If you are constantly worried about what other people think of you, no doubt you have a serious inner critic. Someone who speaks in the familiar voice of a disapproving parent, teacher or spouse. Someone who says things like:
“Now why did you do THAT?”
“You did WHAT?”
“Can’t you ever get it right?”
“You shouldn’t feel that way”
Or maybe it was a bullying classmate or sibling who ridiculed your looks, your glasses, your clothing. Perhaps someone taunted you when you failed a test or simply didn’t make all A’s like they did.
Maybe it’s a boss or coworker who reminds you on a regular basis that your work falls short. And you live in fear of losing your livelihood and self-respect in a single blow.
Perhaps you compare yourself to others in a negative light. I wish I could look like, act like, think like, be like__________!
Whatever the origin, you have no doubt accepted your inner critic’s evaluation as the truth about who you are. The truth you don’t want others to discover.
Whenever you fall short of your own expectations your inner critic sets off a litany of reproach. It’s not that you consciously choose to beat yourself up, it’s that the negative thoughts and their attendant depressing feelings pop into your head unbidden.
Automatic negative thoughts—call them ANTS-are the weapon of choice for your inner critic. Just like ants at a picnic, mental ANTS sting, bite and irritate. They nibble away at your self-esteem leaving you second guessing yourself at every turn.
Or maybe you do consciously choose to berate yourself, assuming that you have to get yourself in line if you are ever going to get it right. And you constantly work to get it right, to be enough.
In order to stop worrying about what others think of you, it’s necessary to silence that inner critic. Or ignore her.
Not that it’s easy. Your inner critic is no doubt well established. She has claimed certain neural pathways in your brain as her territory and is not about to give them up. In addition, adrenalin and cortisone—the front- line stress hormones—are on order to rev up your body to fight, flee or freeze at the first sign of danger.
And the mere idea that someone is thinking ill of you or judging your performance or your person, spells danger. “What if I don’t measure up. What if I’m not good enough. What if….”
At this point you may be overwhelmed with emotion. Your rational brain has been hijacked and your emotional brain has taken over. You are feeling sad, mad, afraid, or some other variety of just plain awful.
In the moment, the first step toward silencing your inner critic is to calm your body down. Seriously. Take three deep breaths. Inhale through your nose to the count of four. Exhale through your mouth to the count of eight. If three breaths don’t do it, try five or more.
With a calm body, your logical brain can come back on line and give you a moment to choose to go with the anxiety or take another route.
When you have a quiet moment, ask your inner critic a few questions and journal the answers.
- What was I thinking? Automatic negative thoughts are often so ingrained you have to slow down to notice and identify them.
- What was I feeling? Naming the feelings can help to deenergize them, make them less overwhelming.
- Are my thoughts and feelings telling me the truth? What is the evidence for or against my automatic thoughts? Are they based on false beliefs about myself or others?
- Is there another way to think about it? Is making a mistake proof that you are a failure or is it simply part of being human?
As you repeat this process over and over you will establish new neural pathways making way for Positive Automatic Thoughts, PATs if you please.
To prepare yourself for an invasion of ANTS it is helpful at any given moment to become aware of your thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. For example, as you get ready for your day, notice what you are seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting. As you shower, dress or eat breakfast focus on the present moment. If your mind wanders, and it will, bring it back. Practicing mindful awareness will facilitate the ability to stop the ANTS in their tracks.
When your inner critic pops up again observe and acknowledge your thoughts and feelings. Rather than ruminating, allow the ANTS to pass on through your consciousness as you imagine them fading away. You are now free to choose a positive mindset allowing you to experience positive thoughts and feelings.
In time you will experience more positive automatic thoughts and fewer automatic negative thoughts. PATS replace ANTS, and in the event of an ANT attack you will know how to deal with them.
You will know deep inside that what others think of you is just—what others think of you! Their opinions will not define you. With your inner critic silenced you will be able to accept yourself, and you will discover that you are no longer haunted by what others think of you.
I am a North Carolina Licensed Professional Counselor with 20 years experience in the field and many more years of life experience. I entered the counseling profession in mid-life after putting in time as a stay-at-home mom, a freelance writer, a journalist, and a United States-based missionary. I love walking alongside those who are seeking to find themselves, heal a relationship, or recover from trauma. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, writing, and hanging out with my grandsons.