The Critic is the voice in my head that criticizes me. It goes beyond pointing out legitimate mistakes and tears me apart emotionally, often over very minor missteps or decisions I make that are completely neutral.
I’ve actually been hearing less from the Critic since I started taking Zoloft, but it’s still there. It has been hiding in the form of expectations of harsh criticisms from other people. It wants me to believe that I can hear their thoughts, that they are the ones who think whatever I’m doing is stupid, or wrong, or ugly, or dangerous, or gluttonous, or whatever. They are the ones who question my logic, my motives, my abilities.
It is irrelevant whether the people around me actually think what the Critic is telling me they’re thinking. It is up to them to think it, and to express it – preferably to my face – and then I can respond. I keep telling myself this, but it isn’t easy.
I’ve also been trying to reclaim the Critic as a part of my own mind, while simultaneously confronting it and reducing its power over me. As painful as it is to admit this, the Critic’s denunciations are my own thoughts.
I am the one second-guessing myself, finding flaws in my thought processes, thinking that I could have made a better or healthier choice, wishing I had prepared better, doubting my abilities, etc. etc. etc. When I accept the Critic’s words as MY thoughts, then I have a say in how they’re worded and thus the impact they have on me. I can think through them, learn from my mistakes, and make decisions about how to move forward. I don’t have to be the victim of verbal abuse from my own brain.
I can be a person who thinks through multiple aspects of and perspectives on a situation, including the ones that contradict. I can acknowledge the difficulties I face living as an imperfect being in an imperfect world, making decisions and facing obstacles as best I can and sometimes – often – making mistakes. I can be frustrated when, despite my best efforts, things don’t go the way I’d planned. I can admit to not having all the answers.
Maybe I can even admit that I don’t have control over every aspect of my life. Sometimes, it’s not something I could or should have done better. It’s not a matter of being worthy or unworthy. It just is.
I also need to admit that I feel insecure and worry about what people think of me. I wish I could be above such concerns, not care what people think, be unshakably confident. But the bottom line is, I’m not. I want people to like me, or at least accept me as I am, and on some level I’m constantly worrying that I’m going to do or say the wrong thing. I’m afraid I’ll either hurt someone, or get them angry enough to hurt me. I’m walking on eggshells. I don’t want to be abandoned again.
The Critic lets me externalize these concerns. That’s not me, it’s society being stupid. That’s not me, it’s that person being judgmental.
That’s not me, it’s the mental illness.
I can let the Critic live in my brain for as long as it likes – and keep suffering its abuses.
Or, I can OWN my self-criticisms, doubts, and insecurities.
I can admit that it’s very hard to live in a world where unattainable images of “perfection” are everywhere. No matter how much we try to make ourselves believe we don’t care about attaining them, the message does seep through and become internalized. Several of the thoughts I have in the form of the Critic’s abuses are expressions of my own internalized perfectionism, and of anger at myself for not conforming to it. Maybe now that I’ve acknowledged this truth, I can start to let some of these thoughts go.
I can let go of the pride that dictates that I can – and therefore must – be perfect. Pride lies. The truth is that I cannot be perfect, and therefore I need not strive for it. This is not a personal failing. It is a universal reality.
I can also make a commitment to myself: to work through and overcome my fear of abandonment, to accept myself, and to allow others to accept me as I am.