The Inner Critic
I saw a young man in my office recently who came to me describing very poor self-esteem and a severe lack of confidence. He told me he felt this was holding him back in his university life, but also in thinking about the things he wanted to do in the future as well. He had come to see me because he had an imminent driving test. This young man was convinced he would not have the confidence to pass the test, he was predicting the whole thing in negative terms. He was desperate for help...
As I listened to him I realised he was subjecting himself to the most awful internal self-criticism. It could not have been possible to be any more disparaging toward himself. He told me he had never had any confidence, felt like a waste of space, did not like the way he looked and just knew that life was going to be a long slog as he tried to avoid all the things that worried him, 'it's just the way I am' he said. 'I've been like this always'.
But of course he had not always been like this, children are not born lacking confidence and they are not self-critical either. Just watching children as they play particularly in groups, is enough to demonstrate this! Too many adults need no knocking down by others, they are perfectly capable of doing it themselves. Unkind words are harsh and dis-empowering especially when we say them to ourselves continuously.
In conversation I pointed out to my client that in the space of a few minutes I had heard him speak unkindly and harshly to himself many times, I asked him if he would speak to a friend this way, his reply was immediate, NO! We did the work required in preparation for his driving test, this allowed him to realise he had all he needed to pass the test, and he did pass because he went into the test far more relaxed and confident in his own abilities. Perhaps more an important though was the self-realisation that happened during the appointment, one of those light bulb moments I think.
A few days later when he phoned to tell me he had Aced his driving test. He told me how he had felt relaxed and confident as he approached the car with the examiner. What a different mind set he described, he told me he was picturing himself feeling great once he passed and then driving himself to uni feeling all the freedom of having his own car.
I was delighted to hear him tell me he had begun to notice the hard way he had of talking to himself and now he realised it was unnecessary, cruel and unkind. He had begun to really think about how his own opinion of himself could change for the better because no one deserved to be spoken to in that way, he was cutting himself some slack at last. The great realisation was that at some point in his life he had learned how to be self-critical the understanding that if he learned it he could change it will enable him to feel more and more comfortable in his own skin.