What is the Secret to Reducing Self-Criticism?
When you’re in recovery there’s a part of you that wants to heal very badly. That’s the part that shows up for meetings, asks questions, shares thoughts, experiences and feelings, and reaches out for help. Driven by hope, this Ideal Self is the part of you that knows life can get better – and that you are definitely worth it.
Driven by fear and a fierce desire for control, this is the part of you that seems to think you’re not worth it…-Michele Rosenthal
Of course, there’s another part of you that shows up at all of the same places at the same time with an opposite agenda. This is the part of you that doubts, ridicules, disbelieves and expects you to fail. When you hear the unkind voice of this part, pause for a second and say hello to your Inner Critic. Driven by fear and a fierce desire for control, this is the part of you that seems to think you’re not worth it – and criticizes everything you do.
While your Inner Critic can put a damper on the momentum of recovery, the truth is that this relentless internal meany has valid things to say. The secret to reducing self-criticism lies in understanding how to interpret what your Inner Critic is really trying to express.
Working with Your Inner Critic
To put it bluntly, your Inner Critic doesn’t know how to communicate nicely. There are going to be moments when you hear that voice say, “You’re never going to get this done,” “You will fail at this,” “Why even bother? You don’t have what it takes.” Normally those messages might make you feel a loss of resolve, a creeping sensation of hopelessness, and a powerlessness that makes you just want to lie down or act up. Starting today all that’s going to change. With these three secrets to reducing self-criticism you’ll be able to start a constructive dialogue with your Inner Critic that can actually support your recovery in new and creative ways.
- Step One—Recognize the message: While he doesn’t come right out and say it, your Inner Critic is always motivated by the desire to protect you and keep you safe. For example, you may feel down and depressed. Your Inner Critic will echo that feeling and extend it to, “You’re a useless human being, may as well maintain the addiction and forget this recovery stuff.” Sounds bad, right? But remember, your Inner Critic has a purpose; your job is to discover it. The real message (driven by that desire to keep you safe) behind the unkind words is actually very kind, indeed. What your Inner Critic is really saying is, “I want you to feel happy so let’s find a way to take the pain away.” The unkind, “You’re a useless human being, may as well maintain the addiction and forget this recovery stuff,” is simply a way to get your attention and motivate you to take an action. To reduce your tendency toward self-criticism start hearing the message beneath the words. Ask: What are you trying to protect me from?
- Step Two—Understand the meaning: Behind every criticism uttered by your Inner Critic is a desired outcome. He wants something; it’s your job to figure out what it is. Let’s say in Step One you discover he’s trying to protect you from sinking into so much pain you’ll never find your way out. What your Inner Critic really wants, then, is to find an activity that will help you stay out of the darkness and move a little bit back toward the light. Due to conditioning, it might seem like the easiest solution is activating addiction patterns. But here’s where you’re smarter than your Inner Critic: You can identify alternative solutions by investigating the meaning behind any criticism. Ask: What healthy experience do you want for me?
- Step Three—Choose a healthy action: The answer in Step Two will open your opportunities for interrupting your addictive patterns while at the same time quelling this moment of Inner Critic restlessness. Here you have an opportunity to make a new choice and take a new action. To do this, discard the initial idea to engage in your addiction. That’s too easy. That’s just your Inner Critic grasping at straws. Instead, understand your Inner Critic’s message of fear, understand his unkind words as his attempt to help you avoid pain or danger, and engage him in creating a new solution. Ask: What healthy action do you want me to take?
Creating Healing Patterns
When you interrupt the negative pattern of your Inner Critic’s voice you give yourself an opportunity to reclaim control of your behavior.-Michele Rosenthal
Ironically, even though his intention is positive the more your Inner Critic is allowed to jabber uninterrupted the more you will feel the desire to engage in your addiction. Allowing unkind words, images and thoughts to build up can wear down your resolve to stop unwanted addiction behavior. On the other hand, reducing self-criticism can take the pressure off any moment and relieve the urge to engage in your addiction. When you interrupt the negative pattern of your Inner Critic’s voice you give yourself an opportunity to reclaim control of your behavior.
Your brain learns by repetition. To change old addiction-driven patterns and replace them with healing ones it will be necessary to recondition yourself by learning to work with your Inner Critic over and over and over again. Your Inner Critic is hard-wired into your brain so he will always be with you. So too, however, is your Ideal Self. When you start effectively communicating with your Inner Critic you open the door to your Ideal Self stepping in, giving guidance and offering strength, support and suggestions for how to connect with, live from and achieve what’s most meaningful to you on your recovery quest.
You can make the shift from Inner Critic to Ideal Self by working these three steps to transform your thinking from critical to supportive. The more time you spend offering your Ideal Self a chance to step forward (through recognizing messages, understanding meanings and imagining healthy options) the more comfortable you will become at embodying positive change, following through on actions that lead to recovery, and strengthening your response the next time the Inner Critic starts whispering in your ear.