Soften the Inner Critic: A Path to Change

Make it all okay.
Make it okay that you procrastinate.
Make it okay that you are afraid of commitment.
Make it okay that you smoke when you stress.
Make it okay that you are scared.
Make it okay that you fantasize about someone besides your partner.
Make it okay that you want to run away from life’s current challenges.
Make the messy feelings okay.

There’s a tug-of-war going on. Sometimes we only need to drop the rope.

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There is often a divide within us between how we feel and how we think we should feel. Self-judgement. A conflict between our head and our heart. We feel _____, but think we should feel something else.

We are thinking about our feelings and often, judging them:
I shouldn’t have these feelings for my coworker.
I shouldn’t need to depend on my partner for support.
I shouldn’t feel anxious about starting a new job.
-Changing myself shouldn’t be so hard for me.

We aren’t born this way, but we internalize these voices and narratives about our identities and how we’re “supposed” to be. The “shoulds” in our self-talk are our clues. Our “shoulds” contain a wealth of information about how we believe we and the world are supposed to be.
-They shouldn’t be wearing that.
-They shouldn’t be behaving that way.
-I shouldn’t be feeling this.

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Gender roles are pre-supposed beliefs about what men and women are more “supposed” to do. We become conditioned to act in specific ways to please the people around us, so we adopt these roles we didn’t create for ourselves. In our current culture, men still feel the need to project confidence and mask vulnerabilities. Women need to convey beauty and a willingness to care for others. We challenge society when we challenge these “shoulds,” and culture expands as a result. We must challenge our individual “shoulds” too.

Our “shoulds” about ourselves are repetitive acts of invalidation and often look like self-criticism or being hard on oneself.

I shouldn’t feel this way.
I should have done better.
I should
be better.

The word ‘lazy’ for example, is common among self-critics. When people identify themselves as lazy, what are they saying about themselves? From the Oxford American Dictionary, lazy is defined as:

  • unwilling to work or use energy: ‘I’m very lazy by nature’ | ‘he was too lazy to cook.’
  • showing a lack of effort or care: ‘lazy writing.
  • (of a livestock brand) placed on its side rather than upright.’

The word seems to imply that one isn’t entirely moving with life.

What if it’s okay that we’re sometimes lazy? What if we didn’t label it good or bad, but we’re curious about what was underneath it?
If we’re not critical, we could wonder about the lack of movement.
What is life when it’s “placed on its side”?

We spend a lot of time identifying what “good” and “bad” is and what’s “right” and what’s “wrong” when we’re overly critical about emotions, that we’re not engaging in more in-depth conversations with ourselves.

What if it’s okay to feel how you feel, however you feel. What if it’s okay that you sometimes feel unsure of yourself, or at times maybe you even dislike yourself. Without being caught in the drama of it, we can ask, “what is all of this about?” What is the message, the lesson we are meant to learn so you don’t have to repeat it?

When we remove the critical lens of ourselves and our lives, we can ask about the change we seek.

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Self-critics can often convince themselves that being hard on themselves is a way to motivate change. Most of my clients say it feels ‘normal.’ But negative self-talk is like that nagging voice towards ourselves, even if just in a distant background, and can have a detrimental effect on well-being. The constant chatter of Work harder! How could you?! You’re a failure, Be better, or No one loves you. All the ‘always’ and ‘never’s we have about ourselves. It’s burdensome and heavy. Especially in the world right now, no one needs more heaviness.

Some of us have a more nagging inner voice that breathes over our necks about what we’re getting wrong. We get stuck on that it’s happening, believing that it shouldn’t be happening. Busy and caught in reaction to our feelings, we’re closed. We don’t let ourselves feel how we feel.

When we get so resistant to our feelings, we’re not open to the experience. We can become passive players in our stories.

Inside feelings of self-shaming, when we’re convinced we’re not allowed to have our emotions, we become insecure with who we are. Soon after, anxiety or depression show up at our doors. A panic attack, anxiety, or depression are warning signs. But we get so busy feeling ashamed for having them that we try so hard to push them away.

It can get hard to break out of that pattern inside ourselves. Inside depression, grief or guilt, we become self-obsessed and start to feel bad for feeling bad. Others tell us that we shouldn’t feel this way and try to cheer us up. Some of us are afraid to sound like a victim, so we brush aside our honest feelings about the pain we endured and the anger we have about it. Too busy judging our emotions, we’re not open to them. There is no solution when you’re not asking questions.

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Fortunately, we’re right where we’re supposed to be, in whatever stage of change. Because it’s okay however we feel. We need only to learn to soften the part of us that judges ourselves for how we are.

When we judge our feelings, we judge our experience, and that causes us to suffer. Our rich and messy inner worlds are what make us human, inherently and fascinatingly complex. It serves us better to create space and understand them, rather than ignore, deny or avoid them.

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Settling down and understanding the things that go on for us and how we feel in response to our inner and outer experience is a self-evolution process. We can acknowledge that this is how life is right now. However life is. We accept how things are and how we feel about them. We are not trying to change, fix, avoid, or sabotage anything. When we can soften our inner critics to learn about what’s going on for us, we step towards feeling freer within ourselves and our lives.

Do you judge yourself for having certain feelings?

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