You Can Do This! Overcoming Your Inner Critic

Have you ever listened closely to the way you talk to your self? It can be a little scary. Most of us grossly underestimate the extent to which a critical inner voice is doing most of the talking, and the barrier that this habitual opponent creates in our lives. Now, we all need a push now and again, to hold ourselves accountable, to be better, to do better, to care more, to live in line with our values and our potential. This can include some tough love, lest we fall into the snares of an unfulfilling life ruled by complacency and instant gratification. 

That being said, we must understand that we have everything to gain by protecting ourselves from the spiritual pollution of negative self talk.  As my spiritual teacher, Michael Berg says, speaking negatively, which includes about ourselves “puts a shell around our soul.” And this shows up physically as well. Brain research confirms that a self attacking inner voice sets us up for anxiety and depression. 


The idea is like this: Before we can create a oneness with our dreams and desires, and a oneness with others, we must create a oneness within ourselves. Yes, we want to grow into a more loving and compassionate person.  So what’s the foundation? A relationship towards oneself filled with kindness, encouragement and self love. We don’t grasp how valuable we are, simply because we exist. Appreciating our value, believing in ourselves beyond logic, this is how we grow and change best.


So let’s get practical and talk about what negative self talk can really sound like. Awareness is the first essential step.  Here’s a questionnaire to help you begin identifying where you and your inner critic stand. Please be honest with yourself. Your inner critic won’t like to be discovered but your soul will be thrilled.  0=never; 1= rarely; 2=sometimes; 3=often; 4=all the time (The higher your score the more care and priority I would recommend you place on healing your self talk.)

When I listen inside, I can hear myself…

—  Judging myself harshly in a way that I would NEVER speak to a friend, colleague or anyone I truly care about. (e.g., I’m so stupid; Never good enough; I look awful today; Why can’t I be more …; I’m so disorganized; I’m so bad; It’s all my fault; I did well, what a relief.)

Comparing myself to others. (e.g. They are so much farther along than I am; Why don’t I have what they have; Well I do that better than them.)

Repeating a message I received growing up, from someone toxic or a  dynamic. (e.g., You’re so annoying; You have to make them happy or they will leave; You are not worthy of love; When you’re thin, everything will be good; That’s a hobby, not a real job.)

Saying extreme statements about my character when disappointed in myself or a circumstance (e.g., I’m a terrible mother; I suck; I have nothing to offer; I’m blowing it.)

Panicking when I don’t live up to a fixed identity, like a Good-Person image. (e.g., I better do this for them or they’ll think I’m unkind; Oh no, they are not going to see that I have it all together.)

Discounting my gifts, skills and credentials. (e.g., There’s no way I can do that, I’ve never done it before; My success doesn’t feel genuine, I feel like an imposter; I’m not really that smart; I’m sure there are others who could do it better; I’ll come off like a fool.)

Anxiously needing to resolve conflict or move forward on a project or issue. (e.g., If I don’t email right away, they’ll think I’m irresponsible; I better fix this Now; Oh gosh they will think I’m terrible, I need to explain myself.)

Preoccupied with how I look. (e.g., Ugg I hate how my stomach looks; With these thighs I’ll never find a date.) 

Second guessing myself and my decisions, day to day and long term. (e.g., You should have done it faster; You wasted so much time; You idiot, you could have handled that so much better; Maybe my way isn’t the right way.)

Shaming messages when I’m not perfect, approved of or make a mistake,  (e.g., I have to be the best at this; They have to accept me; I just can’t make a mistake or I’m a failure; shame on me for not being tougher; I better not even try because I might fail; I’m bad at the core)


Before we go on, I feel we need to spend a minute on shame.  Especially related to our internalized and shaming messages (#3 and #10 above), it’s important to appreciate and not judge your inner critic. Likely, to protect from feeling judged, shamed or rejected in some fundamental way by caregivers, many of us develop an attacking way of relating with oneself to protect from the shame awakened by anything that resembles failure. If we can manage to control our behavior, our bodies, our image — or judge ourself first—  then we create a temporary (and illusionary) feeling of safety.

As a recent article in Psychology Today put so well, “There's one thing the inner critic doesn't offer: Room for growth. All too often it sends us back to a zone where we find ourselves safe, but also stuck.” Today we have beautiful healing approaches that gently and powerfully help us to emancipate the child within, reparent him/her to not need those coping mechanisms, and the accompanying belief systems, like the child once needed to survive.  (See Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Somatic Experiencing, Internal Family Systems, and EMDR)  


The main technique for overcoming negative self talk I want to share is a cognitive approach called SELF DISTANCING and it’s based on ground breaking research by Ethan Kross, of the University of Michigan's Emotion & Self Control Lab.  By replacing the first person pronoun, I , with non-first person pronoun, You, He/She, or Our Name, we can gain emotional and psychological distance which allows us to speak to ourselves more like we would to a friend or someone we care about.  Haven’t you noticed how it’s more clear when it’s about someone else’s life.  Kross goes on to show that getting out of our first person mindset reduces the activation of the right amygdala, the emotional part of the brain— but at no extra cognitive expense.  So this simple technique has great implications for unhooking us from the vicious cycle of negative self talk. Here’s an example of Gabriella new at giving presentations:

First Person (negative) Talk:

I am worried about giving this presentation. I’m afraid I won’t be good and powerful and that participants won’t want to continue.  I’m afraid I will be a disappointment. The other presenters I respect in my field do such a good job and what if I am just not that good at it. 

Third Person (affirming) Talk:

Gabriella, you can do this.  You know this material and everyone who begins something new feels uncomfortable. What you will be sharing is something you deeply believe in and the most important thing is doing your best and coming from your heart.  Gabriella, people will feel your passion and that’s the energy that makes the most difference.  More than concepts.  You can do this and you don’t have to be perfect.  That’s not possible and not the point. 

Rather than trying to shut down the inner critic or analyze the emotions underneath, Kross and his colleagues suggest trying to make this simple grammatical manipulation of first person to non first person self talk. And since negative self talk is a habit often decades in the making, be prepared to practice, and practice! I have tried this myself and love it. Even writing this blog has taken this technique to a new level for me personally. I would love to hear how it works for you.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I’ve created a checklist to inspire you to ask yourself some important questions — 7 about yourself, 7 about your partner/relationship. This exploring process is to awaken awareness, action and personal growth — through which greater clarity will likely unfold. I draw these exploratory questions from my own marriage journey and my work with couples, which have both been profoundly enhanced by what I have learned about relationships from the wisdom of Kabbalah.

Establishing Boundaries and Being True to Yourself in Your Close Relationships

 Establishing Boundaries and Being True to Yourself in Your Close Relationships

We are people who need people. We simply cannot reach our true potential without being loved. The paradox is that to attract the right kind of person into our lives, one with whom our love can grow and grow, we must first have a strong connection with our self and the light we possess inside. Only when we are emotionally independent, when we let go of the desperation and intense “need” for someone else to validate or want us, to praise or make us a priority, do we build the proper platform on which to actually draw the love we so desire.

Your Facebook Relationship

Your Facebook Relationship

While we can now reach people in a broader and simpler way, our connections have grown shallower. Many are calling this the age of isolation. Yes, more access — to people, information, opportunities. And yet, we are seeing signs of greater alienation, detachment, and loneliness.

Hope for Healing the Wound of an Absent Father or Divorce

Why has Kelly Clarkson’s song, Piece by Piece, and her emotional appearance on American Idol, resonated with so many?  To start with, people love real people! Take a song delving into the void of a daddyless daughter who witnessed multiple divorces—and couple that with Kelly breaking down while singing—and you have the hearts of a whole nation open wide. 

Click above to watch the fox2 video 

Click above to watch the fox2 video 

In both or her songs, Piece By Piece and Because Of You, Kelly touches upon a profound challenge many faces: growing up with an absent father and in a home of divorce.  According to the US Department of Census, 43% of US children live without their father physically present. And this does not include the emotionally absent father, which has been shown to have an identical impact.  In addition, 50% of American children will witness the breakup of a parent’s marriage. Close to half of those will also see the breakup of a parent’s second marriage.

While the statistics reflect a significantly greater prevalence of absent fathers, it’s important to note that 8% of households have children being raised with a physically absent mother (emotional absence being harder to measure). The purpose of this article is not to point the finger at men (or divorced parents). Actually, the message here is not to judge anyone. That never helps. Nonetheless, the truth is, when either of our parents are absent, or when they divorce, this leaves a profound lack. The extensive and disturbing statistics reveal unfortunate consequences due to this lack.  That being said, I am not here to depress but rather inspire hope—because what we do with our lack makes all the difference for our future happiness and relationship success. 

Here are some recommendations to take care of the wounds from parental absence and/or divorce:

Only when we grasp the incredible capacity we have for growing and transforming, healing and forgiving, can we truly make the most of our lives. We create our reality, regardless of what happens to us on the outside.  It’s a radical level of power and responsibility over one’s life, but it works. No matter the trauma we experience, we possess an unshakeable wholeness within. 

We can’t go it alone. Not if we really want to reach our true potential. Assistance from a healing professional is not a sign of weakness.  Quite the opposite, letting someone in for the sake of empowering our highest self speaks volumes about our desire, our willingness to take responsibility for our lives and for our courage to be vulnerable.

When we understand the emotional impact, and behavioral tendencies, from having an absent parent or living in a divorced home, we can start to choose proactively how to respond to the pain we experience and respond with greater self-love, control, and wisdom.  Otherwise, we live reactively, shooting in the dark by behaving unconsciously, not really knowing what hole we are trying to fill. 

For example, most children of an absent parent and/or divorce struggle with two common issues:  Fear of abandonment, and feeling unworthy of love. These deep wounds tend to bleed into relationships in four harmful ways: 

  •     People Pleasing - settling for less out of fear of rejection
  •     Needy for love - a desperate latching on to any attention to cover a fear of being alone
  •     Fixing our partner - maybe we could get the love we need if we can fix his/her problems
  •     Emotionally unavailable - never letting people in, hard to commit, afraid to be vulnerable

By identifying our own behavioral traits, this is a beginning of transforming them.  We cannot change what we cannot see.  We also minimize the risk of repeating the cycle.

We need to have a good relationship with ourselves to be whole. As hard and counterintuitive as it may be, we must restrict the urge to have a romantic partner fill our lack. It’s a paradox. The more we work on being good with us, the greater are our chances of attracting what we are really looking for.  We are people who need people.  But it’s about timing and priority. We must put our relationship with our true self first.  Only then are we truly prepared to attract a soulmate, someone with whom we experience genuine love and belonging—that lasts!   

Be selective with who you date, let in and especially marry.  Realize your worth and guard your inner Light. Stay away from those who show signs of caring only for the self alone, not a family player. Be cautious about taking morsels of attention to assuage your fear of being alone.  Break the chain and select someone who appears to be capable and have balance, who is open to growing and becoming a better person. You are worth it. 

Blame is a heavy first stone on our backs, upon which those larger stones of anger, fear guilt, and shame build. Blaming our parents, and especially blaming ourselves, keeps us stuck and limits our capacity to enjoy the blessings we are meant to receive.  We often cannot see the big picture in life, it can be hard to make sense of our losses and hardships. But those who trust the process of life, and learn to embrace the challenges as opportunities to grow stronger, wiser and more capable of love, tend to rise higher than those who can’t let go and continue to blame. It’s not easy to forgive and be compassionate with ourselves. Yet when we focus on the blessings that we have gained through the pain, and the Light revealed from the darkness, we stop wishing for things to be different and appreciate who we are and all that we are given.  

What Will Be Our Legacy: A Note to Parents
Remember the feeling when the twin towers came down? Or have you ever heard some scary news, or come close to losing, or actually lost, someone to an illness. Perhaps you have feared you would lose a marriage or time with your children?  These times can hit us with a wave of love and perspective, how clearly we see what really matters. Times of crisis can also feel like we've been hit with a frying pan - a wake up call if you will.  Our human nature can easily keep us stuck in physicality, in the worries and day to day life. Many adults fail to realize how in the bigger picture, it's the people and our relationships that matter the most. When it comes to being a parent, especially for fathers, many simply fail to grasp how important their role is and the profound difference they make in their children's lives. On so many levels.

I often hear wisdom from those late in their years wishing they would have been more present with their children when they were younger.  Everyone is doing their best; we all have wounds to heal and obstacles from complex and often painful family dynamics. Most absent fathers (or mothers) were raised in a home with an absent father themselves, or been in some kind of dysfunctional or broken home. But it's never too late to break the cycle. When we awaken the desire, we are wired to grow and do better - especially with help. So rather than waiting for a crisis to teach us what really matters, or when it's late in the game, let’s ask ourselves: “How present am I with my children?” “Am I who I really want to be for my kids.” “Am I taking care of myself, and growing, so I can be the best parent I can be?” “What kind of legacy do I want to leave?”