teach people to nurture themselves.  I teach stress-reduction and self-care.  Why on earth would I avoid looking after the basics like sleep, food and water?  Obviously, I know better. I’m aware that I am not the only one who can get stuck in a self-destructive rut.  And granted, this is pretty mild as far as self-destruction goes.  Self-destructive behavior can look much, much worse.  Alcohol and drug abuse, risky promiscuity, impulsive gambling and overspending can all have very serious, life-threatening, family-destroying consequences. But less extreme forms of sabotage have consequences too.

Two of my personal favorite methods of self-impediment are procrastination and self-neglect.  When I say “self-neglect” I am not referring to severe neglect.  I still dress and shower and eat.  I just mean that I’m not eating well.  I’m not pampering myself or tending to my own happiness.  Now, even though these behaviors seem relatively innocuous, they still increase stress and lead to other problems.  When my “inner brat” starts acting out like this, I’m more easily frustrated.  I lack patience.  I’m quick to anger.  I speak before I think (this is hard on marriages and on the self-esteem of children).  I lack self-control and self-regulation.  I’m more easily overwhelmed.  I cry at Hallmark Card commercials.  I yell at my kids.  I don’t play.  All of these things impact, not just my own well-being, but the well-being of those around me.

I’d like to talk about this phenomenon in respect to the immediate moment, and regarding a larger life pattern.  If you have a habit of “getting in your own way” or somehow damaging your own chance of success, then the saboteur is a bedmate of yours.  This is usually a technique we develop in order to avoid something.  We fear change, failure, rejection.  We don’t want to take responsibility for ourselves, so we avoid taking action.  In truth, the heart of this issue lies in a lack of self-worth.  Somewhere, deep inside, we do not believe we are worthy of happiness.

In her book Dojo Wisdom, writer and martial arts teacher Jennifer Lawler addresses the trouble many women have when it comes to protecting themselves.  She says that they are afraid of hurting their attacker.  They hold a belief (usually unconsciously) that they are not worth protecting.  Interestingly, most of them have no trouble describing the acts of violence they would commit if someone was hurting their children.  But they do not find themselves worthy of the same kind of fierce protection.

Rooting out these deeply held, self-limiting beliefs is often not easy.  It requires being brutally honest with yourself, and it usually involves facing whatever fears you have been steadfastly avoiding.  This is not an “overnight” process.  It took a lot of years to entrench these beliefs into your being.  It will take time and patience (and support) to let them go. So, now that you begin to see the bigger picture and how some patterns of behavior work against your own best interest, you can make the commitment to start working on it.  That brings us to the dilemma of the present moment.  How do you deal with the saboteur who is taking over right now? In my experience, once people become aware of that little gremlin that lives inside their head they want to annihilate it; eliminate it from their personality.  Unfortunately, that is rarely possible.  Personality traits, beliefs, and inner gremlins rarely disappear on command.  I liken this to the ineffectiveness of saying “cheer up” to someone who’s dog just died or “don’t be angry” to your spouse after backing over his new bike.  Instead, I think the energy is better used making friends with this aspect of your personality and learning how to manage it so it does not take over and wreak havoc on all your relationships.

The first step is to know when your inner brat is starting to throw a tantrum.   For me, yelling at my kids and picking fights with my spouse are indications that I’m under stress.  What do you do when you are stressed-out?  Overeat?  Burst into tears at the drop of a hat?  Develop insomnia?

Once you realize that your equilibrium is upset, you can start to examine why.  All kinds of things cause stress.  What you’re looking for are the things that are of your own doing.  Not eating nutritious food, not sleeping (out of sheer stubbornness), procrastinating on responsibilities are some examples of the ways I personally contribute to my own stress and make it hard to maintain inner peace. The next step is two-fold.  First, you must correct the behavior.  Sometimes this means having a firm but loving conversation with that internal tantruming brat:  “I can see that you are upset.  I am interested in what you have to say but this behavior must stop.  My job is to look out for your safety and well-being and right now you are making some bad choices” (Yes. I am suggesting that you have this conversation with yourself.  I find it best to do this inside your head so your family does not think you’ve completely flipped.  Alternatively, you can sequester yourself in the bathroom for a good heart-to-heart talk, or write in a journal).

Then, you must take positive action.  For me, that means make a nutritious meal, have a drink of water and put myself to bed at a decent hour – even if I don’t want to.  It might even be good to force myself to do a little pampering (oh the pain of it!) like a manicure or spending ten minutes reading a good book.

The other part of taking responsibility for your well-being is to take an honest look at what you may be trying to avoid with this behavior.  It’s time to “listen to what that “brat” is trying to tell you.  Is there a thought or a feeling that you are trying to “push away?”  Now is the time to be very honest with yourself.  This takes an act of courage.

Are you angry about something?  Feeling taken advantage of? Sad or grieving?  Do you feel lonely?  Empty?  Dissatisfied in your marriage?  Are you angry with disrespecting parents or friends?  Have your feelings been hurt by a friend?  Are you worried about your health?  Are you trying to convince yourself that something is ok that is truly not ok?

Whatever it is, nothing can change if you do not first acknowledge that there is a problem.  This is where many moms struggle.  You are programmed to look after everyone else.  You mould yourself to fit what others expect of you.  I challenge you to take the time to examine your own needs and to be honest about your own hurt.  Then you can make an informed decision about what to do.

Physical pain is designed, paradoxically, to keep us from hurting ourselves.  Otherwise, what would keep us from picking up a burning ember?  Your five senses are continually feeding you information about the world.  Feelings can serve a similar purpose.  They, too, are providing you with information.  But you must pay attention to them.

Many people have cultivated the ability to ignore their emotional responses to the world.  The trouble is, the feelings still exist, even if one is not attuned to them.  They spill out – sometimes at the most inopportune times.  And when they do spill out, they often get attached to the wrong event.

So, it turns out that saboteur inside you can serve a positive purpose.  The next time you find yourself reaching for your third piece of chocolate cake even though you’re stuffed, give that little gremlin a wink and say “Ok.  Stop pitching a fit.  I’ll listen to you.”  Then give yourself some quiet space to tend to your inner world.  Take note of what is bothering you.  Only then can you take control of your happiness.


First published 2008

06 Nov 2013