Number 5 is about modeling self-compassion not self-judgment. Everyone has a voice inside their head that monitors their behavior. This voice is your conscience or if it gets nasty, we call it your inner critic. Are familiar with your inner critic? It likes to gives you a hard time for your behavior and loves the word should, “You should have been more kind,” “You shouldn’t have eaten all those cookies.”
Your inner critic spends a good deal of time blaming you for things and passing judgment on you. It tells you that,“You are not good enough as you are,” “You did something wrong,” and “You should be really embarrassed.”
Inner critic on bodies
Our inner critic comes alive when talking about our bodies. Research on the inner critic says it is actually trying to protect us from things we are afraid of. So, this voice is trying to be of service to you. But, it backfires when thinking about our bodies because in our diet culture we are mortally afraid of being fat. So, this fear creates a monster inside,
- “OMG what did you just eat, what’s wrong with you! You aren’t supposed to eat sugar, ever!”
- “You have no self-control! ”
- “Your butt is humungous”
Most of us wouldn’t talk to people we actually despise in this way. We weren’t born with this mean voice; we acquire it. And, it doesn’t just appear from nowhere. The voice is a soundtrack of something or someone we’ve heard before.
Your inner critic is most likely a perfectionist who expects you to behave perfectly 100% of the time: perfect eating, perfect exercise, perfect number on the scale, and perfect clothing size. Being perfect used to be a positive term back in our day. Well . . not anymore. Perfectionism now actually a risk factor for eating disorders.
One of the problems with body perfectionism is it’s too focused on the small picture, on minutia of numbers on the scale, BMI, calories, or steps. These measurements were created to give you a big picture sense of things. But they’ve been corrupted by perfectionism into being the thing itself that we never, ever achieve.
In the big picture, no one on their deathbed ever regretted the fact that they didn’t maintain a perfect weight or BMI. On the contrary, at the end of their lives women often regret the time wasted worrying about these things. Hospice chaplain, Kerry Egan writes in her book On Living:
There are many regrets and many unfulfilled wishes that patients have shared with me before they die. But the time wasted spent hating their bodies, ashamed . . . over the years not appreciating their body until they were close to leaving it – are some of the saddest of regrets.
Body esteem can stay positive when it focuses on the positive things the body does for us, as we spoke of in Step 1 when we discussed words we make important in our homes. It's the inner critic with its body perfectionism that derails the positive process.
Solutions to quiet the inner critic: compassion, forgiveness and acceptance
The problem of a critical inner voice is getting stuck in a cycle of self-judgment and blame when things don't go as planned. This prevents you from focusing how things could go better the next time. Meditation teaches us that to balance a critical inner voice, you contemplate compassion, forgiveness, and acceptance for yourself.
The best way for children to learn not to beat themselves up inside, is to develop a kind inner voice. This happens naturally when her parents use a kind, compassionate voice on her at home. A mother or father who can accept their own imperfections, can better forgive a child when she does something wrong. This teaches a daughter to be kind and forgiving to herself as a priority.
A parent’s ability to accept and forgive boils down to their basic expectation for people. Expecting that people and things to be perfect all the time is perfectionism. Expecting perfection from people and things is how we get disappointed and critical when things don’t turn out perfectly. We need to re-set expectations for the imperfect human beings around us, including ourselves. Anyone with children knows that expecting them to be perfect is a recipe for disappointment. Kids are hopefully making mistakes all the time, that's how they learn!
Some parents believe that if they are not policing their families, the high standards they want to instill for achievement or behavior won't be met. But actually setting the bar for high standards in our homes and being critical when they are not met are 2 very separate things. They actually have little to do with each other. We can all be accountable to high standards in a mindful way that allows us to learn from our mistakes. Beating ourselves up for missing that bar is only a distraction from that lesson.
And, for me, the worst piece growing up in a critical environment, is that it normalizes the half empty glass. Be careful what you make important because here the entire world can be seen through a critical, half empty lens if that’s the environment your child knows.
We want them to see the world as a beautiful place full of endless possibilities.
- Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor, Body Respect, 2014.
- Carolyn Costin, Your Dieting Daughter, 2013 (2nd edition).
- Renee Engeln, Beauty Sick, 2017.
- Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel, Beyond a Shadow of a Diet, 2014 (2nd edition).
- Kristen Neff, Self-Compassion, 2015.
- Rachel Simmons, Enough As She Is, 2018.
- Julia V. Taylor, The Body Image Workbook for Teens, 2014.
- Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch,Intuitive Eating Workbook: 10 Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship with Food, 2017.