My inner critic has many voices

It’s been a bit of a crummy week.  I’ve been steadily feeling more and more depressed, irritable, and generally miserable to be around.  The ironic thing is that I’ve been getting more rest and exercise – but that just goes to show that those things are only two of the many components involved in my mental health.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that my inner critic is back in full force.  But my inner critic isn’t a single voice – it’s a whole committee.  My Committee consists of a group of voices, not literally, but voices that each contribute something particular to the constant (negative) chatter in my head.  I’ve learned that if I pay close attention, I can pick out the different members of my Committee, especially the ones that are most contributing to my internal dialogue.

It’s no surprise that my mom is on the Committee.  She pretty much heads up the whole thing.  Despite the fact that she has limited experience in life (as do we all), she provides feedback on everything – from what I wear, to social etiquette, to dog training, to the kind of eggs to use in baking.  If you need to know the “right” way to do something, just ask Mom.  Or better yet – don’t bother asking.  She’ll volunteer it anyway.

The Perfect Mom is on my Committee as well.  As expected, she comments whenever I’m doing something that a “perfect mom” wouldn’t do.  She also has plenty of suggestions for things that I’m not doing, but should be doing, for my kids.  When my oldest was a baby, this voice was deafening.  I should be doing a baby massage every night (when I could barely stand to get through a feeding).  I should be doing “mommy and me” classes.  She should be learning Mandarin and listening to classical music and playing with intellectual toys.  I shouldn’t be having such a hard time connecting with her.  It was exhausting.  And this voice is back now, too, with plenty of thoughts on what the kids should be doing during the summer, and how I’ve let them down by not doing swim lessons every year, and so on.

One of the voices is Melissa, a girl I knew in middle school.  She had been my best friend for years before she decided in 8th grade that I wasn’t “cool.”  Not only that, but she convinced the rest of the 18 kids in our class that they should ostracize me too.  So Melissa’s voice on the Committee tells me that I will never fit in, that I’m a social misfit, that my conversations with other people are awkward, that no one would ever want to be friends with me.

It seems ridiculous to give such an important role to a girl I haven’t spoken to in 28 years… but there it is.

There are other people on the committee but I haven’t identified all of their voices yet.  In time I’m sure I will uncover more of them.

When I first told my therapist about my Committee, she asked if one of the voices was a cheerleader.  I replied that no, I knew cheerleaders in high school but none of them had a particular role on my Committee.  It turns out that my therapist wasn’t asking about actual pom-pom type cheerleaders (oops).  She was asking about people who supported me and encouraged me – in other words, people who provided a positive voice.

Um… no… we don’t do positive voices in my head.

There are times when my Committee is operating at a low level, with some noise from the boardroom but nothing constant or terribly intense.  Then there are other times when the Committee is raging, in full session, and the clamor from it is dizzying.  That’s how I’ve felt the past few days.

I think the voices have been building bit by bit over the past couple of weeks, and now they’ve hit maximum intensity.  The good news is that I can identify what’s happening.  I can also identify a trigger this week that probably set my Committee into dizzying mode.

My 7 year old daughter E has camp this week, and on the first day, I drove a nervous E to camp, only to realize that I had left at home the 14 documents necessary for admission.  In the end, I went back for the paperwork, signed her in, and she wasn’t overly late – but the guilt and shame at my mistake were palpable.  I was reminded of those lead aprons that are laid on you when you get X-rays.  A lead apron of guilt and shame.  Yuck.

I thought I was managing my feelings about the mistake reasonably well, but suddenly it was 8 hours later and I was in a foul, irritable mood, feeling rotten about myself.  I suppose it probably seems obvious that an event like that could set into motion a whole tornado of self-criticism and negative self-talk.  And it’s literally like a tornado – whipping winds that suck in everything around it.  So it may have started with my mistake in forgetting the paperwork, but then my whole Committee was called into session – and everything I do is assaulted and criticized.  A no-holds-barred mental whiplashing.  All day long and even into night – when my sleep is interrupted because I’m tearing my hair out.  Literally.  (Doesn’t that just make you cringe?  You and me both.)

So my Committee is in session and I need to fight it.  I need to come up with some positive voices to counteract all of the negative ones.

It’s time to add some new people to my Committee.  Any suggestions?

 

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12 thoughts on “My inner critic has many voices

  1. One thing that helped me enormously get rout of my head former friends who mistreated me in childhood was to reconnect with them through Facebook. I know it sounds silly and self-defeating, but seeing them as adults and getting to know them again made them less imposing in my mind. I find I don’t think about them at all now except an occasional thought as to their welfare. I don’t dwell on childhood hurts. Just a suggestion.

    Fondly,
    Elizabeth

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    • Thank you for the suggestion. It’s an interesting idea. I think right now my self-esteem is not built up enough for me to reach out to those girls – sadly, in my head, I still think they might be right. I need to work on that first – one step at a time. Then maybe I’ll be able to see them as adults.

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  2. Oh my word. I am so right there with you on the whole “committee” thing. Sometimes it seems they scream so dang loudly too! For me, I tell them they are wrong. I remind them that this is my life and it will be lived as I see fit. Sometimes there is negotiation and arguing involved. As often as possible, I try to reason through why the voices are wrong. Then I become my own cheerleader. Often even the smallest achievements are recognized. If I managed to make to the mailbox and back, I tell myself how good I did. There is a lot of positive self talk that goes on. I bring my own voice to the committee and let them know that I am taking over. I become the leader. It doesn’t always work. The more anxious or tired I am, the less likely it is to be successful. The majority of the time it yields positive results though. Hope you are able to fire people off the committee if need be and that you are able to make progress!

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    • Thank you. I love that you become your own cheerleader. I need to work on that. And you’re right about celebrating even small achievements. So often I brush those off figuring that they’re not even worth noting – but any achievement, in light of a raging committee, is worth noting!

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  3. Do not recruit a cheerleader to chant negative slogans about you to that committee! Much better, lay down the committee (hmm, does that make sense outside of British Quaker circles, I mean shut it down, close it, wind it up) and start a new one, with the aim of helping, supporting and nurturing you. Appoint sensible trustees, compassionate ones with relevant experience – of mental health issues and being a parent. I nominate your husband, your therapist, Sunnyspells, She-Ra, Roseanne Barr, your best ever teacher, that buddhist monk I met on Sunday, the bread man at my farmers market and your daughter. But don’t appoint anyone for life, give them a definite term of office, and chuck a few out every now and again, the ones that aren’t working out so well, and appoint new ones.

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  4. I read a books some years ago I can recommend – if it doesn’t help, it’s at least amusing, with some jokes etc. It’s called Embracing Your Inner Critic – Turning Self Criticism into a Creative Asset. It talks about tuning into the radio channel CRAZY, where people are constantly criticizing your every move. The end recommend is to start to make friends with the critic. Trying to fight with it doesn’t work well. You realize the critic is actually a part that is trying to protect you from getting hurt. Just it thinks that the way to do that is to criticize. This is not to say you make friends in real life with the models for your critic. Just with that part of yourself. In doing that, the critic changes it’s nature.

    Anyhow. I can relate to some extent. And I have personally found that arguing with these negative voices doesn’t work. Perhaps another strategy would be finding distance from them… Writing it out like this already gives you some distance.

    All the best.

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    • I will definitely check out the book – thanks for the suggestion. I always like the idea of seeing some humor in all of this madness. 🙂

      Making friends with the critic…I’ve never thought of that before. I’m not sure what that would look like. And I wonder what all those different voices are protecting me from – I need to think through that since I’m sure there are some nuggets of insight there.

      I have found, as you’ve said, that fighting it can be counter-productive. You point out two other valid approaches – make friends or find some distance. Both have great potential for helping to develop a new strategy. Thanks for sharing your insights! 🙂

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      • Well, they’re basically trying to protect you from other people’s judgements – from shame, embarrassment and humiliation. The idea is if the critic gets there first, they can stop you from doing the wrong thing in the eyes of the world. The critic desperately wants to be helpful. Just, this doesn’t work out very well for us, as you are pointing out! Take care.

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        • Wow – what an epiphany this was for me! Of course it now makes perfect sense that the committee is trying to protect me from others’ judgments. It seems crazy in retrospect that I hadn’t realized this before. But as soon as I read your first sentence above, it all clicked into place in my head. That will definitely help me to think about how to approach the critics differently. Thank you!!!

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