I have this girlfriend who spends quite a bit of our time together being critical.
If I share something cool that I’ve done or am getting ready to do, she’ll remind me that I’m probably not as successful as I think. That always gives me pause. Which is probably good for me, right?
She’s usually willing, when I ask, to tell me the ways I haven’t met my goals and high standards (which she shares, too), despite my efforts. She can be relentless in her pursuit of perfection.
And I find myself buying right into it, even though it usually feels kinda yucky.
But all in all, she isn’t unkind.
We are seriously bonded friends and I think that for the most part she has my best interest at heart.
Besides, we’ve been dear friends for as long as I can remember.
It isn’t so easy to just stop being friends with someone like her. She’s very cool and popular, she makes me laugh, and she’s always there for me. Really, she is. There were many times I felt like no one was on my side and she would be the one who was there for me.
Still, she tends to be critical and judgmental. Always with an eye towards self-improvement and doing what’s best (supposedly).
Do you know the kind of friend I’m talking about?
I can’t be the only one who has a friend like that, can I? I don’t think I am.
But guess what? I’ve decided that enough is enough. I’m ready to dump that girlfriend of mine!
And in case you haven’t guessed it yet, that critical, judgmental friend of mine is … me! Yep.
I’d never let a friend treat me the way I treat myself.
And I’ve been doing it for most of my life. Wow. What an eye-opening moment.
I have a choice. I can begin to reduce my negative and critical self-talk just as I would start to remove myself from a friend who treated me that way.
It’ll take practice. It’ll take patience. It’ll take time. But what the heck—I’ve got time! That little negative self-talker part of me means well, but I know better. And I’m going to start reminding her of that.
How about you? Wanna take this journey with me? Are you ready to dump your critical self-talking girlfriend? Let’s start!
I tell my clients all the time to be a detective.
Put on your detective hat, pick up your pen and notepad, and maybe even a magnifying glass. Use your detective skills to start noticing your negative and critical self-talk. Now the key here is to be open-minded. Not judgmental. A detective is objective and is recording this information with a sense of curiosity. Just notice. That’s all.
In order to continue your awareness, write down self-talk that recurs frequently.
It’s good to start a “playlist” of your own top tunes. These are the criticisms and other phrases that you find yourself saying over and over in your head. We all have our own Top Ten List so don’t feel bad. Again, be open-minded and curious to discover this valuable information about yourself.
That’s right. Armed with love and compassion and your personal playlist, begin a dialogue with your critical-self-talking-girlfriend.
Ask her what she’s so afraid of. Ask her how she feels when she thinks those negative thoughts. Ask her whatever comes to mind for you. Once again, you’re a detective who’s interested in what she has to say. She’s got valuable information. If you don’t learn what she’s trying to say, you can’t move out of her frame of mind and into a positive one.
Another benefit to engaging her in conversation is that she’ll feel heard. And when she’s feeling heard, she feels valued. (She is trying to protect you, remember?) And when that happens, she calms down a bit. Try it and see what I mean.
You’ve got your detective notes. You’ve got a dialogue going. You’re engaging your negative, critical self-talker. That’s great! It’s not so bad once you get used to it. Now I want you to feel the feelings that she’s trying to warn you about. Believe it or not, you’ve been working really hard to not feel those scary feelings. Just sit for a moment and be with the feelings that she’s expressing. What does it feel like to be worried about becoming a bag lady? What does it feel like to be mad about your weight (for the last ten years)? What does it feel like to be lonely? Relax into the feelings and see that they won’t harm you. Feel it and then breathe it out. Once you allow yourself to feel the thing you fear/dread, you’ll find that the feeling will pass on its own in a few minutes. Negative feelings come and go, just like negative thoughts. Resisting them only keeps them stirred up and looking for a way to be expressed.
You have a choice.
You can keep repeating the same old negative, critical thoughts in your head. Or you can look for a thought that will feel better than the latest tune on your Negative Top Ten List. This, too, takes practice. But boy-oh-boy is it worth the practice! If you’ve done the four steps above, you’ve got all the makings for a new, better feeling thought. Create a list of possibilities for each of your old negative, critical thoughts. Create a list of ways to turn those thoughts into slightly better versions of themselves. For example, when I think the thought that if I keep using my credit card I’m going to end up a bag lady, I can open a dialogue and say. “Yes, sometimes I use my credit card when I shouldn’t, and I also pay more than the minimum due each month,” or, “Using my credit card every once and awhile doesn’t make me a bag lady.”
The goal is to find replacement thoughts that counter the negative, critical aspect of your old thought. A wonderful method to explore is The Work by Byron Katie. Her method is short and sweet. And, wow, is it powerful. Just four questions can turn around any negative thought. Give it a try.
Oh, and by the way, you’ll know you’ve got a good replacement thought because the feelings that are evoked will be good. You’ll notice that the replacement thought doesn’t generate such a feeling of anxiety or fear or remorse or whatever the old thought generated.
Now we get to the part where you are empowered to choose your action or non-action.
Before you started this detective work, you would be in the grip of your critical self-talker and find yourself paralyzed or procrastinating or whatever unhelpful action she usually generated. Now you’re inspired to act based on your replacement thought and the feelings evoked by that. You can choose how to proceed. You can choose not to buy into the negativity and criticism that have kept you down in the past. You can choose to look for new paths and new options. And that’s the key to increasing your satisfaction, your fulfillment, and your joy.
Here’s to being your own best friend!