Today I will address how we internalize the voices of those around us, how that builds self-doubt, and how I dismissed my harshest critic.
Let’s start with a bit of background.
As a young boy, I was always very respectful and obedient to adults. I idolized my parents and tried my best to earn their love and attention.
To be raised in a catholic family with a strong sense of personal responsibility, family union, and respect for our eldest means that you are constantly in the orbit of your extended family. To me, there was no escape to the influence and opinions of my kin.
Being the eldest of four —by more than five years— meant that I was responsible for my siblings’ education and well-being. Most aged children can expect to serve as role models and surrogate parental figures to their siblings in my culture. A responsibility I was eager yet unprepared to fulfill.
Nevertheless, I carried on.
The Strain of Self-Doubt
As I entered my early teens, I was already carrying a lot of expectations on my shoulders.
I was excelling at school, but I wasn’t exceptional. School felt like a treadmill of challenges and obstacles I wasn’t particularly enjoying tackling. Meanwhile, my peers seemed like they were enjoying youth far more than I was.
Meanwhile, my parents, overwhelmed with their financial responsibilities, parenting burnout, and overwork, began relaying more demands on me.
These responsibilities were proving to be too much, and I started feeling cornered by my family’s expectations. I was perplexed by how my cousins and friends seemed like they had everything figured out while seeming to have a great time.
And eventually, things started changing for the worst.
“Maybe I was not as competent as I have been told.“
Doubts about my capacity to fulfill my roles started seeding in, and my relationships with family and friends began to deteriorate.
Gone were the days of being the star of the class or the exemplary child. My identity was slipping away from me, and my family’s influence soon cached up, becoming a source of judgment and distress instead of affirmation and support.
I can’t pinpoint when but the affirmative voices of those around me slowly morphed into condescendence and passive-aggressiveness.
Without a proper foundation to manage these difficulties or an adequate means to communicate my struggle, I was defenseless. The values and beliefs ingrained in me —which I had always depended on— were now enhancing these opinions’ damaging impact.
- “I guess you are just not good at this subject…“
- “You’re not going to get much taller; consider another sport…“
- “I just feel like you don’t have much to offer to this relationship…”
- “Why did you think that would work? That never happens here…“
- “Have you consider going for a job you can be a better fit for?…“
- “We can’t afford that kind of luxury; get that out of your head…“
I started to adopt these opinions as mine, regularly parroting them whenever things didn’t go well —which in this time my life was often.
The voices sounded familiar and close, and I couldn’t yet discern that they were harming my mental health. They eventually took a sort of personality that always accompanied me. Like an alter ego. Always ready to parrot the voices and cloud my view of life.
You might regard some of these as not egregious enough to warrant psychological trauma, but it is, in fact, statements like that, which often come from a loving place and concerned hearts, that can do the most harm.
And harm it did. My critic was in full force by my university tenure, and I was carrying even more responsibility and doubt on my shoulders. I lost my father, I lost financial stability, and I lost my last support circle.
I was isolated and vulnerable; The perfect ground for self-harm.
How I Dismissed my Harshest Critic
To tell you how I dismissed my harshest critic I first need to explain how our inner critic has power over us.
The primary fuel that feeds our internal critic is the engagement you allow yourself to have with it. The mear act of entertaining the thoughts and ideas perpetuates them and reinforces them in your mind.
Rising above your critic is a constant effort of reaffirmation and course correction. You have to disengage with the monologue the voice wants you to follow and instead ponder, what if the idea itself is wrong.
- “You didn’t get the job. I guess it is just beyond your reach.“
Instead of taking that statement at face value and continue the monologue, question it.
- “Was it because of me or forces outside of my control?”
- “How likely is it that this situation revolves around me versus me just being a victim of bad timing or other factors?”
- “I know I have capacity and value. I have proof of it from my past endeavors. However, I have no proof that my deficiency was the single factor of this outcome.“
Doing this hijacks the critic and empowers you instead of allowing your power to be taken away.
This practice is critical because our brains are ill-equipped to deal with harmful habits we have instigated over the years. As I have learned first hand, bad habits that have been internalized in our formative years can take an enormous amount of effort and therapy to dismantle.
It is essential to point out that the objective is not to relinquish the critic. He will always be part of your psyche and continuously will attempt to reach out to you; Looking for an opportunity to raise again and take power away from you. Don’t let it.
A great deal of therapy and counseling was necessary to unlearn and quiet down these voices. It comes without saying, but looking for help and opening up about your problems should never be the reason for shame.
To this day, I can still hear my critic in the distance, reverberating in the back of my head, feeding my doubts and fears. These voices will never really disappear.
Nevertheless, I am no longer a victim of its presence or swayed by its influence. I have dismissed my critic to the farthest corners of my mind, where his voice can no longer be heard.
Finally, I want to clarify that I don’t blame my parents or any parent for that matter. Most parents strive to do what they think is best despite all the challenges they face.
Besides, raising four kids is already a monumental task.
See you in the next post.