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  • Writer's pictureBonnie Horsburgh

The Inner-Critic and the Holiday Season

Updated: Nov 25, 2018

Are they done YET???  I had 10 minutes to get the quiches out of the oven and over to my in-laws.  The tops were still pretty jiggly and I didn't want to be responsible for giving anyone under-cooked eggs, so I shoved them back in the oven and paced around the kitchen in frustration.  

((What is wrong with you?  Why didn't you start these earlier?  You're disappointing everyone.  They are all over there waiting on you and are probably going to be rewarded for their patience with runny quiche.  You are a lousy cook!)) 

The moment I could justify pulling the quiches out of the oven and labeling them as DONE I slid them onto a cookie sheet, which I handed to my daughter to hold as we raced across the neighborhood.  My heart was beating fast.  My muscles were tense.  I was snappy, demanding and frenzied as I took off for the in-laws.  As we rounded the corner I saw, out of the corner of my eye, my daughter's hands sliding out from under the cookie sheet.  She took this opportunity to level-up on a game on her handheld device.  I watched, in slow-motion, as the cookie sheet slid off her lap and the quiches splattered against the door and slid down between the door and passenger seat.  Hot, melted, cheese and egg, all over the interior of the Subaru.  My hands gripped the steering wheel and I said a few things that still have me in debt to the swear jar.  I threw her device onto the back seat and turned the car around.   

((Brunch is ruined!!  You failed.  And what did you say in front of your daughter?!  If you didn't allow her to play on that !#$@ device this wouldn't have happened, anyway!  What kind of parent are you?))    

Meet my Inner-Critic.  She is really brutal.  And the thing about my inner-critic is that she gets louder and more obnoxious the more emotionally invested I am in something.  I'm pretty sure she hauls around a megaphone just for holidays, social gatherings, and major life events.   I used to hang on her every word.  I'd fret about what she said and stacked up evidence to support her claims.  

But here's the thing about Inner-Critics.  Although they are miserable company ... they are actually trying to protect us.  You see, deep down we are all afraid of rejection.  Rejection from our primary group is perceived, at the primal level, as a mortal threat.  The inner critic is motivated by our threat-protection system, which is cortisol mediated and often referred to as the fight-or-flight response.  The inner-critical voice may be shaming or avoidant.  It may be overtly antagonistic or more subtle.

 The thing is, the body hears what the mind says.

All of that critical self-talk has an effect on the body by perpetually activating the threat-protection system.  Thus, we release more cortisol and gear up for battle or running away.  During the holidays, when emotions, pressure, and expectations run high, we are at higher risk of responding critically to ourselves when we fail to meet our own expectations or the expectations of others.  The result can be irritability, guilt, emotional and physical fatigue, sadness, and nervousness.  

The good news is that although you may not be able to silence your Inner-Critic, you can learn to relate to yourself more compassionately this holiday season (and always!) by following these steps:

1. Take time to think about the common messages your mind plays when you are under stress around the holidays.  Familiarize yourself with the inner-critical voice so that you can be more aware of it when it shows up.

2. Remember that your Inner-Critic is trying to protect you.  Why would the Inner-Critic beat up on you about your cooking?  Because she actually wants the family to have a wonderful experience at your meal and for you to feel loved and accepted by the tribe.

3. Don't buy-in to the Inner-Critic's rationale.  You do not need to cook a perfect quiche .. or turkey ... or pie .. in order to prove yourself as a lovable human being.    

4. Extend your Inner-Critic some compassion.  "I know you're trying to protect me the best way you know how, but I am stressed out right now and need support, not shaming."

5. Ask yourself: what would I tell a good friend who was struggling with this same issue?  What words of encouragement or support would I offer?  And then offer them to yourself.

Finding the compassionate voice and using it as a source of support during difficult moments is a skill that can be cultivated.  Self-compassion increases stress resilience and internal motivation, fosters deeper interpersonal connections, protects against burnout and improves overall emotional and physical well-being.

I hope your self-compassionate voice can make an appearance this holiday season, and that this Thanksgiving finds you in moments of peaceful contemplation and gratitude for the many people, opportunities, lessons, and resources that have positively influenced your life.

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