Are you your own toughest critic?
This is likely the easiest question in the land to answer, because, yes, most of us are mercilessly hard on ourselves in one way or another. Maybe we guilty for not being more productive at work, or beat ourselves up when we blow our budget. Maybe we call ourselves lazy when we miss the gym or stop for fast food on the way home from work. As much as we do and accomplish, there is always a small part of us, our inner critic, who will find something wrong with how we are doing things. And she’s a bitch.
In my experience, having a mental illness only turns up the volume and intensity of my inner critic. Not only is she shrill and difficult to drown out, but she relentlessly plays the same track over and over again. My depression makes it difficult to process and evaluate the merit of self-critical thoughts because the illness clouds my judgement and rationality. In my head, every negative thought seems credible and true.
And while the problem-of-the-moment may change, the tune is the same: I am not enough. Not ambitious enough, not hard-working enough, not smart enough, certainly not attractive enough. My mind can identify a hundred-and-one deficits before I’ve finished my morning coffee.
Sometimes the self-attack consumes my thoughts completely and this is when I find myself in a depressive low that takes a few days of hibernation to shake. The rest of the time, my inner critic runs in the background – elevator music to my life – occasionally tossing out little digs disguised as endearing, self-deprecating witticisms about how my life is anything but put-together. Make no mistake: I’m not trying to be humble. My inner critic is making herself known.
I’ve come to believe that the person who thinks she’s the smartest person in the room is likely not – probably far from it. Very intelligent, particularly very emotionally intelligent, people know that as much as they know, there is exponentially more than that they don’t know about a variety of subjects. The truth is, we don’t even know what we don’t know. I have used this theory to challenge my inner critic: What if… she’s wrong? I already know I’m never the smartest person in the room because of the infinite number of things I don’t know. It’s completely possible – likely even – that my inner critic could be profoundly wrong about some things – particularly how smart, capable, thoughtful or deserving I am.
So armed with this possibility, I’m working on it. Instead of undiscerningly accepting the criticisms that pass through my mind as true, I plan to take a more investigative approach. I’ll take more time to ask myself if I’m being fair and reasonable. Am I being kind? And examining all possible reasons for something not going my way, instead of assuming it has everything to do with my shortcomings. Would I ever talk to a friend or loved one the way I’m talking to myself? If the answer is no, I need to change my approach, because I should counted along with my loved ones who deserve my compassion and TLC.
Perhaps I’ll even get an adorable little tattoo one day, as a visual reminder of my commitment to changing my inner dialogue: That I have, I do, I am enough.