Daughters (and sons, for that matter) who grow up with hypercritical, combative, or dismissive mothers don’t just suffer from low self-esteem but they also internalize their mothers’ words and assessment of them as self-criticism. Self-criticism is the habit of attributing any setback or negative outcome to your own personal character traits; it’s an automatic way of thinking that’s largely unconscious and self-blaming, and moves from the particular to the general without your even being aware that you’re doing it.
Say you are passed over for a promotion at work or a close relationship suddenly unravels. The securely attached daughter feels the sting of disappointment or emotional pain, of course, but she won’t attribute what happened to her own lack of worth. She’s more likely to think, “ Okay, I lost that one and I’ll just have to work harder and get the boss to pay attention to the quality of my efforts” or “He and I basically didn’t want the same things and the next time, I’ll have to pay closer attention when I chose a partner.” In contrast, the insecurely attached daughter thinks ,“ Of course, I didn’t get promoted and I’ll never be promoted because I’m just not good enough and everybody knows it” or “ It’s no wonder he didn’t want to be with me because I had nothing to offer him. It’s always going to be like this because I’m just not good enough.”
Self-criticism is hobbling in and of itself but, worse still, it stands in the way of the unloved daughter’s learning self-compassion. There’s no way you can actually see your positive qualities and strengths with that critical voice braying at you 24/7 nor can you accept your mistakes and missteps with any kind of equanimity if you always attribute what goes wrong to your basic nature. So, for the unloved daughter, the road to self-compassion involves taking five steps first.
Remember that conscious awareness of how you think about yourself and attribute both your successes (thinking that it was a fluke of some kind or that you just got lucky, for example, instead of seeing that your own work and talent helped you earn your achievement) and your failures (believing that who you are deep inside made it go it go wrong and that it was destined to happen, for instance) is the key to moving forward. Following are five steps to move you in the right direction.
1. Don’t personalize a setback
When something goes south in your life, listen carefully to how you describe it to others. Is your description laced with self-criticism that goes way beyond taking responsibility for your own role in whatever went wrong? Again, there is an enormous difference between the kind of constructive criticism that comes out of analyzing what went wrong in a situation and the reductionist thinking that boils every setback down to a set of impossible-to-fix character flaws in you. It may help you to write down your thoughts so that you can become aware of how your thought processes work.
2. Remember that the internalized voice is the default position
Many unloved daughters are anxious in relationships, always scanning the horizon for things that might go wrong or signs that the people they care for are really not there for them, and the self-critical voice plays a part in energizing the dynamic. Start paying attention to the kinds of situations that segue to the self-critical and ask yourself what you were feeling at the time. Were you threatened or scared? Did your anxiety peak when you didn’t get the reassurance you needed? Becoming aware of your own unconscious patterns of thoughts and responses will help you begin to gain control over them.
3. Identify the triggers and begin to manage your emotions
This is really just one step beyond recognizing the default position—figuring out when the self-critical voice is at its loudest. Does it happen when you’re ruminating or worrying? Or stressed? Or does it only turn on when a setback presents itself and you flood with emotion? Work at regulating your emotions at these moments by visualizing or recalling a happy or calm moment in your life or an encounter with an accepting and loving person; studies have shown that simply shifting your thoughts in this way will permit you to stop over-reacting to negative cues and triggers.
4. Argue with the voice
Once you’ve identified the moments at which the voice is strongest, take it on! Studies show that asking yourself a question—“Will I stop the self-critical voice in my head?–actually is a better motivator because it shifts the mind into looking for ways to stop it. Just repeating an affirmation (“I will stop the critical voice in my head”)doesn’t do that. You can use journaling too to argue with the voice and as a way of reminding yourself of all the good qualities and strengths that voice never mentions.
5. Become your own advocate
Another way of weakening the power of the voice is to remind yourself of the things you like about yourself—those unique qualities that make you you. The path to self-compassion requires you to stop being myopic and to see yourself in fullness—made up of strengths and weaknesses, talents and flaws—as is every human on the planet. Remind yourself of what you like or love about yourself by writing them down and pinning them in places where you’ll be sure to see them.
Keep in mind that it took time to get that critical voice firmly ensconced in your head; it’s going to take time and effort to serve it eviction papers
Photograph by Keran Look Loy. Copyright free. Unsplash.com