New Year, Same Inner Critic: How to Manage

It’s that time of year again when many people have made promises to themselves. “I’m going to do more of this” or “less of that.” “I’m going to start this” or “stop that”. Even if you don’t make resolutions or set intentions, it is a natural time to pause and take inventory of the past year. As people around you review highlights last year and look eagerly towards the next, self-comparison can run rampant and "shoulds" can reach all time highs. As the shimmer of the holidays wears off, feelings of motivation and excitement can give way to disappointment and guilt, especially when things aren’t as easy as they sounded.

You are NOT ALONE. The third Monday of January is often referred to as the “saddest day of the year” because this experience is SO common. What’s going on? Does this mean we’re all failures? It can sure feel like it in the depths of winter and in the wake of the holiday season.

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If you find yourself spiraling at any point in the next few months re-center yourself by checking in with the following:

Notice your inner critic:


This immediately creates distance Recognize that you are being harsh on yourself. Are you familiar with the posture people make when they’re feeling attacked? That head down, shoulders shrugged response. Followed by either crumbling or puffing up. Do you know the feelings that go along with that? You’ll feel your own version of that when your inner critic is in over drive. Simply bringing awareness to it tends to put some distance between your own voice and your inner critic’s.

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Check your motivation:

This brings you back to yourself. Even if your intention is spot on, if the motivation is coming from a place that says, “You are not good enough,” you’re likely to feel resentment. Ask yourself why do you feel committed to this intention? Are you making changes to please someone other than yourself (your family, your partner, your boss, society, your inner critic)? When we make changes under the orders of our inner critic, the results are often short lived, brittle and the process unenjoyable. When we come from a place of compassion, the journey tends to be softer, easier and the results more stable. Throughout your year, continue to come back to the question of, “Who am I doing this for?” and “Why do I want this?” You want the response to this question to be soft and soothing like a comforting hand on your back. If it is sharp or heavy that’s a sign it’s coming from your inner critic. How can you reframe your intention to be even more yours?

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Understand your resistance:

this shows you your deeper obstacles Familiarity equals comfort. Any kind of change causes a bit of disruption and it is natural for there to be friction. It’s how we know something is happening. When you feel yourself fighting against what you’ve set out to do, take a moment to ask: Am I resisting because this is truly detrimental to my happiness or am I resisting because I am afraid to let go of my suffering? It is normal to have some attachment to our suffering. Even suffering can be comforting in it’s familiarity. It can be an identity we carry that can be scary to shed. Sit with your attachment to suffering; notice the fears that come along with letting go of a piece of it. If you find your resistance is truly because this change is not beneficial to your happiness, get curious about what is not working and what might be more enjoyable. Remember that having resistance is not a sign of failure; it is an opportunity to check in and see what’s coming up.

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When you resist, treat yourself with compassion, not criticism:

Avoid motivating yourself with punishments if things aren’t going as you imagined. We are often taught to push through and force ourselves to do things, but this can create a painful cycle. When we begin to police ourselves, and punish ourselves, it creates an abusive relationship within us. Even if you get the “results,” it can be at the cost of your relationship with yourself. Remember that you are now the parent to your inner child. Treat them with tenderness, even if that’s now how you were raised.

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These are experiments. Keep it playful. If something’s not working, make adjustments:

You are doing this for you, which means you can do it however you want. You don’t have to stick to your first version of an idea. Allow yourself to be fluid and flexible, trusting that you have your best interest in mind. If your goals are feeling lofty and out of reach it can be easy to lose motivation. Check in with yourself to see if there are ways you can break things down to make them more manageable. Shorten your timeline. Make it a new weeks resolution rather than a new years resolution. If that week goes well, try another, if not, what else do you want to try? You don’t have to do it alone. Seek community. Join an online group and read other people’s experiences that are similar to yours. Find a self-compassion buddy; when you’re beating yourself up, call them. Write yourself an encouraging letter to read when you’re struggling. Talk to your therapist. Talk to people who believe in you.

Some questions to ask yourself when you’re feeling defeated by the New Year:

Why am I making this change?

What is the feeling I hope to get?

What would make this more fun? In what ways could I be gentler with myself?

What are three things I would never change about myself?

What would someone who loves me unconditionally say to me right now?

If my dearest friend were feeling this way, what might I say to them?


Emily is a Associate Marriage & Family Therapist with the Center for Mindful Psychotherapy. Her goal is to help clients create ease in their life and relationships. She works with adults, teens, and couples specializing in helping clients move through grief, quiet the inner critic, and create healthy boundaries. Visit her website, www.emilyadamstherapy.com to learn more or reach out via e-mail emily@mindfulcenter.org to schedule a consultation call.

Associate Marriage & Family Therapist #90363
Supervised by Gina Nobuko Ramos, LMFT #43359