Most of us are familiar with those nagging thoughts that tell us we are not good enough, that cast doubt on our goals and undermine our accomplishments. These thoughts might be there to greet us when we first glimpse at ourselves in the mirror in the morning. "You're so unattractive. You're fat. What a slob. Just look at your hair, hips, waistline, etc."
This inner critic might meet you at work. "You're under too much pressure. You'll never get everything done. No one even notices you. You should just give up."
It's even there to critique your closest relationships. "He/she doesn't really love you. No one could care about you. It will never last. Just don't be vulnerable."
Every person is divided; part of us is goal-directed and self-possessed, while another part is self-critical, self-denying, and even self-destructive. This "anti-self" perpetuates a negative thought process, which my father psychologist and author Robert Firestone refers to as the critical inner voice.
The critical inner voice is formed out of painful early life experiences in which we witnessed or experienced hurtful attitudes toward us or those close to us. As we grow up, we unconsciously adopt and integrate this pattern of destructive thoughts toward ourselves and others. When we fail to identify and separate from this inner critic, we allow it to impact our behavior and shape the direction of our lives. It may sabotage our successes or our relationships, preventing us from living the lives we want to lead and becoming the people we seek to be. So how can we challenge this inner voice? How can we recognize its commentary and differentiate from its directives?
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