Oh, the inner critic. It has so many names. I've heard it called the Inner Asshole, or the Saboteur (as RuPaul says). Whatever you call it, it all boils down to a little voice in our minds that is overly critical, harsh and sometimes downright mean. It's normal and part of being human. But it can still really suck. Add in depression and/or anxiety and that voice can become absolutely brutal.
Despite how universal this thought process is, it doesn’t make it any easier to ignore. We may rationally know it’s B.S., but emotionally we still feel the sting of those words.
I was listening to a podcast with artistic Renaissance woman Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way. When it comes to her inner critic, she takes this approach:
“What you say to your critic is, ‘Ah, thank you for sharing’ and you turn your critic from a voice of doom and gloom into a little cartoon character. And the cartoon character can be as negative as it wants, and you can step past it.”
I absolutely loved this approach to dealing with our inner critic! Here's why:
Mindfulness: One of the most powerful ways of managing our inner critic is to identify those thoughts and separate them from yourself. If you know you have an inner critic, you are already on a great track. You have already 1) recognized those thoughts and 2) acknowledged that they are not a part of you. When we can be the observer to our inner critic, we are able to step back and assess.
This takes power away from that thought process. By being the observer to our mind, we are not just being pulled along for the ride.
An exercise I have clients do is try to identify where they experience their inner critic. Is it in their head, their chest, their gut? Wherever it may be, I ask them to really notice where they feel those thoughts. Once they have it, I ask them to imagine separating those thoughts from themselves. So, if they feel the inner critic strongly in the back of their head, I ask them to imagine removing it temporarily from them. If they can see that, I ask them: How do they feel? What's it like to no longer have that thought process a part of themselves? And how do they feel about the critic when it's now on the outside, no longer attached to them? Most of the time, people reflect on how freeing it feels.
Humor: Yes, the words of our saboteur can be brutal and that can feel like no laughing matter. But the approach we take towards our thoughts and well-being does not always have to be so serious. When you can laugh at something, it's no longer as powerful or scary. In reality, the negative self-talk of the inner critic can be so mean that's its almost comedic. We would never dare speak that way to someone else, but we will to ourselves. Making a funny character out of our inner critic can give us back a sense of control. Personally, I like to think of my inner critic as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network (not the REAL Mark Zuckerberg). In that film, Mark is portrayed as petty, guarded and quick to resentment. My inner critic is exactly the same way towards me. Naming my critic helps me stop acting on these thoughts and lets me make a different choice. I can say "OK Mark, I hear your input but it's unnecessary right now."
So, what's your inner critic like? What would you call them? What cartoon personality can you give them to soften the blow every time they try to bring you down? Whatever you call them, whatever they are like, you are in charge and decide what is worth your time.
How often do we assess ourselves based on the opinions and perceptions of others? How frequently do we say If someone feels this way, then it must be true? It's hard not to fall victim to this line of thinking. We're human and we are not immune to the energy, emotions and thinking of other people, especially those closest to us. The problem is that this way of thinking leaves our self-worth to the wind; it vacillates depending on where and who we are with.
Here's a quote I love:
“You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there's still going to be somebody who hates peaches.”
― Dita Von Teese
You can be the best, the greatest, the most on top of your game, and there will always be someone that is not a fan of you or your work. That's human. We all are different and we cannot have universal preference - it's impossible. Case in point: there are some people who do not like Tom Hanks.
A scene in The Devil Wears Prada depicts this well. Fashion magazine tycoon Miranda Priestly is chastising her new employee, sensible but unfashionable Andy. Miranda, at one point, refers to Andy as "the fat girl." The scene is played for laughs because Andy is obviously a very slender woman. But in the eyes of Miranda Priestly, a woman who spends her days looking at ghastly underweight models, her view is warped. Translation: there will always be Miranda Priestly's with their own perceptions and views, telling you that you are not enough.
Personally, I try to know myself, decide what is important to me and when given opposition, assess: How do I feel about what I did? Is this in line with my beliefs and values? Do I trust this person’s opinion and feedback? Am I allowing myself to hear this feedback and be honest with my faults? When it comes to self-worth, we want to have a strong base so we can weather the storm of challenge and opposition.
So know yourself, beautiful peach, and know your worth. And when the Miranda Priestly comes your way, know you will be OK.
Easier said than done. So much of counseling and mental health falls into this category. Treat yourself kindly. Be on social media less. Move your body often. All of it sound so simple, but putting it into practice is surprisingly hard. Sure, telling your inner critic to “hush” sounds like a no biggie. But actually doing it? It can feel damn near impossible at times. I heard a saying once: The steps are simple but they are not easy. Couldn't agree more.
I've found another piece of guidance that is surprisingly hard to put into practice is the idea that we are allowed to feel two opposite emotions at once. I'm sure even reading that sounds like common sense. Of course I can feel dual emotions. I do it all the time! But how often do we judge how we feel or have the belief that we are only supposed to feel one specific emotion?
The pandemic, for example, has many of us excited to see things opening back up. But there can be opposing feelings as well, like anxiety about what it will actually feel like to go back to normalcy. Maybe there are some things you will actually miss, like more downtime and less busyness.
I've found when it comes to the highs and lows in life, we allow little room for dual emotions. New parents, for example, believe they are supposed to love being a parent 24/7. That there should be no room for frustration or sadness, or that they aren’t allowed to miss some pieces of life pre-parenthood. This can also occur when experiencing grief. People who have experienced a significant loss will start to feel a little better over time, but then feel guilty about this change and the idea that they are “moving on.”
I've found this struggle with opposite emotions falls under the “should's.” I shouldn't be feeling this way. This isn't how people in my situation are supposed to feel. The problem with this type of thinking is that it always leads us from feeling bad to worse. As one therapist put it: When you say ‘should’ you are ‘should-ing’ all over yourself. We are already struggling with what we are feeling, and then we judge ourselves for feeling that way. In DBT, we call this a "secondary emotion." You feel something, then you feel something in response to that feeling. You feel angry, then you feel guilty about being angry. It's adding another challenging feeling to an already uncomfortable one.
What helps me in these moments is to ask, Who says? Who says I am supposed to be feeling this way or that way? We are allowed to feel two wildly different emotions at once. We can feel ecstatic about parenthood, while still feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. We can feel devastated about a loss and also grateful for the moments when grief begins to lift. The film Inside Out demonstrates this beautifully when the protagonist Riley lets herself experience a moment that is both happy and sad. This is depicted by a ball of emotion that is multiple colors, instead of the previous emotions that were each one color and all-encompassing. I like to imagine actively holding space for two emotions, envisioning two different colors inside of myself.
Bottom line: we're humans. We are complicated and messy creatures. Our emotions will be no different.
One of my favorite deep breathing techniques!
Inhale through your nose for a count of 4.
Hold for a count of 7.
Exhale through your mouth for a count of 8.
When you inhale, let your belly expand and when you exhale, let your belly get smaller.
Here's my latest video on Weebly, Routines To Support Your Mental Health. I go over a few quick tips for a morning and nighttime routine. Please enjoy!
Please check out my article on Elephant Journal about social anxiety in the wake of COVID-19.
Happy Thursday! Please check out my channel and latest video, Yoga For Digestion. Enjoy!
It's been one year since the pandemic first began. Truly, I cannot believe it. At this time last year, we were being told "stay home for two weeks to flatten the curve" - it's hard not to laugh in disbelief at that now. I look back at the weeks leading up to the pandemic and cannot believe how different life was. I went to the movies! I took public transportation! I went in to a store mask-less! All of that now feels unimaginable.
When we go through an unexpected trauma, we look back at the time leading up to it and feel amazed at how unaware we were. Grief expert David Kessler compared the pandemic to a grieving process. And like the grieving process, we never knew how good we had it until it was gone. I never realized what a luxury eating out with friends was, until it was taken away.
It's a challenge to not become overly cynical about this year and question its worth. Why? What was it all for? On a large scale, I think time will tell how this will change our country. I encourage the clients I work with to consider who they were at the beginning of the pandemic and notice any growth that happened. For myself, I've learned to surrender more. We only have control over ourselves and the pandemic has definitely belabored that point. Plans went out the window this year.
What I've also tried to embrace this year is gratitude and focusing on the things in my life I am thankful for. Given what a challenging year it was, it was easy to give in to cynicism. What helped me get through the challenging days was gratitude and reflecting on all the things I do have. I still have my health, my family, my work, my fur babies and my friends. That's a lot, considering how much loss there was this year. I'll carry that practice of gratitude with me forever, because I know how it helped me. Moreover, I can only imagine the immense gratitude I will feel once we are able to go back to normalcy, like being able to hug a friend worry-free.
If you experienced a loss this year, my heart goes out to you. Any anger and sadness you feel is completely valid. Even if that loss occurred at the beginning of the pandemic, the emotions can still feel just as strong. This was a year of grieving and still is. And there is no expiration date on grief.
So one year in to this pandemic, I send healing to you and your loved ones, however your process has looked. And here's to better times ahead. Please be well.