Silence your inner critic, you're fine

Montreal Gazette

Much of the time we feel like our true selves, like the resourceful, relatively capable people most of us are.

Yet how is it that when we most want to make a good impression - on an employer, at the water cooler, over dinner, during a presentation - we seem to morph into tongue-tied, agonizingly awkward beings which don't feel like our true selves at all?

It should come as a relief to learn that the reason we don't feel remotely like our true selves is that we are, in fact, not our true selves.

When we're busy trying to make a good impression, we're labouring under the illusion that who we really are is not good enough, that only an idealized image of that self is acceptable, explained local psychotherapist Frances Kucharsky - one that is more loving or smart or kind or competent.

Pathetic, I thought. But true. There's more. We want something from the person on whom we're trying to make a good impression - be it approval, love, acceptance, professional credibility or a positive evaluation, she said.

Because wanting something of someone makes us anxious, we try to control both the situation and the other person's response to us. So we're continually monitoring ourselves and the other person for signs of approval or disapproval: can anything kill spontaneity, or the chance for any authentic exchange, more effectively?

Little surprise, then, that as we're busy trying to manipulate the situation to what we perceive to be our advantage, we become self-conscious.

To the sludge of all that contrived behaviour, add a clear imbalance of power: when we want something from someone, we often place that person in a position of superiority: he (or she) has the power to give or withhold whatever it is we want.

That's a lot to juggle. An axiom in the practice of hypnosis, the Law of Reversed Effect, holds that the harder you try to do something, the more difficult it becomes.

This is true whatever you're trying to do, Kucharsky said, whether it's to make a good impression or fall asleep. Accepting that we are, indeed, flawed can go a long way toward helping us be ourselves.

"Accept the situation as it is, without fighting mentally for it and for you to be different," Kucharsky said. That requires awareness, a certain element of maturity - and a big stick to beat down what Pointe Claire counselor Lucy MacDonald calls the inner critic in all of us.

This critic, evolved mainly from our experiences as children, leads us to formulate assumptions about who we are - not smart enough, say, or sophisticated or cool enough - and in turn influences how we interact with the world.

Challenge the assumptions of your inner critic, she urges: what is the evidence they're true to begin with? Who said you're not smart? Tell yourself you are. Think of people who care about you, the high esteem in which they hold you. Think how well they think of you - the true you.

When the negative voice is loudest, we see what won't work, MacDonald said. We need to replace that voice with one that says what will work. It's important to replace negative thoughts with positive ones: either, she said, will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It's quite normal to feel shaky about, say, a job interview. MacDonald suggests visualizing ahead of time every aspect of how we want it to go, from what we wear to seeing ourselves handling things calmly and confidently. Doing that is visualizing how it will be, she says. Hey - the technique works for Olympic athletes.

Give up the wanting - and your attachment to it, Kucharsky advises. Focus on what you're doing and not how you're doing. Concentrate not on yourself, but on the task at hand.

It may mean asking questions rather than trying to impress, listening rather than feeling compelled to speak, giving that presentation even though we're halting and stumbling in our fear and our humanity.

It means doing the best we can, offering the best of our flawed, imperfect selves.

Susan Schwartz's E-mail address is
© Copyright2001 Montreal Gazette

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