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Self-esteem is the worth and respect we give ourselves that encourages and affirms our ability to make practical and beneficial decisions.
When our “inner voice” or self-talk berates everything we do and everything about who we are, we will struggle to believe in ourselves. Our fears of doing everything wrong overshadow anything we might do right.
A low esteem will be reflected in our relationships, marriage, social circles, and work, because everything is colored by that negativity. And it can breed jealousy and resentment, as well as a simmering dislike for others.
In their book, Self-Esteem, Matthew McKay, Ph.D., and Patrick Fanning, give us indications of how self-esteem is diminished. They refer to our “negative inner voice” as a pathological critic that continues to attack and judge us.
In past blog posts and in my work with people, I named this “inner voice” our Internal Critic, and suggested you give it a name and order it to sit down and be quiet unless it had something of real value to share.
Related article: That Unexpected Visitor: Your Internal Critic
While that might seem a bit harsh or extreme, remember that if this internal critic has had free run for a long time – denouncing anything and everything you do – it has formed a habit. Habits can be replaced but they first need to be recognized and properly identified.
Giving your critic a name helps you identify when it is overly active so you can respond quickly in stopping the flow of negativity.
That does not mean that you shouldn’t stop and evaluate the pros and cons of a decision that needs to be made. You need to first assess the seriousness of a problem and then what might be the best solution.
It is important to be cautious and careful and consider all options. But an Internal Critic doesn’t give you time to evaluate pros and cons. It is negative about everything. When constantly bombarded by an internal critical voice, we aren’t able to recognize anything positive.
Related article: How to Replace Critical Self-Talk with Affirmations
How do you handle problematic situations?
What is your first reaction? Is it always critical or negative?
If it is, what can you put in place to help evaluate and become more accurate in both identifying problems and finding appropriate solutions?
When your self-esteem is low, your critic becomes more vocal and drowns anything else out.
- Problem-Solving: 5 Basic Components
- Work on Problems, Not Symptoms
- Problem-Solving, Step 1: Identify the Problem and Define the Conflict
- Problem-Solving, Step 2: Brainstorm Possible Solutions
- Problem-Solving, Step 3: Evaluate, Prioritize, and Choose
- Problem-Solving, Step 4: Try It On For Size
How Our Internal Critic Labels Us
Our critic will attach labels to us, such as idiot or you’ll never learn.
Labels are any descriptive words or phrases used to describe a person or group. They usually trigger an immediate response and image. Labels try to condense and explain complex behaviors and situations and in the process, identify and define someone or something. They also become buzzwords we use in most of our conversations.
So, how can I more accurately identify whether I have a destructive self-critic?
Well, an irrational critic will blame you for everything that happens. It follows its own script that consists of every fault and failure you have made. It will call you names such as stupid or incompetent, exaggerating your weaknesses while distorting or minimizing your capabilities.
Over time, this rhetoric becomes toxic and begins to control your thinking. It usually has a long history that begins early in life, comparing you to what or who you “should” be. It becomes a critic of the values and rules you were given while growing up. And at the same time, it blames everything and everybody else for all the problems you have.
Insidious, Subtle, and Dangerous
If our Internal Critic is constantly devaluing us, then why do we listen to it?
As shocking as it might seem, in some way it is rewarding. Perhaps it is reducing the stress of problem-solving. If you don’t have to make a decision then you won’t make a wrong one and anxiety is reduced.
Instead, we blame others for whatever happens as a way to cover up our fears, mistakes or bad behavior. We may not even be aware that we are doing that. Blaming others takes the pressure off of us. Remember as a kid, saying, “It’s not my fault – it’s his,” referring to a brother or sister or anybody else.
When we continue to repeat patterns of thinking or behaving, we are reinforcing it and it becomes a habit. We use it to explain everything. “Self-critical statements can be both positively and negatively reinforced.”
Your internal critic can tear you down while you are trying to make good choices and meet your basic needs. Those basic needs include a way to regulate your behavior and control dangerous impulses.
You need to have some kind of structure and order, along with rules in place that will provide an ethical (moral and immoral) framework. When those rules are violated, life becomes more chaotic, and you lose your sense of worth. You fear rejection and your critic helps by blaming it all on others.
We also cope with rejection by first rejecting ourselves.
If I call myself a loser, nobody else can. So, we attack ourselves, which relieves our anxiety about someone else attacking us first.
Like most habits we want to alter or replace, we must first become aware of them. If you want to alter your critic’s voice, you need to become aware of what it is saying to you, when, and how often.
Then ask yourself:
- Why am I doing this?
- What purpose does it serve when I always attack myself in some way?
- What is my critic’s ulterior motive?
- What am I fearful of?
Then talk back.
Tell it to stop or shut up. Replace with affirmations of worth.
Worth is not determined by your behavior. It is the value that all human beings have. You just need to increase your awareness of that value.
In 1 Corinthians 13, love is described as: patient and kind, not jealous or boastful, arrogant, or rude, or insisting on having its own way. Love is not irritable or resentful and does not rejoice at wrong but rejoices in what is right. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
If we are to love others, how can we do that if we despise ourselves?