Dear Inner Critic: I remember a time, when I was around seven or eight years old, when you didn’t run the show.
I was free and blissful. Cruising around the neighborhood on my banana-seat two-wheeler, singing ABBA songs at the top of my lungs. My hair was always in ponytails and my childhood claim to fame was blowing the biggest bubble in the cul-de-sac with two pieces of Hubba Bubba bubble gum.
You probably don’t remember those times, because I’ve come to learn that you weren’t really around yet. Nope. Not until I was almost ten. And I’ll never forget that day, because I wanted to wear my favorite purple-polka-dot tank top to my fifth grade ice cream social and you told me, “Denise, if you wear that you’ll be the only girl there decked out in dots. You’d better wear your peach T-shirt instead.”
So I wore the T-shirt. And I sat in the corner of the school gym, at a table with Gabby Newsome, who smelled like canned tuna, because I was afraid to go say hi to the new boy in school, Tom Markarian. You told me he would think I looked like a piece of summer fruit. And I believed you. Again.
The silliest part is, I’ve been listening to you ever since that ice cream social. You tell me things that mostly feel like lies, and yet I believe you. I sort of think I actually trust you.
And now, as a woman facing the ups and downs of a scary world, raising three girls, and wondering if I’m a good role model for their self-esteem, I still find myself listening to your crooked guidance. Only now you talk to me much more loudly, and often won’t let me fall asleep before midnight as you spin around fear in my tired mind.
I especially tune in to your rants if I’m already worried about something. You make sure to point out and amplify my biggest fears. Sometimes, you’ve forced me to not join friends for girl’s night out because you said I was too chubby to be seen at the pizza place with all the moms who are thinner. Once you even told me that I shouldn’t talk so loudly because I’m verbally intrusive.
I don’t feel powerful when I listen to your barrage of demands. In fact, I feel frail and devalued. Mostly you remind me of my weaknesses. Followed by all the stuff you think I should do to fix myself or change the way I behave.
And hence, I’ve made a decision. I’m tired. I’m moving on. And I’m making a deal with you, Inner Critic. It’s time you faced up to your bullying behavior. No more making me feel crappy, so that I can somehow feel safe. Our relationship has run its course and I’m putting my feet into the soft earth to stand up for what is right—my ability to make my own decisions and to have you listen to my requests as I make you a friend instead of an enemy.
From this day forward, you will do the following. I promise I will help you learn how to be fair and supportive of me instead of mean and judgmental.
First: When you start to squawk about something I’m wearing that you don’t particularly like or think I look presentable in, I will politely yet firmly tell you to stop talking. Once you quiet down I pledge to myself to breath deeply and allow my heart to choose my clothing. My joy comes from the fun of organizing my outfits, not in listening to you derail my fashion sense.
Second: For the times you amplify my self-doubt, almost making me miss out on fun events or keep my mouth shut for fear of rejection, I will firmly tell you to knock it off and then repeat to myself five times, “I am worthy of fun and have a right to my own opinions.” If you chime in again, I’ll continue my feel-good mantra until you stop.
Third: If I catch you body shaming me again I’m going to find a sunny spot outside and force you to feel how amazing it is to be alive. And I’m going to continue soaking up the joyful rays again and again until you quiet down and realize that I actually love my body. I may not be a model, but I don’t need my Inner Critic making me feel like a nobody simply because my thighs rub together.
Fourth: Every time you remind me that I could fail, I promise to forge ahead and counter your fearful attacks with a memory of a time when I succeeded and I felt strong and capable. I might even write out that memory on a piece of paper I find in my car or in my purse to visually see how amazing I really am, despite your constant fear that I may not cut the mustard.
And fifth and finally: I pledge to be kind to you, Inner Critic. To remind myself that your primary job so long ago was to keep me safe. And although you started acting like a total douche canoe at times, I forgive you. I really do.
By the way, you should know that I’ve turned over your primary duties to my intuition. It is effective at keeping me safe and helping me know if I’m on the right track. So Inner Critic, relax. I got this. It’s time you’re my friend and not my frenemy. Besides, I look better in purple polka dots than you do.
Author: Denise Braun
Photo: Helga Weber/Flickr
Editor: Jean Weiss