How many times do you hear yourself saying any of these below. Tick any that sound familiar:
- I should be more productive
- I shouldn’t get upset
- I shouldn’t ask for help
- I should be stronger
- I shouldn’t be so sensitive
- I should get over it
- I should act more professional
- I shouldn’t let people see how I feel
- I shouldn’t be so stupid
- I shouldn’t be so lazy
- I should be getting more done
- I should be more patient
- I shouldn’t be so anxious
- I shouldn’t be afraid to say NO
- I shouldn’t get angry
- I should be cleverer
- I shouldn’t be so naive
- I should try harder
- I should be more fit
- I should be more assertive
- I should have got away
- I should have been more alert
- I shouldn’t have forgotten
- I should have challenged them when they bullied me
- I should have known better
- I should have cried
- I shouldn’t be so silly
- I should, I should, I should… fill in the blank
If you ticked 5 or more of these then probably you have a loud critical voice.
Of course there are times when we can appreciate being warned or told what to do and that’s a different type of dialogue. That voice can protect us from harm or danger or it can just remind us, for example if we forget something.
What I’m referring to is the one that persecutes us by saying it’s our fault and that we should try harder and that we’re just not good enough.
Why those ‘shoulds’ are harmful
- When we listen to that inner critic telling us what we should be doing or feeling, we stop ourselves growing into that person we were meant to be and our authentic, creative self cannot flourish.
- When we look at babies, do they worry about how others might judge them? Do they think oh I should have learnt to crawl by now or my hair is a mess. Of course they don’t. They are completely accepting of themselves and enjoying every moment of it.
- We start to internalise that message at a later stage that says ‘you’re not good enough’, ‘you’re not lovable’, ‘you’re not enough’, ‘nobody values you’.
- It can lead to addictions. We can become addicted to harmful substances or behaviours. It’s been shown that there’s a link between low self esteem and the need to self medicate. I guess it feels like the only way we can be at ease with ourselves is to numb it in some way but in doing so, we harm ourselves further.
- Our private inner dialogue will rob us of our energy. And they can become self fulfilling prophecies if we’re not careful.
- Being hard on ourselves is not an effective way to help us stay motivated.
Therefore, we weren’t born with an inner critic and there’s many theories that we could talk about and rationalise about where it comes from, but let’s leave that for now.
Whatever the cause, we do know that learning to internalise this voice can hold us back from reaching our full potential.
It’s estimated that we have around 65,000 thoughts per day. Can you imagine how powerful that could be if they were positive! So let’s take control and not be a victim of our negative thoughts.
10 tips for taming the shaming ‘shoulds’
Over the years, I’ve learnt many ways to quieten that inner critic, or that gremlin in my head and I’d like to share some of these ways with you.
- Notice yourself saying I should. When you’re aware that you’re doing it, give yourself a massive big pat on the back for noticing it. Self awareness is the first step.
- Get Active. When you hear those negative ruminations, go for a walk, call a friend, take action, tidy a drawer or meditate.
- Examine the evidence: ask yourself, is this true? In what way is it not true? Make a list.
- POST-ITS: stick them around your home with the affirmation I AM ENOUGH .
- Clean up your language. Avoid using the word ‘should’ completely.
- Journal and reflect. Ask yourself how have I shown myself self compassion today? Write down what you have appreciated and liked about yourself today. At the moment I’m liking my resourcefulness, the way I’m enjoying being creative (making masks) for friends and family because it’s something I enjoy. I’m also aware of my critical voice as I write this, telling me no one will want to read it but I’m choosing instead to listen to my compassionate one telling me it will all be fine.
- Affirmations every morning. Start your day with a positive attitude. Look in the mirror every morning and tell yourself – I CHOOSE TO LISTEN TO MY AUTHENTIC SELF AND FULLY ACCEPT I AM PERFECT JUST AS I AM.
- Avoid toxic people who judge you. Sometimes family members, friends and peers can be critical and afterwards we can be left feeling heavy, guilty, or just not good about ourselves. Avoid them.
- 30 Day Challenge: Choose one of the above and set yourself the goal of maintaining it for 30 days. And don’t forget to reward yourself afterwards!
- Counselling: Explore some of the deep seated aspects of your inner voice with a therapist and process some of your experiences and negative beliefs with them; you may have been bullied at school or experienced harsh or neglectful parenting or endured a humiliating experience. When we explore these we sometimes discover that none of it was about us but more about their unhappiness and discomfort at the time. Therapy helps us heal and leads to a more healthy compassionate understanding of self.
Other tips: I would suggest EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), Focusing and Mindful Meditation – all amazing ways to work with the inner critic. Get in touch if you’d like to know more: