By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP
One of the hardest things for the Gentle Self is to let go of the harsh and critical thoughts in one’s own head. The self-imposed reprimands usually pile up high. Often we don’t even think as “Me,” but we take on the voices we internalized from others who have made us feel inadequate in the past: You are a nuisance… You should be working harder… You are too fat… You are a loser… Nobody is interested in what you have to say…
Sometimes we aren’t really aware of the thoughts that put us down that way, but they’re there, running somewhere in the background, and impacting everything we do. As soon as you hear yourself say “I suck,” “I’m not good at this,” chances are that your inner critic is at work.
Lots of people struggle with this kind of self- blame. For some, the voices are devastating and pervasive. What we automatically do in this situation is to try to tune them out. To get rid of them. Out with the negative thoughts.
Unfortunately there’s no way to control them. The harder we push them away, the more likely they come back, and sometimes with a vengeance. Just like we can’t tell our bodies to stop hurting, we can’t command our mind to quit worrying.
What we want to do is approach ourselves in a caring and compassionate manner. “Well, what is going on today?” we might gently say to our battered mind. “What happened that these thoughts are haunting me more than other times?” Very often it goes back to an inconsiderate remark someone made. A disrespectful gesture. An argument with your spouse. Feeling that your needs were neglected. Maybe our bodies are tired and the mind needs rest as well.
Very often, some nurturing is required. It’s almost like taking that vulnerable part of yourself into your arms and comfort it like you would try to soothe a friend or a child. “Of course I feel low, I’ve been paying attention to others all day and didn’t check in with myself at all.” “I know that the critic in my head thinks that I have nothing to say. It’s because I never got the chance earlier in life to show what I have to offer. I know that I have plenty to contribute once I feel comfortable and trust the people around me.” Allow yourself the time you need to warm up to your environment.
Don’t push too harshly. It will only make the scared parts of yourself shut down. We want to encourage them and coax them out of hiding into the light. There’s usually a part of you that feels stronger and more confident. Let that part take the lead. Pay attention to your professional self, your witty self, your brotherly self, your athletic self, your creative self – whichever is the strongest. Let them nurture the frightened part of the self, so you as a whole can breathe easier.