As a counselor, one of my favorite psycheducation groups to do with my patients is incorporating Brené Brown’s TED Talk videos on shame and vulnerability. It tends to be an impactful and eye-opening group, as many individuals do not fully recognize the influence that their shame (and discomfort with vulnerability) has on their quality of life. It’s also a topic that I am passionate about, primarily because I can speak from my own personal struggle.
As a teenager, I was deeply affected by my insecurities and relentless inner critic. Most people weren’t aware of the extent of my internal battle, not even some of my closest friends and family. It didn’t help that I was a walking contradiction with my public persona masking my inner demons. I was the type of girl that sought the spotlight and attention: I was a varsity cheerleader, I loved performing on stage with my dance class, and I actively tried to be “the life of the party”. However, the fragility of my mask of confidence showed when I perceived an eye of judgment. For example, during a five minute speech for a class in high school, my teacher (who also happened to be my dance instructor and cheerleading coach – yay, small town living) tallied over 30 “umm”s. I desperately sought external validation and words of affirmation from others to combat my insecurities. However, it was useless, because my inner critic refused to accept their feedback. “They’re lying.” “They say that to everyone.” “If they only knew…” Plus, “words of affirmation” doesn’t even register on my Love Languages.
In the constant process and attempts of bettering myself to appease my inner critic, I consistently hit an invisible barrier. I had to overcome “the paradox of change”. I had to be truly honest with myself and fully accept who and where I was in order to identify a starting point for change to occur. That’s right. I had to embrace and sit with the person I was so desperately trying to avoid.
Out of that excruciating process, and also with my education and training as a counselor, here are some of the steps that I used to combat my inner critic and become my best self through advocating for her:
Avoid the perfectionism trap – I used to brag about being a perfectionist. It was a natural development due to my fear of judgment, and my logic was that nobody could criticize someone who was perfect. Well, perfection is subjective and a myth. There will always be differing opinions or perspectives or measures of the ideal. Seeking perfection is automatically setting me up for failure, which then only provides fuel for the inner critic and contributes to a vicious cycle.
Identify the narrative of the shame script – There are several different maladaptive thought processes, and it is important to identify the types and patterns of these thoughts in order for them to be disputed. Here were two of my bigggies:
- I stopped “should”-ing on myself – I started to sort through and challenge the “should” statements that I accepted without discernment from social norms and the unreasonable or unrealistic expectations that were placed upon me by myself or others. I started to challenge these statements by asking “why”, then added more “whys”, and if they weren’t there for a good enough reason, I scratched them from my life.
- I also accepted the fact that I am not a fortune teller – I recognized a pattern of “if..then” statements, which pigeon-holed me into living with expectations. This, of course, led to a lot of disappointment and then a self-destructive cycle with pairing the “if…then” statements with a hindsight bias. There are no guarantees or a magic equation for things to work out exactly as you had planned or hoped. Accepting this also allowed for me to embrace and live life in the moment instead of being anchored in regret.
Self-empowerment – I believe the biggest part in challenging the inner critic was to overpower it by becoming a friend and cheerleader to myself. I softened my internal dialogue by showing myself the same compassion and warmth as I would show a close friend. I also made a conscious effort to build myself up with affirmations and accolades. But most of all, I also learned how to forgive myself for being fallible.
This list is far from exhaustive. I could go on and on at length regarding other important components, such as establishing healthy boundaries, effective communication, identifying fears, and mindfulness. But alas, this is a blog and not supposed to be a novel. I must also say that my betterment and self-advocating continues to be a work in process as I encounter various life challenges. However, by truly being in touch with myself, I can be diligent in staying on the positive track. I can also now look into my eyes in the mirror with kindness and not shame, which is a feat unto itself.
If you are struggling with shame or a deafening inner critic, I hope that you can see that there are ways for it to get better. It’s primarily an internal process, meaning that the key for change is within you. Most importantly, advocate for yourself for the change to occur. Reach out to get help as needed. And always remember, via Brené Brown, “you are enough”.