I’m so stupid! I can’t do anything right. I’ll never be able to do this! I’m an idiot.
Frustrated and overwhelmed, my daughter threw up her hands in despair and plopped her head down face first onto the kitchen table in defeat. I wasn’t sure either one of us was going to survive another round with her middle school math homework. A strong writer and an imaginative storyteller, she saw numbers as her nemesis. In spite of her good grades in other subjects, she considered her increasing struggle with math as irrefutable evidence of her lack of intelligence. Math was hard, so clearly she was stupid.
Stop calling my little girl stupid.
When she heard my stern voice, she raised her head out of her dramatic slump and looked at me quizzically. I repeated myself.
I mean it. Stop calling my daughter names. Stop calling my little girl stupid. She is not stupid, and I don’t like you calling her names.
She smiled at my silliness as she realized I was referring to her. I looked at her and once again reiterated my admonition about her self-reproach.
You, my love, are not stupid. Some things are easy for you. Other things are more difficult, so you will have to work harder. But you can do hard things.
Although not quite as dramatic as my daughter, I often fall into the same trap of beating myself up, quick to list all the ways I fall short. I imagine our Heavenly Father offering a similar response when we call ourselves names and berate ourselves for our failures. We are tough on ourselves and our inner critic can be so mean.
Failure, fat, stupid, lazy, ugly…you will never get it right, you always mess up, what make you think you can do it this time?.***
Names are the words we use to talk about ourselves. What we say about ourselves and how we say it often reflects our most deeply held beliefs about our purpose, our worth and even our abilities. The names we call ourselves impact the way we show up in relationships with other people and with God.
So far, I haven’t met a single person who talks kindly to themselves all the time. Including me. Most of us don’t notice how often we call ourselves names until someone points it out to us. In the work I do with my life coaching clients, much of our initial exploration is around the words they use to talk about themselves, the names they call themselves, and the names they take on from our culture of comparison, competition and perfectionism.
We all have that voice inside our head that calls us names. The name I most often use for that voice is the inner critic or the judge. Our inner critic is a saboteur and speaks the language of shame and lies. Noticing that we are calling our self names, separating our self from the voice of the inner critic, can be an incredibly powerful step in moving forward in pursuit of the life we want to live. Carefully, thoughtfully and intentionally choosing the names we call ourselves allows us to turn up the volume on God’s voice and turn down the volume on that saboteur who would keep us feeling defeated, stuck and scared.
I spoke with a group of women recently about the voice of the inner critic and the names we hear it calling us. We made a list together of the names that voice in our head calls us. I am no longer surprised to hear the same list repeated, no matter the audience, no matter the setting. Making this list together is a healing moment of community, because one of the lies the saboteur tells us is that we are the only one who feels this way.
While we aren’t ever going to eliminate this voice entirely, I’ve discovered three things in my own journey and in my work with my coaching clients that can turn down the volume significantly.
For many of us, simply NOTICING that critical voice is a powerful step forward. Noticing that voice, without trying to change it or fix it, significantly diminishes the power it has over us. What might happen if we just get curious, without judgment, about the places and spaces where we hear name calling inside our heads? As an example, notice the way you experience these two statements:
- Oh my gosh, I am freaking out right now!
- Wow, my Inner Critic is freaking out right now!
We are not the critical voice. We are the person aware of the critical voice.
Questions to consider: When and where do you most often hear that voice? When you are trying something new? When you are stepping out of your comfort zone into a situation that is unfamiliar? When you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired (HALT?) This week, get curious and just notice.
Most of us would say that compassion is something we value. Many of us intentionally make an effort to treat our family, our friends, our co-workers and even strangers with kindness, compassion and respect. Yet so often, we fall short in offering ourselves the same gift of grace. Like the story I told above about my daughter and her math homework, it is often easier for us to offer others compassion. What if we made self-compassion a high priority as well? What if we made a promise to always talk to ourselves like someone we loved?
I had a coach once who offered this suggestion: find a photo of yourself when you were a child. Print it or put it on your computer where you can see it regularly. The next time you find those critical voices getting loud, look at that photo and remember the precious child of God represented there. Look deep in her eyes and consider the names that voice of the saboteur calls her. She is God’s Beloved, then AND now. When you look at that face, are you willing to tolerate someone calling her names?
Questions to consider: The next time you are struggling with negative self-talk, ask yourself what you would say to your best friend if she was facing similar challenges. What advice would you give her? What encouragement and compassion would you offer her? How would you cheer her on in a similar situation? What might happen if you decided to be your own best friend this week? If it helps, write it out in a notebook or journal.
We are wired for connection; connection to Spirit and connection to one another. We aren’t meant to travel this journey alone, yet one of the most powerful tools this critical voice uses to keep us stuck is isolating us from one another. On the outside, it looks like everyone else has this figured out, so we assume we are the only ones beating ourselves up with self-doubt and self-recrimination. Our social media culture perpetuates this myth. In my experience, the single most powerful tool in turning down the volume on these critical voices is taking off the “I’m fine” mask and daring to tell our story to others. This requires us to show up with vulnerability and allow ourselves to be seen in all our messy, imperfect, doubting, wobbly glory.
(UGH! I know, vulnerability is hard for me too.)
Questions to consider: What would happen if, the next time your inner critic voice got loud, you called a trusted friend and told her or him about it? What if you said something like this: I’m learning about the critical voice inside my head that makes me feel scared, stuck and defeated. Here is what it says to me sometimes: ____________. I’m learning that if I just tell someone, it loses its power over me.
Curiosity. Compassion. Connection. Give it a try and let me know what happens!!
*** The first few paragraphs prior to the asterisks is an excerpt from my book Being Brave: A 40 Day Journey to the Life God Dreams for You.
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