I am my own worst critic. I know this about myself, and am constantly trying to quiet my inner critical voice. It’s a battle I have been waging with myself for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I’ll go long stretches keeping that inner critic completely silent. Other times, it feels like that inner critic is in control of my thoughts and actions. The older I get, the more likely it is I can at least keep my inner critic’s words as low as the faintest of whispers. In most circumstances, I don’t even hear her.
Seeing bits of personality I dislike in myself come out in my kids is terrifying.
My son is his own worst critic. He has solidly inherited this part of his personality from me. The difference is while my inner critic has been just that – mine, my thoughts, my internal dialogue – his inner critical voice is so loud we can all hear what it is saying – “I’m stupid.”, “I can’t do anything right.”, “I don’t deserve to…”
Whether it is a manifestation of his ASD or of his resulting anxiety disorder – the words of his inner critic are regularly spoken with clarity, and often at extreme volume, by my son’s mouth. He gives voice to the unfair, untrue, and unjust self doubts of his inner critic. As an adult who has struggled with self doubt for decades, it is heartbreaking to hear. As a parent who sees a part of myself mirrored and then amplified in one of my own children, it is terrifying to hear. Every time I hear his inner critic’s voice, I can sense my own inner critic taking notes and preparing her response.
Intellectually, I know that my son’s self criticisms are unfair, untrue, and unjust. But intellect is overpowered by emotion when I hear and see him being controlled by his inner critic – and when emotion is in charge, the door is left open for my own inner critic. For every – “I’m stupid.”, “I can’t do anything right.”, “I don’t deserve to…” that he voices, I can hear my own inner critic responding – “You are failing him.”, “You missed something.”, “You can’t help him.”
It’s not pretty. But so far, I am doing a fairly good job of finding the mute button for my inner critic. I know I am not as confident as I may often seem, but I also know without doubt my inner critic is dead wrong when it comes to my son. So I can take a deep breath, punch that mute button as hard as possible, and focus on helping my son learn to hit mute on his own inner critic. It’s a process, and somedays are better than others. But there are still days when I am exhausted, and even finding the energy to put my finger on that mute button seems to be difficult. On days like those, I need somebody else to remind me that my inner critic is dead wrong and to help me find some strength.
All last week was one of those days. It was a rough one, but I didn’t talk to anybody other than my husband about how I was feeling. My husband is an amazing partner, and for years has been my biggest cheerleader, but sometimes I need to hear words he has been telling me over and over again from a different voice. It’s not that I don’t believe him, so much as it is I sometimes just “can’t” hear him. Last week was one of those times that I just “couldn’t” hear him. (Poor guy. He really is the best.)
But while I could not/would not hear my husband, and my inner critic was getting louder and louder, somebody else felt called to share with me the words I needed to hear. It came in the form of an email from a lovely friend…”Good morning, Dena. Just thinking about you, as I do often. You are the most amazing woman I know, and I don’t just throw that out. Your devotion to your family, your faith, and our church—plus all the other things you do—truly are making the world a better place! In short, I don’t know anyone whom I admire or respect more.”
This friend had no way of knowing I needed to hear words like that, and yet that was exactly what I needed. Her words bolstered me. They invigorated me. They reminded me that I can push that mute button on my inner critic and that I have the ability to help my son find that mute button for himself.
I am starting this week with my inner critic muted. And to the dear friend who said the words I needed to hear to mute the unfair, untrue, and unjust words of my inner critic, I am profoundly thankful.