Sarah Kolman is the mom of three young boys, a Registered Nurse, an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and has a master’s degree in Contemplative Psychotherapy. Her private practice as a health coach blends her experience as a nurse with her passion for nutrition and holistic wellness to help adults and children heal their bodies and live their lives fully. She is the author of Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family’s Whole Health in a Busy World. Learn more (and get a free copy of the first 3 chapters of Sarah’s book) at This One Life, or find her on Twitter or Facebook.
We’ve all been there: you’re going about your day and you have a nagging feeling in your gut—something isn’t right. But you got the groceries, you met that deadline for work, and you even made time to leave a nice note for your spouse. Then, you get a text that explains it—you told your friend you’d pick up her kiddo after school and it completely slipped your mind. Cue the negative self-talk. “I’m a terrible friend! I am so disorganized and unreliable. Why do people even invest in me when they’re just going to be disappointed?” and the list goes on.
As you may recall, my last post addressed how we are fed by more than food alone. Believe it or not, having a healthy relationship with ourselves is a critical factor to get us closer to optimal health. Sadly, many of us don’t treat ourselves very well—and it affects us on both an emotional and physical level.
Each of us has a voice inside that I like to call the “inner critic”. This voice expresses our doubts, fears, and insecurities, and is incredibly adept at letting us know the ways we don’t measure up in our day-to-day lives. When we let our inner critic go unchecked, our stress and anxiety levels rise.
Evolutionarily speaking, the “fight or flight” function of the sympathetic nervous system helped our species escape imminent threats, after which there would be a period of rest and recuperation (regulated by the parasympathetic nervous system). The two systems working in concert allow our instincts to guide us through the world safely while also providing for down time.
Our inner critics are powerful voices, though, and they can throw this balance out of whack. A constant buzz of “I’m not ________ enough” week after week, year after year can stimulate a physiological stress response more chronically. Not fun! And not good for our bodies. Chronic stress wreaks havoc on our intestinal flora and endocrine system—key factors in immune functioning, hormone balance, weight, and mood. In other words, you can be eating a diet that accommodates your food needs perfectly, but if you’re beating yourself up inside, you can actually be sabotaging that good work.
Some strategies to tame your inner critic:
Awareness. Start by increasing your awareness that the inner critic exists. Simply notice the negative chatter that is going on in your head. Be curious about it. Then, open yourself to seeing the critic as separate from your true self and essence. Start to doubt, question, and reject the inner critic.
Name it. Give your inner critic a character or name. You may even have more than one. For instance, you might have a critic for body image, another for intelligence, and yet another for holy obligations. This is a great process to talk about and role model with your kids. My son calls his inner critic “Bully Boy,” and it has been such a helpful tool for him. When Bully Boy shows up to the party, we suddenly have a new way to talk about my son’s feelings and behavior and can dismiss the bully once we’ve gotten to the root of the problem.
Call out the critic. We can also work with our negative dialogue by questioning from a cognitive standpoint. We can stop and ask ourselves if our negative story or belief is really true. Byron Katie, bestselling author and founder of what she calls “The Work”—a system of identifying and questioning negative thought patterns—provides helpful steps for working with the inner critic. Her process is logic-based, and it takes you through four questions and then suggests you do a “turnaround.” As an example, I will use the four questions of Katie’s structure to work with the negative self-talk statement, “I’m not a good mother.”
1. First, ask yourself if the statement is true? It can feel pretty true to me that there are a lot better mothers out there, and I often find myself flailing. So maybe.
2. If you answer “yes” or “maybe” to number one, ask yourself, “Can I absolutely know that it’s true?” If I ask myself this question related to my negative mother self-talk I think twice and say, “Okay, I can’t absolutely know that I am not a good mother.” So, my answer is “no” to this question.
3. Next, ask yourself how you react—what happens—when you believe that thought? When I believe that I am not a good mother I feel defeated and discouraged. I don’t feel inspired in parenting. I don’t like having this belief.
4. After that, ask yourself who would you be without the thought? Without the thought that I am not a good mother, I would mother to the best of my ability and question myself less. I would feel inspired and proud of myself in my mothering abilities. I would focus on loving my family with confidence and being gentle with myself.
5. The last step is the turnaround. Find ways to make the statement opposite and identify two to three examples of how the turnaround is true. Turnaround: I am a good mother. How is this true? When I finish this process, it is hard to feel so convicted in my original thought and story. Identifying truths to my turnaround allow me to loosen my belief in my negative storyline and see other truths—truths that actually inspire and motivate me. Through this practice, I become released from the repetitive, unhealthy story that I can blindly believe and get sucked into.
In addition to cleaning up your diet, taming your inner critic and finding ways to speak kindly to yourself is an important strategy in optimizing your health. To learn more strategies to connect with your spirit, message me for a free digital copy of Chapter 4 in my book Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family’s Whole Health in a Busy World.