Identifying, Naming, and Taming the inner critic
Many women compare themselves to others. Women recovering from food, weight, and body image issues and, often, new mothers, have often honed this skill to an excruciatingly sharp pointed edge that goes right back into the self. As a colleague of mine has put it “an eating disorder is an over-developed superego,” and “Supermom doesn’t exist, but we all keep desperately trying to be her.”
Some common self-judgments for women in eating disorder recovery that I often hear include:
- If [insert body part such as stomach, thighs, or arms here] was different, I would be more successful in my career, lovable in romantic relationships, and not have these feelings (ex: anxiety, depression, anger, sadness, shame).
- If I were not eating this [insert “bad food” here], then I would be “better,” “good,” not feel this way (see above list).
- “She’s thinner, and therefore more attractive, lovable, worthy, than me.”
- “She’s sicker than me, and therefore deserves treatment/to get better more than me.”
- “She has a real/valid reason for an eating disorder (ex history of abuse) and I don’t.”
- “There is something wrong with me that can never be fixed or healed.”
- “She’s in a romantic relationship and therefore more lovable than me.”
- “None of my romantic relationships have worked, so none will ever work.”
- Her eating disorder (whether it be starving, bingeing, or purging) is more dangerous than mine. I don’t deserve to tend to my recovery and self-care because it’s not that dire or important.
- I’ll never be a Mom if I can’t even take care of myself.
OUCH! Obviously they all fall into the categories of Great-Palace-Lies and Cognitive Distortions such as personalizing, emotional reasoning, and globalizing. New moms, like women in early eating disorder recovery, are also in the terrain of developing a new self identity. Growth periods such as these are often when the critical voice is loudest. Below, I have named a few of the many critics that attack many moms internally:
- The ecological critic: That mom has never used any kind of plastic in her child’s lunch, even if it is BPA free. All her food has been made from scratch and the vegetables have been grown in her organic backyard garden. If I use plastic, have anything not made from scratch in my child’s lunch, I suck as a Mom.
- The Body-image critic: She lost the baby weight sooner (or at all) and is therefore a more attractive, functional, lovable successful career woman/mom/wife.
- The stay-at-home-mom critic: I am mommy-tracked and my skills are not valuable/outdated/my sleep-deprived brain-body doesn’t remember how to have a career. I can’t move ahead with my career, because people won’t take me seriously anymore.
- The work-outside-the-home-mom critic: My kid(s) are more attached to the nanny than me. I should start saving for therapy now, as I’ve probably already damaged them with abandonment issues/insecure attachment.
- The Attachment-parenting critic: I stopped wearing and co-sleeping with my baby, and therefore they feel traumatized and insecure. I should breastfeed at all costs for the first three years. Moms who leave their kids in daycare are bad.
- The Feminist Mom critic: I should be able to bring home the (vegan organic) bacon, fry it up in a pan, while simultaneously playing with my non-screen watching child after writing an updated introduction and research study on The Second Shift and presenting it to the National Association of Feminist Sociology conference.
OK, so I have an overdeveloped Superego (Critic). What do I DO about it?
Here are some strategies for combatting the critic and assist yourself in arresting the Compare and Despair Trap.
- NOTICE IT.
In eating disorder treatment, it is often encouraged to notice “ED” (the voice of the eating disorder). You can also think of this as “Inner Critic.” Although this can be painful (it is not a kind voice), it is important to notice that this part of your self is just that- PART of you, not all of you. And as you start to notice it is not all of you, you can then begin to cultivate other parts of you that are more fiercely kind and compassionate rather than shaming and harmful toward you.
- NAME IT.
Naming the “ED” or “Critic” voice can be helpful in continuing to separate and dis-identify from it. It can be fun to make a collage, picture, or funny character name for it. Though this may sound silly, it can actually help take some of the power away from it. Sometimes I think of my critic as a Spikey haired teenager: it looks fierce, but really it is a soft mollusk inside and the spikes are trying to protect its vulnerability. This allows me to invite the scary-looking critic back into my larger Self rather than try to cut off from it.
- GET SUPPORT
It can be hard to develop a fiercely compassionate voice within yourself to assist in combatting the critical voice and making peace with/tolerating distressing emotions. Sometimes a wise therapist, person further along in recovery or motherhood can be helpful to verbalize kind, discerning support until you can cultivate strengthening this voice within yourself.
- IF YOU ARE GOING TO COMPARE, BE FAIR.
For example, if you are a newly postpartum mom, when you wear a bathing suit, it is NOT fair to compare yourself to an airbrushed image in a magazine or even a woman’s body who hasn’t given birth. Your body is different. If you MUST compare, then compare to another newly postpartum mom (though my recommendation would be to talk about what is really going on regarding the stress of being a new mom!)
- FIND AND CULTIVATE A REGULAR CREATIVE AND/OR OR SPIRITUAL PRACTICE
Fighting the critic needs to include rather than cuting off from your feelings and your body. This can be sitting meditation, moving meditation, writing, collage-ing, art-making. It is usually an activity that includes the right (creative) brain and somatic (body) awareness such as movement or following the breath. You will know that you have found a practice that works for you when you discover (usually after the fact when it returns) that your inner critic was quiet for a time. Cultivate that activity, whatever it is for you. Keep returning to that Big Mind, Big Self, Coonected-ness again and again. Your critic will start to lose its power when it is invited into a larger, more spacious creative and enticing place to be. I will end with an affirmation borrowed from 12-step program reading: Just for today, I will not compare myself to others. I will accept myself and live to the best of my ability. Don’t compare—identify. Don’t intellectualize—utilize. To keep it, you have to give it away. You can’t give away what you don’t have. May the growth continue!
Self-Help: Taming Your Gremlin: A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way By Rick Carson 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder By Carolyn Costin and Gwen Schubert Grabb Creativity and Spiritual Practice: Women, Food and God By Geneen Roth The Artists’ Way and The Artist’s Way for Parents By Julia Cameron Soulcollage Evolving: An Intuitive Collage Process for Self Discovery and Community By Seena Frost Sweat Your Prayers By Gabriel Roth Buddha Mom: The Path of Mindful Mothering By Jacqueline Kramer Humour: Shitty Mom: The Parenting Guide for the Rest of Us By Laurie Kilmartin, Karen Moline, Alicia Ybarbo and Mary Ann Zoellner Ketchup is a vegetable and other lies moms tell themselves Robin O’Bryant
Recovery Mama’s sole purpose is to provide inspiration and hope to women recovering from Eating Disorders, Body Image difficulty, Postpartum Depression/Anxiety, and “New Mommy boot camp.” In celebration of all mothers, your mother, you as a mother, you re-mothering yourself, I am offering the following affirmation for anyone that signs up to follow this blog! Please email your snail mail address (contact form below) so I can send you (and/or your mother) a hand-made customized affirmation card. It is ok to request a card for yourself, even if you haven’t given birth. We all have the Great and Good-Enough Mother archetypes within us.
I listen to my intuition.
There is a still, small light in me. It is the part of me that knows. It has always been there and is an intuitive awareness. It doesn’t come from books. It is inside me. I have a Mommy-intuition. It is based on connection with myself, with the part-of-me-that-knows. When I listen deeply to that connection, I know. I know what to do and not to do. I know the next right step.
I listen to my intuition.
When filling out the form below, Please write which image you would like
(Heart-Mother, Light, or Blue-Mother) and if you would prefer I write “Happy Mother’s Day” instead of the affirmation.
I’m re-posting this as we are appraoching the halfway mark of the year. That means you have the opportunity to re-assess your vision collage or, if you didn’t make one, do it now!
Every year I make my own as well as facilitate a workshop on creating your very own vision collage (also called vision boards, treasure maps). People often ask me what is vision collage? A vision collage is just what it sounds like: a collage of your vision! When making this collage, you can be very specific with putting what you want 1-year-from-now, you can choose images that make you feel good/appeal to you without knowing why, or you can do both! You can also make sections of your collage for different areas of your life such as family, health, career, and spirituality. Another option, my most favorite, is just glue your images on the paper as you like and trust the process! There is no wrong way to make a vision collage.
How do I pick the right images?
Trust your gut and your right brain.
You do not need to know why something resonates for you or speaks to you. Listen to your gut. Many years ago I put an image of a bunny in a vision collage I was making. I did not know why this little bunny rabbit was wanting to be put in the collage, and my left brain wanted to cut it out amidst all of its other visions and goals for that year. But I trusted my gut and made a space for it. Later that year, as I was deepening work around forgiving and loving my father for not being there for me emotionally in some ways that I needed growing up, I remembered a small bunny rabbit he had brought home for me from a work trip he was on when I was a child. This was a cherished gift from my Dad that opened the window to the love that he did bring me, all the ways in which that love was truly enough, that my unconscious psyche had remembered and stored.
What about specific goals and intentions?
You can also use your vision collage to image specific intentions and goals. Be sure to surrender the timeline and the way these come to fruition.
It is ok, even fabulous, to have specific goals and intentions for the year ahead. A goal is a realistic, tangible and measurable outcome. An intention is a desire and a deep orienting of the self toward a direction. Both are important.
If you are like me, your left-brain is a bit obsessed with accomplishing goals. I had the goals completing the doctorate and getting licensed as a Psychologist on my vision collages for MANY years. Due to the obstacles internal and external as well as the nature of these goals, it took MUCH longer than 1 year to accomplish these. And it was important to keep setting the goals, again and again, for as long as it took. When I was pregnant and approaching my first year of motherhood, I had a sleeping baby displayed largely on my vision collage. This was an intention. This didn’t happen for either myself or my baby very frequently the first year. But it DID happen, and I took action steps again and again to orient toward that intention.
My critic has lots of derogatory opinions that block me.
Make a place for your critic and your obstacles AND do not let them run the show.
When I facilitate collage workshops, I invite people to pick an image of a chair (literally) and place it in an actual chair to make a space for their critic. The critic (that part of the self that is incessantly judging the self) will be there. It will have many opinions about how you/your collage/your goals and intentions are “not good enough, not able to be accomplished, not realistic.” When the critical voice gets louder, that part of the self is afraid of your growth. As Marianne Williamson so eloquently said, “it is not our darkness but our light that we are most afraid of.” It is important to acknowledge this voice without letting it be a dictator holding you back from who you really are and are becoming. Many years ago, in my first few years of eating disorder recovery, I vision-ed what it would be like to no longer have an eating disorder. I didn’t think it would be possible for me. I also thought that I needed my eating disorder to be a good artist. When I finally did Iet go of eating disorder behaviors, I completed my masters degree and held my first painting exhibition of all the paintings that had poured out of me once the eating disorder was no longer blocking my creativity. Listen to your fears, but do not let your critic or your obstacles run the show. Use their voices as information that you are on the right track and keep moving directly into them. If this part of the self doesn’t think it is possible to recover from an eating disorder (or whatever your obstacles are: addiction, debt, financial solvency, depression, relationship difficulties, loving your body the way it is), then go directly toward that fear! This part of the self needs to be directly confronted with opposite experience. As they say in 12 step program, FEAR= False Evidence Appearing Real and the solution is to Face Everything And Recover. Which leads me to
Isn’t it magical thinking to make a collaged vision and then expect these visions to happen in your life?
No. Let yourself dream big. And then, TAKE ACTION on it!
There is a famous quote attributed to Goethe, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” I like how the words dream and do are both here. Dream, and then DO. Obviously you have to take action to make your visions come true. But image-in-ing it is often the first step towards becoming bigger. What is most threatening, fearful and truly exciting to imagine yourself accomplishing, having, being? You have to imagine it is possible before you walk your way into it.
My first year of motherhood, I had presenting at an international conference for eating disorder professionals on my collage. I was desperate to not lose my professional identity as a new mother. I quickly wrote and submitted an abstract and got rejected. Though I felt devastated, I still needed to image this vision to begin to believe it possible to grow that big. The next year, I wrote another proposal. I looked up current research in that topic area, I gathered my own experience, I consulted with colleagues and I hired an editor in the submission process. This one got accepted.
But what if the vision of my life doesn’t look like my collage?
It’s not about the collage. Let the vision turn into the imperfectly beautiful surprise of your life.
For many years, I wanted to be in partnership with a loving, respectful, soul mate partner. I wanted to be married. Early on
in our dating, when my husband saw my massive vision collage on the wall of my home (with an attractive, respectful soul mate partner on it), he was a bit scared and taken aback. He shared “there is no way I can live up to that.” I told him, “that’s ok- me neither! We now are living (mostly) happily ever after in what Anne Lamott calls “the church of 80% good enough.”
What’s your vision? If you haven’t made your 2016 Vision Collage yet, now is the time!
Dr Linda will be facilitating a Vision Collage workshop in San Francisco on July 10, 2016, If interested in registering, email her at Linda@DrLindaShanti.com