I tend to be critical of myself, maybe not more or less than others are of themselves, and certainly more critical of myself than others tend to be. I do get a bit tyrannised by the voices of my inner critics, those little nagging voices who criticise what I do and how I live. Not everyone will be familiar with the term ‘inner critic’ and I hope the concept is familiar. Dr Phil, for example, refers to negative self talk, another term for the same phenomena. Inner critics provide a sort of relentless inner dialogue (or negative self talk) about what I don’t do well enough, what I could/should do better how every day in a lot of ways, I’m failing at something and generally not good enough.
I haunt myself with criticisms and on some days I am more resilient than on others, on a good day I might hardly notice my internal critics – or just not pay attention to my own petty complainants. Most days I am judged by my own high standards, so I’m well motivated to improve. I judge myself, and there is never a shortage of evidence to support how I don’t measure up. I guess housing my own complaints department provides motivation for change, wanting to be better. Engaging with my inner critic might even be emotionally healthy, I’m not sure.
External critics are more difficult to defend against, I find. That’s funny because I tend to think that criticism from someone could not be worse than that I dish out against myself. People who offer me feedback and helpful suggestions not only fuel my own inner tyrants, but their criticisms, in whatever guise they are delivered, are keenly felt.
Someone recently stabbed me by telling me I was sarcastic. They claimed my voice was sarcastic and that when I was talking in ordinary conversation I sounded sarcastic. I was sufficiently wounded to cry. My everyday identity, the me that I believe I am, was wounded in a way I couldn’t address or apologise for. The sound of my voice is like my height, something I can’t change.
I felt unfairly attacked, I have tried to pick up the accusation and find a grain in truth in it. I can be sarcastic, I am quick witted enough to sarcastically, or viciously, defend myself. I have a limited set of defences to fall back on and sarcasm is one, I use it to protect myself and my sense of self. It was Oscar Wilde who said that “sarcasm is the lowest form of wit”, and low it may be but I also find it witty.
The thing I said may have been sarcastic and hurtful, it was not my intent and even so I can be more careful with my words. I can be mindful about what I say but not about the voice I use. I can’t hear my my voice the way I am heard and perhaps I do sound more sacracastic than the average bear. I am carrying that particular criticism months later. It has fed my inner critics about not being helpful or kind enough, too direct, inconsiderate. I am shamed by and guilty of something I can’t really change.
Sometimes judgemental comments pierce our protective shells and not all negative feedback is useful. Even so I want to be able to face my critics, to learn from the unexpected, for the insight the information provides. I want to welcome the unintended, unwanted and mostly unwelcome messages, this one is more challenging to me than most – maybe that challenge make it worth working with to gain an appreciation of the message.
Much criticism can be assessed and integrated, and some I’m unsure of how to deal with. My sense of self-worth has been mostly recovered and my voice sounds like it did before. I have resolved to be authentic, before sarcastic, and more careful with the delivery of what I say.
I am stalked by critics, and I trust my voice critic intended only to protect themselves not to wound me. I would like to ask external evaluators to give me a break, I’d like them to know my inner critics are enough to deal with. It is also true that “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt
Another snippet of wisdom is thanks to Thumper, Bambi’s rabbit friend, who said “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”. Actually I think it was Thumper’s mother who said it to Thumper, who then related the advice to Bambi.