How To Build Healthy Relationships Despite A Harsh Inner Critic
Yesterday, Katie wrote a fantastic post (as always!) about being yourself. Basically, she blurted out a curse word in front of strangers at a networking event. The big deal? Well, Katie never curses. She did so in this case to be cool, to be liked.
Wow because I have been there. So. Many. Times.
So many times I’ve blurted out things I didn’t really mean to fit in, or tried to make myself like something because others did (whether it was music or certain hobbies). So many times I thought I wasn’t cool enough, which translated to I wasn’t good enough.
Building relationships is hard. They’re especially hard if your inner critic, well, keeps criticizing you. Keeps telling you that you aren’t worthy as you are. That you must change in order to be liked, because why would anyone like the real you in the first place, right?
When my boyfriend and I started dating, I was in awe that he fell for me. How could he? Why would he?
He, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed baseball star. Me, the pale, brown-haired musical theater buff.
Still to this day, there are many times when I feel like the awkward, shy, insecure girl from many, many years ago. (In fact, here’s a recent experience.)
For people with eating disorders, the inner critic is especially vicious and manipulative.
In the must-read book Restoring Our Bodies, Reclaiming Our Lives: Guidance and Reflections on Recovery From Eating Disorders, Mary Tantillo, Ph.D., Director of the Western New York Comprehensive Care Center for Eating Disorders, writes about how EDs can sabotage relationships:
“But ED may have sabotaged your relationships by pretending to be your best friend and discouraging you from trusting or perhaps even approaching others who might support you. In fact, ED acts as an agent of disconnection and isolation, playing off your insecurities about appearance, popularity, identity, and uncertainty, as well as deeper anxieties. This not only deters you from developing healthy friendships, but may also nudge you toward negative relationships that end up promoting illness.”
Even if you’ve never struggled with an eating disorder, I bet many of you can relate. The harsh critic within can easily lead us to unhealthy relationships because that’s what we think we deserve. Or it can hinder healthy ones, because we choose to isolate ourselves or become suspicious, distant or overly dependent.
So what can you do?
Tantillo has two valuable suggestions (which are helpful whether you have an ED or not):
1. Identify how ED controls your current relationships.
Tantillo lists off several examples, including: “Telling you the other person will never like you? Warning that you’re not thin enough or attractive enough to be seen with your friend? Whispering that others can’t be trusted to truly understand your experiences, and that they’ll inevitably hurt you?”
She suggests sharing your list of negative messages with your therapist or a mentor who’ll be encouraging about making new friends. If you have neither, sharing it with a family member or friend you trust can help, too.
2. “Learn what a healthy relationship looks and feels like.”
“A true mutual relationship gives both people an increased sense of self-worth, empowerment, zest or energy, clarity about themselves and each other, and desire for more connection with others. In genuine friendships, it’s OK to show each other your emotional vulnerabilities because that helps you open up and feel empathy for each other…And when genuine friends disagree, they’re willing to work to repair any damage, listening to one another and taking responsibility for their own part in the problem.”
But what do good friends look like? When choosing your friends, Tantillo suggests people who:
- Accept the whole of who you are – including both your strengths and limitations
- Enjoy the ways you’re both similar, but also respect and appreciate your differences
- Are able and willing to help when you’re in trouble
- Support your recovery by encouraging you to stay aware of your own thoughts, needs and feelings while also considering those of others
- Gently help you look at problems from all sides
- Encourage you to discuss your concerns with others and have other friendships
It’s hard to dismiss the inner critic when they’re screaming so loud and clear. But remember that the inner critic exaggerates, twists and outright lies.
Being comfortable in your own skin takes time. So may sharing that with the world.
Sometimes, we have setbacks. And that’s OK. We move on, do the best we can and keep doing the work of finding and maintaining fulfilling friendships with others – and ourselves.
How has ED affected your relationships? When were you insecure about being yourself in front of others? What’s helped you build healthy relationships and be your true self?
P.S., Please check out Dana’s round-up of this month’s Self-Discovery, Word by Word posts. If you remember, the word was brave – and the posts are awesome!
P.P.S, I had the great opportunity of guest posting on Melanee’s blog about what to do when you experience a body image rut. Please check it out! It’s in honor of her blogaversary. Happy Blogaversary, Melanee!
Tartakovsky, M. (2011). How To Build Healthy Relationships Despite A Harsh Inner Critic. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 7, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/2011/06/how-to-build-healthy-relationships-despite-a-harsh-inner-critic/