Self-Criticism in all it's Awful Glory
“Would you talk to your best friend the way you talk to yourself? A therapist once asked me. Of course I f**king wouldn’t. I actually like her! The point is that I don’t like myself.”
Would you talk to your best friend the way you talk to yourself? A therapist once asked me. Of course I f**king wouldn’t. I actually like her! The point is that I don’t like myself.
We parted ways soon after that. She didn’t care for my language and I didn’t appreciate her greetings card style advice! (Also, she got my name wrong TWICE, and at £100 a pop love that’s not cool).
She wasn’t the first person to use the ‘best friend’ analogy and she won’t be the last. The message comes from a good place, but to be frank… it’s f**king infuriating, because that’s NOT how anxiety works. It isn’t a simple disorder that can be soothed with positive affirmations.
If you have anxiety then you also have a difficult relationship with yourself. FACT. Self-criticism is part of the package, (along with intrusive thoughts, physical symptoms and the constant feeling that something awful is about to happen. It’s magical)!
Everybody has cringe-worthy moments. When we do something embarrassing and our brains rebuke us. I cannot believe you said that!
Yet, anxiety takes this to an unhealthy level.
I’m your hate
Hate is a strong word and not one that I use lightly, if ever, (much like the C word). However, six years ago I truly did hate myself. The internal abuse had been the norm for over a decade. It didn’t matter what I achieved or how many friends I had, nothing would sate the bully in my subconscious. If you’ve read my book, then you’ll be aware of the ‘bully’ from chapter six. Belittling and cruel. It feeds on your insecurities; you’re thick, you’re boring, everybody thinks you’re pathetic. They’re only friends with you out of pity. Any of this sound familiar? Not the most inspiring pep talk, but this is what I heard daily and I hated myself for not being stronger.
By the time I had my nervous breakdown, my inner bully was insationable. One night, I even caught myself covering my ears and screaming; “ENOUGH, PLEASE!”
Facing the bully
There wasn’t a dramatic breakthrough, or superhero worthy battle that led me to confront my inner bully. I believe I was watching Finding Nemo one Sunday afternoon, a few months into my recovery. It hissed at me; you’re a lazy bitch. You should be doing something productive like cleaning the flat. Normally, I would’ve turned the TV off in shame, or poured myself a glass of wine to try and silence it, (not a good habit to get into). However, on this occasion, with Dory shouting “ESCAPAAAY” from the screen, I tried something else: thank you for your input, but you’re not helping. You’re hurting me. I spoke it out loud, (Dan was in the shower). I didn’t get angry or try and block it out, I acknowledged the thoughts, but didn’t act on them. I’d accepted this abuse as gospel for so long and I was tired. It wasn’t working. Hatred wasn’t working.
So in the spirit of opposites, I decided to try kindness and patience instead. I allowed myself to finish the film and I didn’t do any cleaning, because honestly I couldn’t be arsed! The next day I felt refreshed and happy. It marked a turning point in my journey.
If you’ve mastered the art of self-criticism and abuse, then switching to kindness isn’t easy. It was a bumpy road for me and is still something that I work on.
But I do have a few tips
How to deal with your inner bully
Accept it, because unless you plan on being blind drunk or high for the rest of your life, it ain’t going anywhere. It will not be silenced. In some twisted way, it’s trying to keep you safe.
Don’t argue, because you will not only lose but exhaust yourself in the process. In the words of my saviour Dr. David Carbonell, it’s better to treat the bully like an annoying dinner guest who likes to debate politics or sport. They have a strong opinion on EVERYTHING. You can’t exactly kick them out, so it’s better to let them say their piece, knowing they’ll eventually tire like a small child. Arguing with the bully is like pouring fuel on an open fire, it’s better to be passive and let it burn out.
Talkback calmly. You can either do this out loud or internally. Once the bully has spoken and you’ve embraced it, take a moment to stretch as though you’ve just woken up. (feels good and releases tension). Then reply; thank you for your input, but it isn’t helpful, it’s actually hurting me.
Distraction. Next, occupy yourself with a task or interaction. This will help the subconscious to get off that negative track.
Repetition. If after you’ve responded calmly the bully starts up again; Good, you deserve to hurt, you’re pathetic – that’s ok! Remember, you’re forming a new habit, which takes time. The brain rarely accepts change without a tantrum. Just repeat the previous steps. Accept it, don’t argue, talk back calmly and distract!
TRUST ME, you’ll get there. Just be patient with yourself.
About The Author
Claire Eastham is a best-selling author, award-winning mental health blogger, campaigner and keynote speaker. She is an ambassador for Charity MQ and as is regularly asked to be an authoritative voice about anxiety on TV and Radio.