Many of us can be our own worst enemy. No matter how successful you are, no matter how much recognition and accolades you receive nothing is good enough.
Instead of celebrating success, you just roll on to the next project with your impossibly high standards. It can lead to a cycle of dissatisfaction and despair creating friction at work and home.
Galia BarHava-Monteith shares insights on how you can tame that inner critique.
A young promising professional woman I coached some years back comes to mind when I think of debilitating self-criticism. No matter how well she was doing, she still felt like she wasn’t good enough. In our sessions, I would gently remind her that I was her biggest supporter and that I don’t judge. And yet, it was so hard for her to drop the need to prove time and again that she was good enough to be employed in the elite professional services firm she worked for.
After working with hundreds of women and men as a coach and as facilitator over the years, I quite often ask myself; why is it that so many outwardly successful people are so self-critical inwardly? I have come to realise that there are many and varied explanations. For some it is their own definition of success, one they never stopped to reflect on. For others, it is about the environments they were raised in, where coming second was never good enough. Understanding where the self-critique came from is an important step towards self-awareness the necessary ingredient for any sustainable change in how we live our lives.
As a coach, I quite often have to remind some of my clients, that they are in fact human. That they are allowed to make mistakes, and that sometimes they will do or say the wrong thing – and that’s OK as long as they own up to it, apologise and move on. That life isn’t about getting everything right or perfect the first time. Sometimes we need to practice before we ‘get there’. Because you see, when we are very critical of ourselves, we are also extremely critical of other people, which can be very destructive. By learning to show ourselves self-compassion, we become more compassionate of others, and build stronger and healthier relationships with significant others in our lives, both personally and professionally.
How do you go about becoming more self-compassionate? Start by paying attention to the times you put yourself down in a conversation, catch yourself, and try and rephrase, at least in your own head. One of my clients, another promising young woman who since has gone to become a senior leader in a global organisation, found that really listening to positive feedback – rather than just shrugging it off and focusing on the negative, which so many of us are inclined to do, was the most powerful way for her to silence that inner-critique. She came to see all feedback, the good and the ‘corrective’, as gifts people were prepared to take the time to give her. By seeing feedback this way, she became more forgiving, of herself and of others. And also, a brilliant giver of feedback!
It is never too late to become more self-compassionate. For some of my older, more established clients, the notion of thinking about three good things that happened every day, and the ways by which they contributed for them to happen, is an authentic way to see how much good they do and how they contribute to those around them. As a consequence, at those times where they ‘slipped’, or got things wrong, rather than endlessly punishing themselves, they were able to re-frame, and see that they actually do a lot of positive and constructive things. This helps them forgive themselves and accept that as humans they are, in fact, allowed to err.
Ultimately, the key to silencing the inner critique comes through re-framing for ourselves that all we do in life should be about getting better in whatever it is that we do, being parents, partners, or professionals. Once we change our frame from expecting to always getting it ‘right’ the first time and generally being ‘perfect’, to accepting that we will always make mistakes and that is a GOOD THING from which we can learn to improve and get better, we will learn to forgive ourselves and be a hell-of-a-lot kinder to significant others in our lives.
Galia BarHava-Monteith is a speaker and co-founder of the Professionelle Foundation (www.professionelle.co.nz). She is a highly experienced executive coach who combines her background in psychology, her PhD research on whole-person approach to healthcare and her management and board experiences to provide her clients with a highly tailored coaching experience.