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July 2, 2024

How to Tame Your Inner Critic.

 

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I fought my new identity as a mother immediately.

It was most difficult to give up the freedom I had before and to slow down to the pace of a child.

But I’ve grown to love many of these changes. I’ve grown to love the fact that I always my children around and that they often need me for comfort. Still, I can’t get over the “touched out” feeling, especially since my daughter wants more attention than ever since her baby brother showed up.

I take time to myself more often now than I ever allowed myself after her birth, especially now that I am a full-time stay-at-home mom.

Still, I can’t let go of this ideal mother I’ve made up in my head, who always has a smile on her face and never feels overwhelmed and has a beautifully clean home and always has ideas for a lovely homemade dinner. Social media doesn’t help, and I think that’s why so many women are fighting this picturesque trad-wife image. It’s harmful to mothers’ mental health.

Imagine having this image of the “perfect” whatever and feeling you can never live up to that. I like the “hot mess” mom pages because instead of seeing a perfectly curated page of a minimalist home and an always-smiling mom, we are shown the authentic reality of a car that is covered in fast food wrappers, sticky spills, loud, flashing toys, and half-drunk coffee mugs (that will inevitably also spill).

I crave that level of authenticity because my inner critic has become so loud I am going a bit crazy. The voice in my head tells me I’m not trying hard enough. I ignored my daughter for a minute, so obviously she’ll have to be in therapy for years. My son was left crying while I ran to help my daughter in the bathroom, so his high cortisol levels have altered his brain beyond repair. I mean, really this voice is dramatic, but I believe everything it says.

I discovered in Neal Allen’s new book Better Days: Taming Your Inner Critic that Freud referred to this voice as the superego, which resides in our subconscious. We all developed this voice to protect ourselves as children; as we grew and needed to find a way to fit in, the superego developed techniques to please others. In turn, parts of our personality formed.

I adopted Allen’s technique of noticing when the voice appears and naming it, “There’s my superego again.” Some of his clients name their superego. “There’s Flo again.” Rather than arguing with the voice, he finds this technique to be more helpful. Naming our superego gives it an identity outside of ourselves. Buddhism is in line with this thinking. Our thoughts are not us; they’re more like a supercomputer repeating the same ideas from the day before.

Once we separate ourselves from our thoughts, we take away their power. I can remove myself quickly from going down the path of critiquing myself and falling into a negative thought loop when I recognize the superego has shown up once again.

What good has critiquing ever done for me anyway? It doesn’t make me change my behavior. It just makes me feel terrible. Then I find myself out of presence when I’m with my kids, beating myself up about never being present with my kids. My therapist and I have spoken about strengthening my inner cheerleader. His insights have helped me notice how exciting it is that I am noticing in the moment that I am on autopilot. It’s not a weakness to be on autopilot, after all; everyone does it, so rather than admonishing myself, I can congratulate myself for noticing and bring myself into the moment.

It’s all about perspective. I can continue to beat myself up, which only keeps me on autopilot, feeling guilty all the time, or I can take that moment to bring myself to presence and continue to do that every day. In the latter example, I build myself up and improve my behavior and habits.

My goal is to make my inner critic work for me instead of transferring those negative attitudes and ideas to my own children.

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