Have You Heard Your Inner Mean Girl Lately?
Every one of us has that inner voice that guides our thoughts and actions. Most of the time this conscience keeps us on a progressive path toward our futures. She helps us reach our goals, she keeps us focused, and she gives us the motivation to strive for our dreams.
But other times she’s just plain mean.
When our inner voice has gone mean she’s turned into a critic, blocking our positivity and stunting our development. Like a little seed, she burrows deep in our minds and sprouts. As she grows she spreads doubt, fear, and even anxiety.
Our critic pops up in a variety of scenarios, typically ones where we feel unsure. And rather than help us through our insecurities, she keeps us there rooted in our doubt. She shows up when we’re feeling alone, when we’re trying something new, and when situations are not going according to plan. Her tiny voice starts to speak when we attempt to be vulnerable with others or when we want to confront someone who’s hurt us.
Our mean girl thinks she’s protecting us. She truly believes she is preventing us from experiencing humiliation or emotional pain. But really, her main goal is to make us question our worth and doubt our value. She wants to keep us in a position of needing her, a position of control.
She says things to us like:
“What is wrong with you, why can’t you say something smart?”
“Maybe you just don’t deserve to feel understood, honored, or cared about.”
“Maybe if you were stronger, smarter, prettier, funnier… people would love you more.”
Here in Miami, we’re surrounded by materialism and “beautiful” women. Our community often values bikini bodies, fake boobs, beautiful mansions, and shiny new cars. It can be especially difficult to hold on to any sense of self when it seems like everyone we know is striving for these superficial values.
The problem with being surrounded by these messages is we start to believe them, internalize them, and base our worth off of them. We open a giant door for our mean girl to walk right through. She plants her seeds and we start to feel that there is something wrong with us if we are not skinny enough, beautiful enough, and rich enough. We get caught up in the ‘it’s never enough game’ wanting more material things to make us happy.
The truth of the matter is that we all have doubts and insecurities. But, it is entirely possible to overcome them. With a combination of mindfulness practices and psychotherapy, we can learn to identify and understand our inner critic, determine ways to quiet her, to embrace our flaws and to learn to love ourselves unconditionally.
Where Our Mean Girl Comes From
From a very young age, we’ve received messages from the outside world about what is acceptable. Young women especially are bombarded by society to fit in and we learn early to evaluate ourselves based off of these expectations. We wonder if we’re dressed right, if we look right, and if we behave right. And each time we ask these questions it is our critic who answers.
What we might not realize, however, is these messages begin as early as infancy. Our interactions with our parents shaped the very ideas we have about ourselves today. If they were pleased with us or thought we were “good” babies, they were likely much more attentive and tuned into our needs. Thus, we received the message we were loved. However, since our parents could not be absolutely available 100% of the time, we also learned to wonder about and doubt our worth.
As these messages were repeated throughout our childhoods, they turned into what is known as “schemas.” Schemas are false beliefs we hold about the world, ourselves, and the place we occupy in the world. So, if our mothers were always on a diet when we were younger, we might start to believe that the world values skinny people and that we too must restrict what we eat in order to be loved and meet the world’s expectations.
From these faulty beliefs, we develop what is known as our “persona” or how we present ourselves to the world. Unfortunately, the truth about our persona is that she is typically a false version of ourselves. One that has been created to please society. She seeks external validation and says and does whatever she thinks is going to earn love from others. In other words, she does our inner mean girl’s bidding. So, when we appear thin and fit to others, but we’re literally crying into our salads because all we want is a burger, we are presenting a persona who is rooted in our schemas – and they both work for our critic.
See, we hear our inner critic every time we react to a situation. She tells us in a mean way how to think, and feel and then we either get defensive or aggressive. This helps us cover up and hide our own insecurities. But, because our habits are unconscious and rooted in our beliefs we beat ourselves up instead of looking inward and seeing what our true selves need and want.
The Problem With Listening to Our Critic
Living life according to our inner critic is really easy. She makes sure we fit in with others, she makes sure we meet outside expectations, and she convinces us this is the only way to be happy. In a way, she keeps us safe. She keeps us in line with what society wants and she helps us present a “perfected” version of ourselves to everyone who matters to us.
The problem with this, however, is she also keeps us fake. Our inner critic makes sure we are guarded and ensures we are coping with life rather than living it. She teaches us to deflect or react to situations rather than truly experience them. When we listen to her, life may be easy, but what we’re really doing is abandoning our true selves for the sake of pleasing and receiving validation from others. We end up living in a superficial way – limited and inauthentic.
While it feels rewarding at first, living this way only gives us immediate gratification. The long-term results are less than satisfying. We eventually start to realize the negative effects of this habituated reactive lifestyle. The ones where we feel lonely and disingenuous, where our connections with others are superficial and conditional, and we have no real sense of love or trust for ourselves.
Three Ways to Quiet your Inner Critic
If I’m going to be completely honest with you, it is not easy to ditch our inner mean girl. In fact, it can be downright difficult. The truth of the matter is that she becomes more powerful by keeping us down. She keeps us armored up and limits the time and energy we invest in ourselves. Because of this, it can be hard to combat her and break through her constant chatter.
However, to reach a point where we are free to be ourselves, to truly believe and accept our unique contributions to the world and to love ourselves without a doubt, we need to learn to live without reacting to her.
The key to learning to love ourselves honestly and fully is to get to a point where we listen to and trust ourselves rather than to seek external validation. Becoming aware that we are listening to our critic and following her advice is the beginning of freedom from faulty beliefs. This awareness is the first step in learning how to love ourselves unconditionally.
Even though it might be hard to keep her quiet, it’s not impossible to stop listening to your inner mean girl.
Keep reading for three ways to recognize your inner mean girl and how to stop her from hijacking your sense of self.
1. Notice Your Body Sensations
When you find yourself in a vulnerable situation, whether it is a blind date or an important presentation at work, it is completely normal to start to doubt yourself and become aware of your insecurities. This is likely where your inner critic will speak up and tell you how to adapt your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors so that you can fit in and so that others around you approve.
However, if you take a minute and fight your initial instincts to abandon your sense of self, you will become aware that you feel tension in your body. Maybe your stomach hurts, or your chest is tight, your palms are sweaty, or you have a headache. Whatever you’re feeling inside is a message from your true self to pay attention.
Notice this body sensation and stay with it. It is likely unpleasant, but the desire to make the feeling go away and say or do something inauthentic is actually giving in to your critic and doing exactly what she wants. To begin to live without her influence, you need to become comfortable with the physical discomfort.
2. Identify the feeling
Once you have noticed discomfort in your body, continue to ignore your critic. She might be getting louder at this point, but it is important to tune out the mental chatter and keep paying attention to your body – see if you can tell what your body is trying to tell you.
Why are you uncomfortable? Are you scared you’ll embarrass yourself? Are you feeling left out? Do you think others are criticizing or judging you? If you can determine what the feelings in your body are trying to tell you, you can begin to dispute them.
Ask yourself if the thoughts you are having are true or if they are the efforts of your critic to get you to protect your persona, conform to social pressures, or avoid something painful. Can you find evidence to prove that the thought is absolutely true?
It is really important not to shy away from the feeling, even if it is physically or emotionally painful. Instead, give your full attention to what you are experiencing. Be present with the discomfort. Honor it, respect it, and thank it for the awareness it has brought you.
3. Return to the present moment
After spending some time tuning into your body sensations and ignoring your inner critic, return to the present moment by paying attention to your breath. Count to four as you inhale, bring your attention to how the chest expands as you inhale and relaxes as you exhale. When you notice your body sensations you become aware of the present moment. You can come to your senses by being aware of any insecurities you feel about your present situation and also aware of the messages your mean girl tries to send you in order to get you to self-abandon and conform to other’s expectations.
This awareness is the first step of practicing how to train your attention to live fully present.
Now, you will not be able to ignore your mean girl immediately. It will take time to trust yourself and allow your critic to fade into the background and stop stealing your sense of self. But, the more you practice being aware enough to identify that you are reacting to a story in your head, the more you will be able to more easily tune in to what you really need and develop unconditional love for yourself.
Gretchen Suarez is a psychotherapist, yoga and meditation teacher. Her unique skills have helped many people become more aware of their negative beliefs and have learned how to live their life with less judgment and more freedom.