What does self-worth have to do with marriage and our relationships with others? Important studies have examined the connection between self-worth and our ability to form healthy and stable relationships. The strength and depth of our connection with others is determined by two conditions: (1) The level of self-acceptance each person has for themselves; and (2) How open, honest, and vulnerable each individual is willing to be with their partner.
This has everything to do with how we see ourselves, or how comfortable we are with ourselves, which then determines how comfortable we are in reaching out, being vulnerable with, and connecting on a deeper level with others. Our critical view of ourselves can and does become a barrier to healthy and fulfilling relationships with self and others.
We all possess an inner critic or “critical inner voice.” We experience this “voice” as a negative internal commentary on who we are and how we behave. Our view of ourselves impacts our view of others, and directly impedes our ability to trust and bond with others on a deeper level. Unfortunately, this negative internal dialogue blocks us from connecting with ourselves because the painful emotions at times are just too much to bear. We may cope in damaging ways, such as working harder, exercising more, emotional eating, drugs, alcohol, and other methods of distraction from our emotional pain and disconnection from others.
Common inner critical messages include:
“I’m so stupid.”
“There’s something wrong with me.”
“I will never measure up.”
Step 1: Identify Your Inner Critic
Using a sheet of paper, divide the page into 3 equal columns. Label the 1st column, “Inner Critic.” Label the middle column, “Doubting Self,” and label the 3rd column, “Deeper, Wiser Self.”
One way to help you become more aware of your critical inner voice is to write these thoughts down. Under the column labeled “Inner Critic,” write the specific thoughts that automatically come at times when you are self-critical. As you record the negative statements and messages about you, notice how those statements make you feel. Notice how harsh, attacking, and hostile this internal enemy can be. Continue to fill out the column with as many statements as possible.
As you try to identify what your critical inner voice is telling you, begin to recognize that these harsh, attacking, and painful messages are robbing you of peace and happiness and blinding you from your Deeper, Wiser Self. Begin to acknowledge that this thought process is separate from your Deeper, Wiser Self. Remember that your critical inner voice is not a reflection of reality. It is a viewpoint you adopted based on painful or destructive early life experiences and attitudes directed toward you, or traumatic and challenging experiences that interrupted your healthy view of self. Over time, you have internalized the negative messages as your truth, and your Deeper, Wiser Self has been overshadowed and suppressed by the painful negative commentary of your inner critical voice.
Step 2: Doubting Self
In the middle column, you will write: “Yup!” and leave the entire column blank other than this statement of agreement. This suggests that the Doubting Self has no voice, and only agrees with the Inner Critic voice. This also reinforces the power of these two “selves” as two inner voices against your Deeper, Wiser Self. The feeling of being “outnumbered” by the two negative selves causes us to feel weakened, powerless, and robbed of self-confidence.
Step 3: Deeper, Wiser Self
In the 3rd column you labeled “Deeper, Wiser Self,” write down statements about your true self. What do you know about you? What does your sweetheart or other people say about you that makes you feel good about yourself? What are some things that you know you do well, but you may be reluctant to acknowledge openly? Use first person statements such as, “I am a kind person,” or “I love to serve others.” Another example would be “I am a loyal friend.” As you write the statements you might feel awkward or even embarrassed to acknowledge and write down these statements, however, this is likely due to the fact that your Inner Critic voice has become so dominant and has caused you to discount your true gifts as a human being.
To further expand on this exercise, begin to respond to your inner critic by writing down a more realistic and compassionate evaluation of yourself. Write these responses in the first person (as “I” statements). In response to a thought like, “I’m such an idiot,” you could write, “I may struggle at times, but I am smart and competent in many ways.” This exercise isn’t meant to build you up or boost your ego but to show a kinder, more honest attitude toward yourself.
Step 4: Your Inner Critic’s Lease Is Up—Time to Evict the Negative Message!!
Your Inner Critic took up residence long ago… it is now time to evict that internal dialogue and refuse to allow any credibility, value, or attention to be given to that message. This process takes power away from the Inner Critic voice and negative messages, and allows your Deeper, Wiser Self to emerge and take back power.
Step 5: Don’t Act on Your Inner Critic
Because the Inner Critic voice has become so familiar, you will be tempted to act on that voice. When you hear that negative voice, fact the voice with the following formula:
2. Slow down…
3. Evaluate the message—does the message empower my deeper, wiser self, or does the message make me feel sad, worthless, hopeless?
Remember not to act on the directives of your inner critic. Take actions that represent your own point of view, who you want to be and what you aim to achieve. Your critical inner voice may get louder, telling you to stay in line or not to take chances. That is a very natural reaction to the suggestion for change. Over time, your Deeper, Wiser Self will emerge with more power, more confidence, and will be easier and easier to retain.
This Inner Critic exercise can be a very difficult process, and at times you will be tempted to give credence to the negative messages of your Inner Critic because that voice has become so familiar to you. Sometimes it is helpful to share this process with your partner or a trusted friend. Let them know you are embarking on a difficult journey of healing, and that you need their help to remind you of who you really are. The process of identifying, separating from, and acting against this destructive thought process, will empower you, and you will grow stronger, while your inner critic grows weaker and eventually slips into relative silence. Most importantly, this process will enhance your ability to connect and bond on a deeper level with your partner, with dear friends, and will enhance your most important relationships.