Be Your Own Best Parent
How To Get Rid of the Critical Voice in Your Head
Do you have a voice in your head that is overly critical? I know I do sometimes, and most of the clients I've seen over the years have also worked with this nagging, persistent voice that seems to find fault in almost any situation. Self-criticism is really not a healthy habit, and has an overall destructive effect on your self-image and self esteem. That doesn't mean you shouldn't observe yourself and make corrections in your behavior when needed. It means that you should do that without attacking your sense of self with derogatory thoughts, condemnation, denigration, self- hatred, and any other method of assault that has the effect of destroying you.
The goal is to create a method of self observation that allows you to see the areas where improvement is needed while also embracing and caring for yourself. You need a strategy that will enhance your overall sense of worth, and at the same time provide a structure for self-development and self-improvement.
The Good Parent
Here's where the "create your own parent" comes in. Think for a moment about what you envision a perfect parent to be. Make it personal. Pick a mother figure or father figure. I like to use the mother figure because I think that overall, a good mother has the qualities needed for this exercise. A good mom does two things at the same time:
#1 - She loves, nurtures, accepts, encourages, and celebrates you. You are special to her. You have tremendous worth to her. She understands you, and appreciates your idiosyncratic traits. She perceives your talents. She knows what you have and she encourages you to use it to succeed. She believes in you. Most of all, her love is unconditional. It is always there.
#2 - A good mother also sets up boundaries for you. She structures you. She knows when you are veering off in the wrong direction. She recognizes your faults and points out where you need to make improvements or corrections. She doesn't let you get away with things. She doesn't allow you to fool yourself with faulty thinking. Yet, and this is a big "yet", she doesn't attack you when you make mistakes. She helps you figure out how to correct them and move forward. She teaches you that mistakes are part of growth and sometimes she stands back and lets you make them so you can learn. She won't, however, let you make huge mistakes that can destroy you. She is your critic, but a critic that respects and loves you.
Your best Mom is your champion. She combines unconditional love with setting limits and providing a structure for growth.
The Bad Parent
Here's what a good Mom doesn't do. She doesn't insult, personally attack, or devalue you. She doesn't name call, harshly criticize, or make you feel small. She doesn't compete with you, envy you, or one-up you. She doesn't dismiss you, make fun of you, or hit you when you're down. She also doesn't let you do those things to yourself or others.
You may or may not have or have had a mother that fits this description. If you did, you can thank your lucky stars and be grateful. As no one is perfect, including mothers, you most likely had a mom that is somewhere in between. You may also have had a mother that was highly critical and was unable for whatever reason to provide the kinds of qualities I've described above.
Regardless of where you have come from, you can create the perfect mother in your own head and begin to parent yourself in a way that will propel you forward and help improve your self image and self esteem. You want to be able to love and accept yourself, while also being brutally honest about what you need to work on and improve. Those two things actually go very well together. One without the other leads to dysfunction. Either you get in a chronic round robin of self-punishment and denigration, or you allow yourself to be self-centered and irresponsible. Both extremes lead to unhappiness.
How To Create Your Good Parent
Here's a few tips on how to begin creating the "good parent" in your head:
Check the Critical Thoughts
As your critical thoughts arise, check them and apply a "good parent" voice. Begin with an affirmation of yourself. Then if something needs to be improved, you can proceed. This means actually getting in the habit of standing back and observing yourself with a loving and accepting eye. It may seem a little strange at first, but practice it and you will find that you actually can take on the role of a good parent to yourself. Did you ever have an imaginary friend as a child? This would be your imaginary parent! This can actually be fun!
Remember Your Good Qualities
Make a list of your good qualities. If you find this difficult, try it everyday for a month until it is easy. Even if you can only think of one thing, stay with it everyday until the list grows. Ask someone your trust to help you if can't come up with a list yourself. Don't be shy with this. This is not an exercise in narcissism, but rather of self-affirmation.
Be Honest About What Needs Improvement
Get in the habit of being honest about what corrections or improvements you need to make, but without punishing yourself. Just go forward with changes or corrections without lamenting your mistakes. Take action and ditch the heavy criticism. Remember that it is impossible not to make mistakes. What's important is correcting and repairing.
Treat Others the Same Way
Apply this same understanding to others. That means getting in the habit of empathizing when others make mistakes. If you apply harsh criticism to others, it will ultimately come back to you. Give the same compassion to others that you are going to give to yourself. Imagine someone talking about you harshly in the same situation, and that will stop you in your tracks.
Humility and Confidence
Remember that humility and self-confidence actually go together, as do love and acceptance, and self-observation. Get comfortable with who you are, and appreciate what you have to offer.
Give It 30 Days
As with all new habits, give this one 30 days. Practice it everyday as your critical thoughts about yourself arise. In 30 days you will have created a new default for your self-talk and thoughts about yourself that improves your self-image, and allows you to successfully correct unwanted behaviors.