Lessons From My Inner Critic
When I find myself focused on wondering (and worrying about) what everyone else might be thinking about me and my circumstances, it's usually a pretty good indicator that I need to pause and look at how I am thinking about me. To notice whether I am speaking to myself from a place of love and kindness, or if my inner critic has swept in with a storm of judgment and criticism.
Recognizing my self-talk is something that is relatively new for me. For years, my racing and anxious thoughts felt like a pattern I had no control over. A loud and persistent voice in my head that constantly asked:
Are they mad at me?
Do I look good in this outfit?
Am I making the right decision?
Am I good enough?
It felt inconceivable that I might ever be able to change the script. It was such a part of my reality, that I never questioned whether there could be a different way of existing or relating to it.
It was my “normal”, and although I didn’t particularly enjoy the negative thoughts that would berate me and take up valuable space in my mind, I considered the typical suggestions for coping with it uncomfortable, foreign and not for me.
Just a few years ago, when I began my chronic illness journey, the concept of self-love felt overly "woo-woo" and like something that only people with low self-esteem needed to focus on. Looking back on that version of myself, I realize how harsh and limiting that conclusion was. Today, practicing self-love has become a cornerstone of my coping and wellness practice.
A large part of creating wellness in my world, in spite of continuing health issues, has stemmed from letting go of that limiting belief; learning the difference between self-confidence and self-love, and being willing to open up to a relationship with myself. I’ve learned how to observe the overly critical voice in my head without attaching emotion to it and without validating it in the process. Simultaneously, I’ve worked to foster and discover a kinder inner voice, one that feeds me words of encouragement, love and support on a regular basis.
This shift was absolutely life-saving for me, particularly as I fell deeper into struggling with multiple chronic illnesses. In the countless, lonely moments, when I felt swallowed up by feelings of anxiety and inadequacy, words of loving kindness became powerful medicine and a source of hope. I had no idea how desperately I needed a self-love practice to help balance things out until I started integrating it into my life. I’ve sought out a variety of teachers and incorporated various methods to make peace with this part of my mind. Some of the tools which have been most helpful to me include: mindfulness training, health coaching, using affirmations, journaling and podcasts.
Today, and after lots of time and practice, when my mind is flooded with negative thoughts, I know how to pause. I’ve developed the capacity to step back and check in with the “self” that exists beneath those racing thoughts. The narrative in my head might be looping with worry about whether or not someone is upset with me...but more often than not...when I really pause, I find that my self-talk around whatever issue I'm fixated on is overly critical. Does the person have any reason to really be mad at me? Or am I being way too hard on myself for no reason? Usually, it is the latter; and I’m spinning with critical thoughts that aren’t based in reality. Correcting my self-talk will often solve many of my perceived "problems" with other people or situations.
Surprisingly, speaking kindly to myself has also opened up the door for others to treat me with more kindness. I learned that when I was constantly bashing myself mentally; telling myself that I wasn’t doing enough or that I was failing or disappointing others; I was less able to be fully open to receiving love and approval from the people around me. I had no idea how much my subconscious thinking was hindering my ability to receive kindness from others. This realization, and the practice of incorporating self love into my life, has created a dramatic shift in the way that I function in and perceive the world around me.
It’s been like learning a magic trick or fundamental secret to life: the more I speak to myself kindly, give myself love and approval — the more I hear it from the people around me.
This truth has also unlocked another “fundamental life secret”: the way I treat myself sets the standard for how others treat me. Finding the language and courage to love myself completely as I am — in this moment — and accept my circumstances with grace and hope; has been mirrored in the way my friends and family speak to me as well.
I hope this is helpful and resonates for you, and I hope you recognize how courageous and strong you are for walking this path and learning the importance of loving and understanding yourself. It’s not easy or linear, but it is absolutely worth it.
All my love to you ♥️