Where does our inner critic come from?
This morning, as I prepared breakfast at lightening speed, I grabbed a knife from the kitchen and promptly dropped it in the sink, as any sleep deprived person might do, but instead of it being a simple mistake, I heard my inner voice say ‘you fecking ejjit’. Clang! The harsh sound of an inner critic that wasn’t championing my desire to feed the girls a beautiful breakfast. Instead, it was there ready to judge me harshly for dropping a simple knife. Maybe it was the gravity of the item being a knife, that led to such harsh criticism. Or perhaps it was the fact that I was working quite quickly in an endeavour to provide a lovely meal to two hungry girls, not exactly being mindful in the moment (eek… mindfulness is something I teach! Double whammy!). Or possibly, it was the simple slip up of not doing something perfectly that made this inner critic find an opportunity to chastise me.
When I think about where this voice has come from for me, I mostly hear my own mothers words. I sadly recognise how harsh she can be on herself. In my mother’s world, I hear very few words of compassion for all the hard work that she does, practically zero words of self-praise or pride. As I wrestle with my 16 month old twins, I am continually amazed at how my own mother did it. She had two sets of twins and 3 singletons, seven children in total. Not uncommon in the 70s and 80s, but a huge amount of mouths to feed and work to be done.
I now find myself in awe of the fact she managed to feed, clothe and raise us to be, for the most part, pretty cool adults. Still during that time, as she says herself, ‘you just had to get on with it!’ In fact, it is much the same today, the ‘just having to get on with it’ part. Different stresses or strains, different worries. Certainly in my case, less kids! But all the same, the challenges of dealing with screaming children, children who throw their meals or refuse to eat the perfect organic meal you’ve prepared and despite all the meditation, a trigger that will eventually get pulled because of a lack of sleep or hunger.
As an adolescent development and human behaviour expert, and mindfulness teacher, I know only too well how these early years form many of the beliefs children develop that then shape their relationship with themselves and the outer world. How these early experiences can feed into how they can carry with them a deep feeling of ‘not being good enough’ or developing a ‘fear of rejection’ or a ‘fear they won’t be loved’.
I’ve become more and more conscious of the language that I use with my twin girls and how this might become their inner voice. The language that I use with myself, and how I behave. What they see and hear, can become what they translate into their own inner voice. So the question we parents have to ask ourselves, is what kind of inner voice do we want to nurture in our children?
I hear myself say ‘Zianna stop, you’ll fall’ after which I wonder does that prime her to possibly fall, placing a not so subtle suggestion in her mind, even distracting her from her dizzying task at hand [standing on a chair or slide]. I catch myself saying ‘don’t do that, nice girls don’t hit’, and I think to myself, is that where I developed my people pleasing behaviour? Being nice and wanting to be liked, is something I became aware of years ago. Thankfully, I recognise the value of being respected over being liked. Or even simply saying ‘good girl’ when either of the girls does something that I approve of such as eating their dinner, walking or playing gently with the dog. I wonder does using the words ‘good girl’ feed into their psyche that their value and worth as a good person is placed on what they do, as opposed to them feeling inherently of value.
Dr. Stefali says that children have three questions that they want the world to let them know. Am I seen? Am I of worth? and Am I loved?
You might think this is overthinking, perhaps, but I think it is important to interrogate our language and the impact that it has. Particularly on sponge minds like our children’s. It highlights how important it is for us as parents to deal with our own internal baggage so as not to leave it as unwanted inheritance for our children. Part of this living, for all of us, is trying to navigate the joys and sufferings that come as part of being human, and healing some of the generational traumas that have been passed through our families.
So my question for today is, what inner voice would you like your children to have? And in thinking about that, consider what your inner critic says to you, where you think it comes from and how you might change some of that language into an inner champion?
Parenting is an inside job, we can start by healing our own hurts and beliefs, then by developing an understanding of how we have come to have these beliefs we can begin to let them go and create new more empowering ways of viewing the world. This will help us as we co-create our parenting journey with our children. They are here to teach us, but who are we really parenting when we parent them, is it them or is it our childhood selves? I ask this question because I find myself buying things for them that I would have loved as a child, like a beautiful dolls house or I find myself hoping to enrol them in gymnastics, swimming and do music lessons. These are all things I would have loved to have done as a child. The saying living vicariously through your children comes to mind!
So go gently with yourself and your child, cuddle them tighter and question what messages are you consciously and unconsciously sending to them.
Yours in less criticism and love,