Written by therapist Houston Hough
I think we can all agree that we are oftentimes too hard on ourselves. That lovely inner critic voice we constantly hear and often give power to, speaks more often than we would like. “Ah! I did it again! I am such an idiot.” Or, “Ughhhh! I am such a failure. I told myself over and over I would do x differently, and here I am in the same old pattern.” I think you know exactly what I am talking about. What makes this voice even more fun is that once it tells us how awful we are, we, well, at least I, feel that sense of dread, shame, and self-hatred. It’s a gut feeling, one for me that makes my stomach sink and my heart burn. So this begs the question: How do I stop this cycle, and what does stopping actually mean?
To be honest, I fall into this vicious cycle more often than I’d like—listen to my inner critic, allow the words to permeate my heart, then feel awful, then tell myself that I can’t listen to that voice again, and then feel bad about that. Yeah, my favorite. I have been doing this for years, always wanting to break that cycle, but never really successfully doing so. Being a very performance-oriented person, not feeling or even believing in myself to stop my inner critic feels defeating, thus empowering my little frenemy.
Give yourself grace
I have heard the following words over and over in my life: “Give yourself grace.” I have to admit that phrase can be really triggering. Exactly how do I do this? I have tried over and over and failed. So why keep trying? I am so used to being hard on myself that I may as well continue with what feels familiar. The older I get though, I realize I cannot live with that vicious cycle. It does me no good.
Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines grace as, “a reprieve, an act of kindness and thoughtfulness.” For me, being kind to others feels far more natural than being kind to myself. I mean, I don’t want to subject anyone to my self-induced pressure. Even more than that, I don’t want them to know how hard I am on myself for fear of judgment.
But as I reflect on this thinking, there are so many red flags. Why would I not want to be kind to myself? If I expect myself to be kind to others, yet, I am not to myself, isn’t there a little bit of a double-standard there? Plus, if I can’t be kind to myself, how on earth can I expect myself to be kind to others? I have to start somewhere so perhaps I can start with myself.
A visual of grace
There is a reason I chose the picture of the river and the pine trees at the top of this post. Sure, it reminds me of where I grew up but more importantly, seeing, even hearing the river rush over the rocks, is an incredible visual of grace. It washes away the dirt—the negative self-talk. In fact, the rush of the water sweeps those thoughts away quickly, allowing new thoughts to come in. Plus, the sounds of a river like that are truly soothing, mesmerizing even. I think kind, gracious thoughts toward ourselves have that same effect.
How can we show grace to ourselves?
Be patient. Speaking from experience, I rarely am patient with myself. I expect myself to grasp a new thought, idea, skill, and task immediately. Case-in-point, I expect myself to return a text message immediately, or I expect myself to have someone’s name memorized from the moment I meet them. But let’s be real; I can’t respond to every single text I get the moment I receive it, and remembering everyone’s name the moment we introduce ourselves, well, that is pretty much impossible. Rather than beat myself up for not responding to that text that just came in, I can tell myself, “It’s okay. Breathe. Respond when you can and are ready..” Or when forgetting a name, telling myself, “This is really normal and It’s okay that I forgot. I am still a fully capable person and just because this person’s name slipped me does not mean I am a failure. It means I am normal.”
Be kind to yourself.
No, this does not mean you get to indulge in eating Peanut Butter M&M’s, (although it may), rather, it means to stop, breathe, and acknowledge the inner critic. Rather than automatically obeying its every word, you can choose to believe what is true about you: “I am kind, I am thoughtful, I am normal, I am talented. I may have failed, but that does not mean I am a failure,” so on and so forth.
Perhaps the idea of giving yourself grace hits home. If it does, I want to encourage you to stop, breathe, acknowledge your inner critic, but give yourself the power to say, “I don’t have to listen to that critic. I hear it but choose not to act on what it tells me.” Then celebrate your victory. Tell your partner, spouse, friend, or family. Or even better, reward yourself with something that delights you.
In wrapping this up, I leave you with this quote from Jeff Buckley, an American singer-songwriter:
“Grace is what matters in everything, especially life, especially growth, tragedy, pain, love, death…It keeps you from reaching out for the gun too quickly. It keeps you from destroying things too foolishly, It sort of keeps you alive.”
If you are wrestling with your inner critic more often than not, and would like some help in showing yourself grace, any therapist on our staff would be grateful to aid you along this journey. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us here at Optimum Joy today!