Are You “Your Own Worst Enemy”?
“I shouldn’t have eaten that.”
“I can’t do anything right.”
“I’m a failure.”
Have thoughts like these ever popped into your head? Or perhaps they don’t pop in so much as linger on repeat. Thoughts like these can feel so isolating, and it can feel like you are the only one struggling, but really this is something that so many people struggle with.
In fact, this is something that I myself have struggled with, and it’s something I continue to work on. I call these thoughts my inner critic, and while I have not learned how to completely silence it, nor am I sure if I ever will, I have learned to work with that part of myself.
If you have struggled with thoughts like these and have struggled with fighting this part of yourself, this blog may be helpful. While these tips can be helpful for working with your inner critic, I recommend doing this work with a therapist in order to safely process any thoughts and emotions that come up.
Working with your Inner Critic
I used to work against my inner critic. I had a tendency to push back, show my critic the same hostility that it shows me. I would dismiss it, tell it to go away, tell it that I’m not listening. But this wasn’t working for me, and the voice would come back even stronger. Here are some things that I have found and continue to find helpful when working with my inner critic:
Mindfulness is described as practicing awareness while refraining from judgment. It can look like an internal dialogue, such as “I’m noticing this thought. I’m aware that it is there. I can let it pass.” You may also notice what comes with the thought. Notice any behaviors, urges, and physical sensations that come up. If you are able to, notice any emotions that come up as well. Notice all of it.
When you hear that critical voice, whose voice is it? Perhaps it sounds like a parent, perhaps it sounds like someone who bullied you when you were younger, or perhaps it sounds like you. What does the voice want? What does it need? What is it afraid of? Perhaps it wants you to be perfect so that you don’t get hurt. Perhaps it needs to hear that it is doing its job, and now it can stop. Perhaps it is afraid that if it stops, you will get hurt.
I understand that validating your inner critic may feel counterintuitive. But your inner critic isn’t a separate entity that wants to hurt you. Your inner critic is a part of you. Approaching your critic with understanding can be a powerful shift. This can look like acknowledging that the critic is trying to help, and letting it know that it can step aside. If you are able to separate from the critical part of you, it creates space for you to validate your other emotions.
Chances are your inner critic will not disappear after one conversation with them. The act of self-compassion is a skill, and it becomes easier with practice.
If you found this blog to be beneficial, you can reach out to a mental health professional to help you work with your inner critic. A therapist can provide confidential, supportive space to process your feelings and develop coping skills to use for day-to-day stressors.
Katie Zweig MA is an eating disorders, trauma and anxiety therapist at Monarch Wellness & Psychotherapy. She offers individual and group counseling for adolescents and adults who deal with people pleasing, anxiety, and trouble with boundaries. She earned her Master’s degree and certificate in eating disorders treatment from Lewis & Clarke College and has eating disorders experience both outpatient at Monarch & Food is not the Enemy as well as at higher levels of care such as Clementine Eating Disorders program.