High standards are the norm these days, and from what I see– both in my client sessions and day-to-day life– we tend to judge ourselves pretty harshly when we fail to meet those standards. Some of these expectations are self-imposed, some are enforced by bosses/teachers/parents, and some are established by society at large.
But no matter the context– be it work, grades, body, relationships, family– when we fail to meet these extreme standards, we start to beat ourselves up for not being good enough.
Cue your Itty Bitty Shitty Committee.
You may be familiar with the inner Critic, but the Critic doesn’t work alone. It’s often accompanied by some other popular voices like the Judger, the Shamer and the Punisher. We all have them, and although they sound different to each of us, they all produce the same outcome: pain and suffering.
In order to help parents better understand the state of our teens, and to remind teens that they are not alone in battling their Committee, I’ve decided to share one young woman’s raw and honest account of what it feels like when her Committee takes hold:
Do you know what its like to wake up every day, look at yourself in the mirror and just think, “Nope”?
It feels like you have been let down again for the millionth time. Like you go to sleep and wish on a star that you will wake up the next day and see something that is acceptable… yes. Acceptable. I don’t even aim as high as achieving a body I deem to be worthy of my own praise or one to be excited about. I simply want to wake up, look at myself in the mirror and think, “Well hey, we can work with that!”
Some days I’d just be lucky for a “nope.” It seems like most days lately have been a constant war inside my head, trying my best to forgive myself for being so disgusted by myself. I should really avoid mirrors altogether. Sometimes I get busy enough where I forget about my obsession, for a moment I can let go of all the anxieties and doubts that plague me. Sometimes the mirror is unavoidable. It is an addiction. I don’t know why I punish myself that way. I guess I just hope it will be one of the odd days when I am content, when I approve. Most of the time I am just setting myself up for disappointment. It’s miserable, and it’s exhausting not knowing if I will be ecstatic or if I will have to fight that urge to sob, half in frustration and anger, and half in pity. I wonder what it is like to look in the mirror and see yourself like you would see any other object. I don’t look at a tree and judge it, I don’t think about all of the ways it could be better, or dislike it for what it is not. A tree is a tree. Its beauty is unique to that of any other tree, and it is perfect just by being itself. Ideally I think that’s how I should see myself. Unfortunately that’s not a reality.
What’s bizarre is that these feelings can coexist with self-love. It is almost like the self that occupies this body feels trapped in some horribly unfitting corporal form which it finds almost impossible to cope with. The loathing isn’t necessarily at myself. I don’t even associate with my body. I don’t even consider it to be part of myself. It is a burden I am unfortunately plagued with for the rest of my life, and I am just trying to make the best out of an awful situation.
What upsets me the most isn’t necessarily how I look. It is my lack of effort. It is that I possess all of the power and control in the world but it seems like I am doing nothing with it. Where is the resolve? Where is the dedication? My apathy is nauseating. My days are plagued by endless thoughts and actions geared towards “fixing” myself.
I have a fear that everyone thinks poorly of me and is simply lying because they think it is the appropriate thing to do, because they don’t want to deal with my reactions or pretend to give a crap about my insecurities. It’s just easier for everyone if I accept myself so let’s just keep giving her pats on the head and enough validation to shove her mouth so full it can no longer make audible noises. Stop. Just stop letting me down.
I know a better exists. I can imagine it. I have been it. I have come so far and have fought so many little battles but recently it seems like the that road has disappeared from beneath my feet.
Pretty enlightening, isn’t it? I’m so very grateful to this brave young woman for sharing with us her truth. Now it’s time to strategize about how to silence this brutal Committee!
1. Pay attention to and get familiar with what your committee is saying. We can’t change something that we aren’t yet aware of! So start listening up. Practice noticing your thoughts and become mindful of the situations that tend to trigger your Committee.
2. Practice The WHOAH Technique. When our Committee gets riled up, they act like a horse in an open field: they run wild. And the only way to stop a galloping horse is to pull back on the reigns and say WHOAH! Next time you notice your Committee on the run, simply put your hands up and say out loud to yourself the word “whoah.” It’s a great way to halt the negative thoughts and gives you a moment to redirect your thinking. Cheesy as it sounds, this technique really works. You’ll be surprised just how many times you find yourself saying “whoah” in the course of a day!
3. Name Your Committee Members. It’s helpful to give your Committee names so you can identify them as something separate from yourself. Just like you would refuse to listen to an abusive boss, teacher, family member, etc., you can also learn to ignore your committee once you begin to view the members as an outside force. For example, I had a client once name her Critic Oscar because he acted like a grouch! Being able to point to and talk about Oscar as a separate entity when he took hold made it easier for her to ignore his negativity.
4. Challenge Your Committee. When our Committee takes hold, it’s easy to take their word as gospel and spiral down the rabbit hole. Instead, we must hunt for evidence that directly discredits our Committee. For example, maybe your Critic says, “You’re such a failure. You’re not good at anything.” (This may sound extreme, but trust me I have heard these exact words come out of girls’ mouths.) That’s your cue to say “whoah!” and remind yourself of the point your scored in your soccer game last week, or the way you supported a friend through a difficult time, or the deadline you met during a particularly hectic week. There is always something we can point to that disproves the negativity our Committee preaches. Our job is to hunt for it and focus on it.
5. Talk to Yourself Like You’d Talk to Someone You Love. Our Committee speaks to us in ways that we wouldn’t dream of speaking to a friend or family member: criticizing, judging, belittling, blaming, chastising, etc. So why should we speak to ourselves that way?! When you notice your Committee bringing you down, practice talking to yourself like you would talk to someone you love: with kindness, generosity and understanding. Another option is to imagine talking to your 5-year-old self. You would never put down a 5-year-old. You would do your best to be gentle and supportive, which is exactly what we desperately need when our Committee takes hold.
So there you have it! An inside look at the devastating impact of your Itty Bitty Shitty Committee, and 5 go-to strategies for shutting your Committee down. Gives these strategies a try and let me know how it goes in the comment section below!