written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
Today’s post is about making peace with your inner critic. You know, that little voice inside that says meaner things to you than you would ever say to anyone else. That voice that immobilizes you sometimes into inaction, emotional instability and self-doubt.
First lets lay the framework to help think about this issue from a different angle than you may be used to. Think about when you go to a restaurant. If it is a restaurant you have never been to, what do you do? Maybe take a peek at the menu? Ask your friend or a server what they recommend? Think about the multitude of internal suggestions that can come up just from looking at a menu. First you might ask yourself what you are in the mood for. Then you might look at the prices and have a conversation with yourself about that. Then you might think about the nutritional value of the meal you are thinking of. You might remember a time you had a meal like the one you are considering on the menu and were happy, or unhappy with the way it tasted. Really, there is almost an endless number of ways our minds can go simply by sitting down and looking at a menu. And, if this is true for most of us about ordering a meal, just imagine the number of internal conversations that go on about parenting!
To simplify things, I am going to call the different internal suggestions you receive parts. The part of you that does the budgeting for your family asks about the price of the meal. The part of you that asks about the nutritional value, we could call the health conscious part (or it could be your inner critic depending on the tone). Another part would be the memory bearer for a specific occasion when you had a similar meal, etc. We all have parts. All of us. When I say we have parts I do not mean that we are all suffering from multiple personalities, rather I am stating that we all have learned experiences that come to mind in relation to each situation we encounter throughout the day. There are some “parts” that we all have and one of them is the inner critic.
When it comes to the inner critic, most of us try to do what we have been told to do with bullies… ignore, stand proud, pretend they don’t exist, etc. but we all know that doesn’t really work with bullies most of the time and with an inner critic it can be even worse! You can’t get away from your inner critic. It’s you! Oftentimes, ignoring it only makes it like your children when you are on the phone, louder and louder until you are forced to take notice. Instead, let’s look at making peace with the inner critic.
I know it’s hard to believe, but most often, when we look inside to the purpose of the messages we get from an inner critic it has something to do with protecting us from a sad, mad, or disappointed feeling. It may have something to do with protecting us from criticism, anxiety or upset. For a moment, reflect upon what the purpose of a particular message that you get from your inner critic that you would like to change.
If possible, take a minute to put aside all of the criticisms you have about the delivery of the message and practice looking for the helpfulness of it. Believe it or not, the true intent of the underlying messages from the inner critic tend to be something like:
- I never want you to feel that hurt/disappointed/angry/used again.
- I don’t want people to treat you badly.
- You deserve better.
- Stay alert and attuned to what you are doing/ what is happening.
- Trust your instincts.
- Be true to yourself.
The packaging of that message tends to sound like:
- What’s wrong with you?
- How could you be so stupid?
- Don’t do that anymore, you’re just going to get hurt.
- How could you have trusted that person?
- What a mess you have made of your life.
Remember that the underlying message or your critic is a loving one, it is the packaging of the message that hurts. This understanding sets the groundwork of the conversation that you can have to help turn your inner critic into a loving inner guide.
To get in touch with an inner critic and begin the process of trying to turn it into a helpful voice, there is a process I would suggest. Before you go through the process, I recommend you read through it to get an understanding of the intention of the exercise. In this exercise, you will get in touch with your inner critic and have a conversation with him or her about changing the tone of the conversations you have. If you have difficulty doing this exercise, please do not push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Take this idea to a therapist that is familiar with Internal Family Systems work (IFS) and they will guide you through it. Some people will feel more comfortable making this a writing exercise. That is fine, however, make sure that you are taking a moment to breathe first and that you have tuned into your inner world.
Getting in touch with your inner critic:
Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet grounded to the floor. Relax your shoulders, and take a few deep breaths. If it feels right to you, you can close your eyes.
Determine a particular message that your critic sends your way. For most of us, it won’t take long for a thought to pop into our head that reminds us of something critical we have said toward ourselves.
Continuing to breathe in and out, gently look inside your mind and ask yourself what the purpose is of this message. Find the loving message that is underneath the criticism. It may help to think of a particular time your inner critic said the message to you. When you think about what the circumstances are when you receive the message, it helps you to identify what the message was about.
Take a moment to absorb the loving message hidden in the criticism.
Do your best to thank you inner critic for sending you that loving message.
Ask your inner critic if next time they want to give you that message, they could try to give it to you in a way that is easier for you to hear.
Communicate to your inner critic the way you might like to hear the message next time.
Promise your inner critic that rather than ignoring the loving message, you will take note of it, you will acknowledge the message, but that ultimately you will need to take everything into account and decide what is best.
Ask your inner critic if there is anything you need to do for it to trust you more, so it can take some time off from all it’s hard work.
When you are done with this exercise. Reflect on what, if anything, that your inner critic said you would need to do to earn more trust. If your inner critic suggested something, reflect on whether that thing is do-able for you.
While I have been talking about the inner critic in the singular, many of us have multiple inner critics. One or more may have the voice of a parent or early caregiver. Another may have the voice of a shamed earlier version of you that did not know how to cope with a particular difficult situation like the ending of a relationship whether it be via break-up, abandonment or death, a traumatic memory, a feeling of being isolated and overwhelmed by a life circumstance or something else. This exercise will help you as the inner criticisms arise to examine them and to make peace now that you are an older, wiser person and know you can choose a different perspective.
Making peace with your inner critic will help not only you but the people around you, especially your children because, as I’m sure you can figure out, the voice of our inner critic also tends to become the voice of our children’s inner critic as well.
- The Art of Breathing (help4yourfamily.com)
- Messing Up Children in Just the Right Ways (help4yourfamily.com)
- To Parents Who Worry Their Children Will Harm Others (help4yourfamily.com)
- Finding the Right Therapist (help4yourfamily.com)
Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
It seems to me that many parents I come across in my practice are in a grieving process without being fully aware of it. I would venture a guess that there are many parents outside of my practice who are grieving as well. Grieving, while often associated with death, is really just a word that describes a transition from one reality to another. Transitions have stages that go along with grief like, sadness, denial, blaming, anger, bargaining, and relief. We can grieve relationships with or without death. We can grieve changes, like moving from a home we have loved to a new home- even if we are excited about the move. What I think most parents grieve is the fantasy they had about the parent they thought they would be. We all have those thoughts before we become parents, then, after becoming parents, we have days where we question what the heck we were thinking in the first place.
I remember having my first daughter. I was so excited and felt so much joy that she was coming. I was allowed that pure joy because I did not fully understand at that time, nor could I really without experiencing it, the enormous undertaking I was embarking upon. I remember that almost confused feeling, where my husband and I wondered aloud how it was that we came to the hospital, two of us, and left with a whole extra person. All the nurse needed to check was that we had a car seat properly installed. I’m sure the same is true for adoption and fostering as well. One day there are two of you, or one person on your own and the next day there is a whole extra person who does not know a thing about your expectations (even if you told them) and they are just there…all the time.
I think of those emotions, in contrast to having my second daughter, where I cried in the delivery room before I had her. When my husband asked me why I was crying, I told him I was happy, but I was also scared. I knew then the awesome responsibility we were taking on. We were responsible for a human life…two of them! Even with the knowledge that we had a supportive family and community around us I still felt that feeling, you know, that knowing that “the buck stops here.” I wanted to be a good parent and, even with all my training as a social worker, I knew it was going to be tough to feel successful as a parent.
I know too, that for parents adopting children at an older age, there is an added complexity. When you adopt an older child, you don’t have the advantage that parent of infants have in that, when you figure out you do not know what the heck you are doing, your child does not understand that you are just figuring this stuff out too. Instead, you have a child who is probably a bit hypervigilant, who is looking to see if you do know what you are doing, and who is actively testing you every step of the way (usually without naps). Even if you have already raised biological children, you have now taken on a child with a history you did not control and that was not ideal. They are going to be vigilant in their seeking to see if you know what you are doing, as you realize that really, lots of times you don’t, even if you went to all the trainings about therapeutic parenting.
A few weeks ago, I was laughing with a mom in my office when she told me she thought adopting internationally would be great, her son would be used to other children, having spent the first year of his life in an orphanage with other children. She would put him into daycare right away, where he would be familiar with other children, then she could keep working, and sometimes she and her husband could sneak away for dates periodically. She told me this after we had just spent the session with me reinforcing the importance of this mom spending time alone with her husband, since she had been a stay at home mom and they had not had a date in the three years since they brought their child home.
We parents all know that the actual day to day realities of raising children are different, perhaps vastly different, than what we expected. Some of it is more amazing than we could have ever imagined. Parenting can be funny, serious, exciting, and tiring! No matter what, it is always different than we thought it would be.
The children I see most often come with an unique set of challenges. They have been traumatized. Their brains work differently than other children’s brains due to neglect or drug use while they were in utero. They have experienced loss. Their hearts have been broken. In a harsher, less gradual way, the parents I see recognize that the children that live with them, sometimes children they have not had an opportunity to fall in love with yet, if they were adopted at an older age, need more than our traditional notions of parenting have afforded us. Biological parents can find this out as well. We live in a new age of parenting where there really is no dominant model for parents to follow. The media loves to tell you how to raise your child the “best” way until, if you were to try to simultaneously follow all the advice, you would feel schizophrenic trying to figure out whether you are supposed to tell them what to do, let them figure it out themselves, hover, or hang back, stay home or work… the list is endless.
I think a big part of the grieving I see in parents is grieving the loss of knowing what you are supposed to do! As a single, or even in a couple, before those little ones came along, we knew which days were sleeping in days. We ran our own schedules. We thought when the kids came we still would know what to expect in a given day, remember? Remember transitioning from most of the time being your time, to your time feeling like stolen time where you had to weigh whether it was “worth it” to take time for yourself away from your children? I remember before children, going to the movies with my husband and turning around to go home without seeing a movie because we had already seen all the movies that were worth seeing. One day we will get there again…maybe.
Until then, we will go through a series of transitions. We will transition from knowing where our child learned everything, to hearing them have a thought or bring home an understanding from someplace else. We will watch our children prove to us over and over that while we can attempt to control their outside world, we do not have total control over their inside world as they will have their own unique interpretations of the world as they see it. We will realize we can not shield them from pain, nor can we make them forget the pain they have already experienced in the way we fantasized we could. We will see our own understanding of parenting shift as well. The parent we thought we would be makes way for the parent that we are becoming. Often, we find that rather than being the parent we imagined we would be, we must adapt to becoming the parent our unique children need us to be.
What have been some of the transitions you have made as a parent that surprised you?
Messing Up Children in Just the Right Ways (help4yourfamily.com)
A Quick Primer on Early Primary Relationships (help4yourfamily.com)
To Parents Who Worry Their Children Will Harm Others (help4yourfamily.com)
Quick Self-Care for Parents (help4yourfamily.com)
written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
This is the time of year when, like many clinicians, I see a spike in the number of people calling for first time appointments. One of the reasons for this is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD can impact both adults and children.
At it’s core, SAD is a kind of depression that occurs at a certain time of year. If you have ever heard people talk about the “winter blues,” they are typically referring to SAD. Two issues I see which keep people from seeking treatment for SAD is that they worry about being put on medication, and that they have normalized feeling blue at this time of year. If this is you, please allow me to educate you about some of your easy, quick, medication-free options that you might want to try.
1. In the United States, there is an epidemic of people who have lower than optimal Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is that essential nutrient we get from the sun that, among other benefits, helps us to regulate our moods. As people spend more time indoors, and get better about using sunblock and covering their skin in the sun, we also end up getting less Vitamin D in our system which impacts our mood. We are more prone to this in the winter months. Your Vitamin D level is a quick and easy thing to test. If you have a regular doctor, you can contact them and ask them to test you for your Vitamin D levels. If you do not have a doctor, there are in-home kits you can order off the internet.
2. Talk to your physician about a sun lamp. These are special lamps that produce light which mimics the sun and, for people impacted by a change in the seasons, they also help to even out your moods. You can even purchase them inexpensively online.
3. Take fish oil. Iceland, a nation where people experience shorter days and longer periods of darkness has one of the lowest levels of depression anywhere, why? The eat fish like it’s candy around there! Okay, maybe not like candy, but they do eat a lot of fish and fish oil specifically has been linked to reducing depression. Obviously, you want to check with your doctor before starting this, especially if you have any seafood allergies or if you have any blood related issues especially as fish oil can change the clotting of your blood.
4. Try therapy. You might not have SAD. Just because you experience depression around this time of year it does not necessarily mean you have SAD. I see many people who, around the anniversary of a specific trauma, experience some symptoms consistent with depression. If you have a loved one that passed away this time of year, you might be missing them more. Even if they didn’t pass away this time of year, if you have specific memories linked to this time of year (this happens a lot around holidays), you might be sad thinking about them. Death is not the only trigger, perhaps you experienced the loss of a job, a relationship, or something else around this time of year. If you have not resolved those losses to the point of acceptance, you may just be getting triggered to remember that particular feeling and your brain is giving you a chance to resolve the issue now. I find that seeing a good therapist is essential in this process and that some people who have told me they have SAD have actually, via therapy, addressed and resolved old issues that pop up around this time of year making it so that they did not experience SAD the following year.
For more about Seasonal Affective Disorder from the experts, please check out the link below from Everyday Health.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder Awareness Month (everydayhealth.com)
- How to Know When You or Your Child Need a Therapist (help4yourfamily.com)
- Finding the Right Therapist for You and Your Family (help4yourfamily.com)
- This is your brain on attachment
- Last Chance for Two Great Opportunities
- Mother’s Retreat Weekend- It’s Really Happening!
- Stopping the Parent Shame and Blame Game
- Making Peace With Your Inner Critic
- Putting together something fun for you!
- Quick Jobs for Kids
- Staying Strong as a Couple
- Letting Go of the Parent You Thought You Would Be
- Add a Little Awe to Your Life
- Upcoming Trainings
- Older Kids with Bathroom Issues: Why Does it Happen? How Can You Help? Part 2