A relationship is most commonly understood as something that happens between two people, right? And relationships seem to be the source of our greatest joy, and our greatest pain.
Think for a minute. If I asked you to describe your closest relationship what would you say? Is it beautiful, warm, life-enhancing, exciting? Or, maybe you’d say stressful, difficult, toxic, hurtful… Or maybe it can be both at different times.
When someone treats us with love and kindness and grace we feel good, no question. 1000’s of love songs testify to that. But when treated with cruelty and criticism and harshness we wilt. We shrink. We hurt. It diminishes us.
But there’s another significant relationship we all have, minute by minute, second by second. This one is closer than your breath.
It’s with you.
You my friend, whether you realise it or not, have a relationship with yourself.
How are you with you? How you you speak to yourself? Do you cheer yourself on or do you tear yourself down? Are you for you, or against you? When you do something wrong do you berate yourself, put yourself down, kick yourself? Or do you shrug it off and tell yourself, “Don’t worry. You’ll get there. Everyone messes up sometimes…”?
Psychologists call this the Inner Critic.
It’s not your friend. It waits for you to fail and then smirks.
“Who do you think you are?”
“What were you thinking?”
“What a loser.”
“Don’t even bother, you’ll screw it up.”
So, so many of us are own worst enemies. As a therapist I can’t tell you how many times the Inner Critic shows up in my clinic. It’s usually pretty sneaky at first. My clients come in depressed or anxious; just feeling bad and not knowing why. And then.. sure enough.. there it is, hiding in the shadows.
A lot of times there’s been an actual critic in this person’s life in their formative years. Usually in the form of a parent. I saw a parenting quote recently by Peggy O’Mara that said:
“The way you talk to your children becomes their inner voice.”
And it’s so true. If a parent has been critical and condemning to their child, very often that child ends up internalising that voice and carries it with them long after they leave home.
So what to do?
Firstly.. just notice. Listen. If you have an aggressive Inner Critic you may need to re-negotiate your relationship. Maybe you’ve been ripping yourself to shreds for long enough. Maybe you’re tired. Maybe it’s time to come into a kinder relationship with yourself.
I hope so.
I read another quote recently by Lizzie Milani who said:
“Love your enemy, even if that enemy is you.”
If you have been your own worst enemy, go gently. Maybe there is kindness waiting for you on the other side of criticism.