Separating and dealing with your inner critic

Inner Critic Photo

I was walking out to my car the other day after work, and as I walked through the parking lot, an image of my director at work popped into my head like a movie and began berating me about my work so far in my new position. “You aren’t doing enough,” the director said, “You need to work a lot harder. The work is just not good enough.” This movie went on for a minute or two before I finally said stop.

One of my less than desirable mental tapes is hearing a supervisor or family member berating my latest action or choice. This used to happen quite often, and was very damaging to my confidence level. At the conclusion of the short film, I would mentally prepare scripts of how I would respond to such accusations, trying to defend myself in my own head like a wounded lamb succumbing to a wolf.

Now that I have done some personal growth, I can separate the pieces of the tirade and recognize these instances for what they really are: my inner critic’s voice shining a spotlight on my insecurities. By creating scripts to defend myself, I was inadvertently admitting to myself that the attacks were in fact facts, and that I was somehow less worthy. Here is how I learned to deal with my inner critic.

The first step is learning how to recognize your inner critic. You are hearing your inner critic when s/he:

Barges in mentally unprompted
Follows an accomplishment or action
Is focused on something you are already insecure about
Is not based on reality or a recent situation

For many of us, the inner critic takes the form of an authority figure or someone whose opinion we value. If we truly separate the messaging from the figure, we can often decipher what the real message is from the inner critic and deal accordingly. Since I am just a few months into this job, my built-in inadequacy complex automatically jumps to “You aren’t working hard enough. You need to work more hours. You need to accomplish more with less time.” My inner cr
itic’s attacks check off all of the boxes listed above. Because I recognize when she is speaking up, I can quickly stop her. I then reality check myself:

I am working hard.
My supervisor is happy with my work.
It is unreasonable for my life balance to work more and have less personal time.
I am doing the best I can do. If that isn’t acceptable to my supervisor then there would be a problem.

Instead of creating a counter argument, I am telling my own self why the attacks are unfounded, and then I leave it at that. No brooding, no overthinking, no anxiousness. The faster I stop the inner critic, the less damage she can do. I can walk away confident and secure. It may take several tries to finesse the process, but practice in any behavior makes it a habit.

Today’s society demands perfection, and we place a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect, inside and outside. The reality is that this expectation is not based on reality and is an unachievable goal. It is so important to recognize that you are one person, and it is impossible to be everything for everyone at all times. The more you try, the more you become exhausted, and the less well you are both mentally and physically.

My mom always tells me “You do the best that you can do and that is all you can do.” It is so true! If you give it your all then you should walk away content. Someone else’s discontent about it would be more reflective of their own opinions or values and not a reflection on you. Once you embrace the idea, it is positively freeing.

Dealing with identity loss during pregnancy

8-23-16 Dealing with identity loss

I am officially 30 weeks pregnant and am all the combinations of overwhelmed, anxious, excited, joyful, and terrified. I am about to enter one of the most exciting and joyful journeys of my life thus far. It is also a huge change. We will be family of three now, not two. We won’t be free to just get up and go as easily (but I guess we weren’t really anyway since we are dog parents, right?). There have been so many things to think about, that thinking about yourself kind of gets lost in the paint colors, bottle brand options, and birthing classes. One of the things I have deciphered as a source of my anxiety is struggling with being able to recognize and conform to my new identity.

Everyone tells you “Your life is about to change so dramatically” and I get that, I didn’t think that it wouldn’t. Everyone also says that you won’t be you anymore, you’ll be mom, you won’t want to do all the things you used to enjoy, and you won’t have time to do them anyway. This is the part I am struggling with. Do you have to give up who you were just because you have a baby? Christ, I hope not. I in no way doubt that I am about to lose whatever free time I might have had for a while, and that all my priorities will change. This can happen in any major life change– which is why it is good to be flexible and be adaptable. However I don’t anticipate that I will lose interest in the things I like to do. I would expect that I would still want to celebrate Halloween with costumes and extravagance (and booze). That I would still like to go out dancing (with booze). That I would still like to take tropical vacations (with booze). Okay, okay, not everything in my pre-pregnancy life revolved around booze. I don’t need it to have fun. You don’t need running shoes to run either, but they are as hell help, don’t they? I bristle a bit at the insinuation that I will suddenly stop caring about these things and more simply because there is another little body in our house.

I agree that there will be new things that I love doing, too, and I’m sure most of them will be centered around the new little joy in our lives. I also recognize that I will need to add “mom” to the descriptive list of woman, spirited individual, wife, dog mom, artist, scholar, etc. But I also think women get into trouble when they throw themselves into motherhood and don’t leave anytime for themselves. From my experience, when I throw myself into anything and neglect self-care it takes a physical and emotional toll. I soon may not have the flexibility to take care of myself the way I used to, but I also don’t agree with the fact that you just can’t anymore. Making a little “me time” is important in any aspect of your life. It’s important in relationships, when you’re in school, when climbing the corporate ladder, or dealing with heavy family issues. The best part of you is you, and it is important that this identity remains throughout.

I can hear some of you moms right now. “ARE YOU KIDDING,” you are saying, “Just wait till you’re a mom and see how much time you have for yourself.”

I hear you. I’m listening. I’m not going into this new journey blindly optimistic. I am anticipating the tiredness, the selfless giving, and that time will fly by before I know what is happening. I have heard stories. All I can tell you is that this mom-to-be is going to try her best to keep all of these things in mind, and attempt to find some kind of balance between self-husband-baby. There are going to be three of us soon, and I couldn’t be happier. I look forward to evolving into my new identity, a complex being of many roles, but still being the best woman that I can possibly be.

How pregnancy changed my body image

How pregnancy changed my body image cover

It’s a terrible feeling. Staring at the mirror day after day, not looking at my face but staring at all other parts, wishing that this was smaller or that was tanner or this was flatter. You should go to the gym more, I would tell myself. You shouldn’t be eating that, my inner critic would scream at family dinners. Your face looks a lot better if you wear more make-up, she would say. I would say I’ve spent the majority of my teenage to adult years being body insecure. I fear this is the song of many adolescent girls in America.

There was one year, one great year, that I lost thirty pounds and felt amazing, beautiful, unstoppable. I was at the gym most days of the week, ate well, and carried myself proudly. Then once I settled into marriage and a job that started creating anxiety, the lbs started sneaking back up on me and my old friend, insecurity, returned. The compliments I received never seemed to stick. They were something I just could not believe.

Today, my belly is starting to get bigger, and I’ve never been so excited. The contradiction of my excitement over growing bigger and wanting to gain enough weight often makes me giggle. The idea that our baby is growing strong and healthy and is starting to create a body shape I’ve never experienced is a feeling that I wasn’t prepared for. I still my (hormonal) down days, but overall I experience a host of positive emotions—joy, excitement, love. I often feel overwhelmed, but am okay with that, too.

I now stare into the mirror, not looking at my thighs but at my belly, hoping that it has grown, that today might be the day I start looking like a pregnant woman. I don’t worry now about my size or the muscle tone of my limbs, I only worry about eating right for the developing baby.

I look at my face and see a different person looking back at me. I feel calmer and more collected. I’m no longer wound so tight or so anxious. I don’t worry as much about crumbs or spills. I’ve even been causing a few myself due to some newfound clumsiness.
I wear less make-up these days. I don’t feel the need to put on the same mask I wore when I was younger. I am okay with letting myself shine through. I feel like I’m evolving as a person, a female, a woman.

I know that this may change. I read about how women in their third trimester start to experience discomfort and pains. I hear about how women in their final weeks just want the baby to come. I don’t know how I will feel months from now, but I hope that I am able to read this and recall the feelings of positivity and excitement that will carry me through those tough days.

I hope that, many months from now, I am able to wear my badges of motherhood proudly. I hope that I am able to carry myself with pride and not embarrassment. Creating a new life from the most basic cellular level is an incredible experience and nothing short of a miracle. I still plan to lose the weight and exercise and eat healthy. I want to be the fittest mom that I can be. But I pray that I can hold onto this newfound woman. She is secure, she is proud, she is beautiful. She is the me I always wanted to be.