Recently my husband and I had a big disagreement. The more we went back and forth trying to explain ourselves, the more frustration we felt about being misunderstood.
I don’t remember our conversation word-for-word, but I remember blurting out “Fine! I get it! I’m a terrible listener. And that’s fitting, considering I’m terrible at so many other things too.” My husband’s face froze.
At that moment, the entire scene seemed frozen in time. After a few blinks and a bit of awkward silence, I braced myself for his response. I was regretting my outburst because it seemed like I gave him the perfect setup to win this round in our back-and-forth debate.
But he took me by surprise. He didn’t take a victorious posture at all. There was not even a hint of gloat in his response. Quite the opposite.
His face looked concerned. He wanted to know why I would say those things about myself. His look of alarm led to my own feelings of concern. But what I couldn’t figure out was why I was more alarmed about his reaction than I was to my own words.
I’ve been saying unkind things to myself for a very long time. Over the years these kinds of thoughts no longer feel like verbal attacks, they feel true. Left to myself, I wouldn’t even consider them mean thoughts, I would define them as brutally honest statements about my character.
That’s why when I blurted out those words that day, I didn’t even react. I recognize now that I accept these thoughts as truth.
My Inner Mean Girl
In my head, there’s a constant critical voice that I refer to as the inner mean girl. The inner mean girl never stops questioning my thoughts, motives and actions.
If I’ve been productive, she accuses me of neglecting my kids or not paying enough attention to my marriage. If I spend more time with the family, she interrupts the sweet moments with reminders of all things I could be doing for work.
When I eat super healthy, she makes me feel like I’m too hyper-focused on food. And, if I relax my eating habits, she makes me feel like every cough, sneeze, or random ache is the beginning of a major health issue.
I can never do the right thing. There’s no way to satisfy the inner mean girl. She thrives on doubt, fear, and worry. The more I feel insecure, the deeper her verbal darts penetrate my soul.
If you share the same hidden battle with an inner critic like me, I would love to share a few strategies that have been helpful to me. Let’s work together for victory in this area of our lives.
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1. Silence Is Not a Winning Strategy
The more you talk with trusted friends and family about your struggles, the less you will feel alone. Their encouragement will give you the strength you need to raise your shield of faith mentioned in Ephesians 6 against the verbal darts of the inner critic.
Every year my podcast and speaking events across the globe give me the privilege of connecting to thousands of women. Because I’m on stage, it might seem like I have life figured out, and all of my problems have a nice tidy solution. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
As much as I love to share the tools and resources that help me be more intentional and on purpose in my home, I’m also committed to sharing the places where I struggle.
This inner mean girl issue is not a struggle from 10 years ago–this is a battle I’m fighting every day.
2. Tearing Yourself Down Is Not the Same as Healthy Self-Reflection
Self-criticism leads to an unhealthy focus on your weaknesses instead of helping you to remember, God promised to be your strength.
Being honest about making a mistake is very different from viewing yourself as one. It’s time to create a healthy distance between your thoughts and your identity.
When you think a thought, take a moment to determine the source. It’s just like answering the phone.
When someone calls you on the phone, you can use caller ID or voice recognition, to verify the person on the other end of the line. Once you verify that you know that person, you can relax and enjoy the conversation. The same principle works for the inner conversations.
There’s no caller ID, but you can compare what you hear in your head to the messages you read in the Bible. If the two don’t match, only accept the message with Truth from the Word.
3. Think of Your Mind as a Filter
You can’t stop yourself from thinking a negative thought, but you can train your mind to recognize truth and reject lies. Filter out the junky lies and let the truth saturate your heart and soul, refreshing your life and changing your outlook.
My guess is, you have an inner critic too. On the outside, you may seem confident, strong, and decisive, while you might describe yourself differently.
What your closest friends can’t see is how the inner mean girl shuts you down by making you doubt that you have anything helpful to say. Everyone else may think you’re doing just fine, but what they don’t know is that deep down on the inside, you’re losing ground.
What’s important for you and I to remember is that we must filter what the inner critic critiques or we will blindly accept them as truth.
4. Stop Holding Yourself to Insanely High Standards
We live in a culture that loves to celebrate hustle and productivity.
Women are expected to meet unreasonable beauty standards, raise kids while working either a full-time, part-time, or a side hustle, all while keeping the house Pinterest-perfect.
The inner critic will heap loads of guilt on your back for not measuring up. We must take the time to create a personalized definition for winning, and then give ourselves permission to let that be enough.
One of my favorite quote images saved on my laptop says, “A bad moment doesn’t make you a bad mom.”
On those days when the inner critic has my faults and mistakes on replay, I read that quote and allow that truth to wash over me. If it’s not feelings of failure in motherhood for you, insert the current area of struggle.
“A bad moment doesn’t make me a bad wife, friend, daughter, sister, leader, etc.” Repeat this out loud until you sense thoughts of kindness returning to your mind.
Life will constantly bring you challenges. Every day there’s an opportunity to experience just how many things are outside of your control.
You cannot control things like other people’s decisions or how they behave. But one thing you can control is how you behave, including important choices like how you treat yourself and others.
Resist the temptation to dwell too long on the words from your inner critic. Instead, follow the guidelines found in Phil 4:8. There, you will find a life-giving list of thoughts that will help you win the battle against your inner critic.