“You’re terrible at this. Why are you here? Why are you doing this again? Don’t you realize you are seconds away from major embarrassment? You know what people are thinking, right- you’re okay, but you’ll never be as good as ___________- you’re just not good enough. You never will be. Just give it up. Don’t walk away. RUN!”
Those are some of the comments I hear from my own worst critic – my Self. And they are horrible. They are rooted in pride, comparison, perception, and fear. We would never say any of these things to our spouse, friend, co-worker, or child, yet we get by with saying the most devastating things to our own selves. It’s like an inner bully that recognizes our weaknesses, but we feel overpowered and overwhelmed so, we just take it and take it and take it.
Recently I asked readers who they believed was their worst critic. Surprisingly, most people admitted that they are their OWN worst critic! Sure, there were a few who felt greater criticism from a spouse, boss, or mother-in-law, but a majority of people admitted that they regularly put themselves through their own mental wringer.
In 2004, R. Thompson and D.C. Zuroff developed a Levels of Self-Criticism scale which distinguishes two types of self-criticism: comparative and internalized.
The “comparative” self-criticism obviously is comparing oneself to another and failing to measure up to that standard, while being fueled by others’ perceived negative opinion of them. For many of us struggling with comparative self-criticism, we rely heavily on others’ words of affirmation, compliments, and encouragement to help counter the negative opinion we perceive from those around us. We live by it and relish every positive reaction, comment, or evaluation. It is the earmark of the people-pleaser. But when those words do not come, we assume the worst- that the negative perceptions are a reality. What we have to remember is that the absence of approval is not necessarily the presence of criticism!
The second type of self-criticism is internalized; self-imposed beliefs and standards that no one can live up to as the only criteria for success would be perfection and that anything less is deemed a failure. Here is a great article on this topic at goodthereapy.org. To me, this is the presenter who receives great applause and acclaim from his listeners, but disregards their affirmation because his delivery was somehow flawed, a note was missed, or he committed some error albeit imperceptible to his audience. This person can please others, but he distrusts their feedback or their motivation.
Obviously, either of these types of self-criticism or the presence of BOTH of them in our lives can negatively affect our confidence and self-esteem further damaging our relationships, parenting, and even our work. It can also prevent us from engaging in life-changing service and ministry opportunities, thereby crippling us spiritually as well.
How do we silence this inner critic?
There are 3 Primary ways to quiet the voice of our inner critic and with practice, we can eventually silence it altogether. In the article referenced above, there are 3 primary therapeutic options in addressing self-criticism which I will share, but I will also add a spiritual component from Scripture.
1) Kindness to yourself. The therapeutic terminology is “self-compassion,” practicing an empathy and love for oneself- showing the same kind of compassion, love, and concern that we often direct outwardly to others, but directing it inwardly toward our self. We usually have no trouble recognizing the harm our words can do to others, but we hardly realize the harm it does to our own self. Proverbs 18:21a alludes to the power of our words when it states, “The tongue has the power of life and death…” so we must understand that our thoughts and internal dialogue can also be toxic and destructive or good medicine for our hurting heart.
“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16:24
It is no surprise that the author of this Proverb used the honeycomb as the metaphor for healing words; honey is a natural cure for various ailments and is sweet to the taste. Words of kindness, compassion, and empathy towards oneself are sweet, easier to swallow, and also promote life, health, and healing from the inside out.
It is time we start to practice self-kindness, using words that no longer tear us apart internally, but those that promote understanding, appreciation, and love.
2) Recognize the deceit. Some professional therapist might help one practice “mindfulness”- a contemplative approach that teaches people “a nonjudgmental awareness of their thoughts and feelings” training them to accept the situation as it is and avoid the emotions associated with it. But I believe that is missing a crucial element of the harmful, self-critical thoughts: that feelings can’t always be trusted and that our own heart can lie. Jeremiah 17:9 states, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
Jeremiah was living at a time when the hearts of God’s people were constantly leading them astray and into sinful practices, despite their knowledge of His goodness, holiness, and provision. This of course necessitated God’s correction and discipline.
Our hearts can still deceive us– there continues to be a battle within from our old nature that desires what is contrary to the Holy Spirit who indwells believers. It attempts to deceive us by how things make us FEEL driving us to respond to our emotions regardless of whether those feelings are based in reality or perception.
This is how many marriages end today; one spouse no longer FEELS love for the other, and seeks divorce out of the deception that love therefore, is no longer present or possible in that relationship. Our feelings can lie. Our hearts can deceive us. We must learn to assess our feelings and if they may be leading us to the wrong conclusions.
3) Reframe the issue or criticism. Some self-criticism can be useful and constructive. If an issue can be framed within a more specific context or behavior and a strategy for improvement identified, then this self-criticism can lead to self-improvement. But when one’s thoughts and attitudes are defeatist and without hope of any possible improvement, then one faces a chronic dejected attitude which will continue to erode self esteem, confidence, and hope for freedom of self-criticism.
Proverbs 14:1 states, “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.”
It is wise to consider, “How can I build on this experience? What have I learned from this? What steps can I take to get me closer to my desired outcome?” These are empowering, constructive thoughts and wisely build and strengthen the heart, but in contrast, the continual tearing apart and defeatist thought processes will ultimately destroy it.
I must admit, I personally struggle with my inner critic and have been crippled for years by defeatist thoughts which kept me from many activities and ministries which give me great joy and satisfaction. It continues to be a voice which I must systematically quiet to avoid the loss of things and people I love. I pray that we will all find success in finally silencing our inner critic once and for all!
So what will you do? Which step will you take TODAY to begin silencing YOUR inner critic? Will you allow your inner dialogue contain words that are kind, empathetic, and sweet as the honeycomb; healing to your inmost parts? Or will you take an active role in assessing your feelings and whether or not your heart could be deceiving you through your emotions? Or will you take to constructing and building on specific activities, behaviors, or situations as opposed to continuing to foolishly tear yourself down?
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