Depression in Midlife Women: It's Time to Fire Your Inner Critic!
One of the most painful things for me to deal with in my recovery from chronic depression was confronting the voice of my inner critic that just wouldn’t leave me alone. Perhaps the only thing more emotionally devastating was to realize that I had passed at least some of this on to my own children. Everyone has an inner voice that tells them messages about themselves, whether positive or negative. Unfortunately, the messages I believed about myself were almost entirely negative. My inner critic was a bully, but I’m happy to say that I have sent her packing.
Confronting the Lies Depression Told Me About Myself
As I recover from depression so severe it kept me mostly isolated at home for more than a year, I have learned how to challenge beliefs I have about myself that just aren’t true. Here are just three examples:
Lie: No one loves me because I am unlovable and an inherently flawed human being.
Truth: I have a husband who I believe would walk to the ends of the earth just to make me happy, forgive any offense, and who has always loved me unconditionally. My children, family, and friends love me deeply. If someone truly doesn’t like me, I no longer take that personally. Everyone has different personalities and life experiences that tempers the lens in which they view me and my actions. I simply refuse to not be who I believe God intended me to be to try to make everyone else happy and comfortable.
Lie: I am worthless and never should have been born.
Truth: I am worthy simply because I exist. I deserve all the human dignity I would give to anyone else. My faith tells me I was created in the image of God, and I finally believe that. I don’t have to do anything to prove my worth.
Lie: I am helpless and incapable.
Truth: Excuse me, inner critic? I started my own business at age 42 and more than doubled my income doing it. I created the lifestyle of self-employment I always wanted. I overcame a debilitating brain injury. I raised two children to adulthood, a lot of the time on my own. Even if none of these things had occurred, I’m far from a helpless child. I am a strong, capable adult who can do anything I set my mind to. This includes losing more than 100 pounds I have carried due to food addiction that helped to stop the pain of listening to my relentless inner critic.
I am hoping that you can see a pattern here. When a negative and self-limiting belief pops up – and believe me they still do – I try to stop whatever I’m doing and challenge it on the spot. Let’s examine this. Is it really true that I’m an unlovable, flawed, worthless, helpless, and incapable person? Absolutely not! I can hardly express the relief and joy it brings to challenge these beliefs instead of just accept them. The next time your inner critic starts acting up, ask her for the evidence. Chances are she will slink away because the evidence is just not there.
What is an Inner Voice and Where Did It Come From?
The website Psych Alive defines a critical inner voice as a well-established pattern of destructive thoughts. These thoughts are mostly towards ourselves, but we can project them onto others as well. When a negative inner voice is the dominant force over a positive one, it causes us to act against our own best interests and sabotage any attempt at growth.
As you can imagine, living with this relentless inner bully affects every facet of life. From relationships to spirituality to our vocation, nothing is immune. Instead of creating goals for ourselves, for example, we become self-critical, distrustful, live an inward-focused life, and often fall prey to addictions. Food was the biggest one for me.
Our inner voice is different from our conscience. I could hate myself and still know that it’s wrong to take someone else’s life. The inner voice develops very early in life; so early, in fact, that it starts before we even have language. We pick up the verbal and non-verbal cues of those closest to us when we decide how we feel about ourselves.
If a primary caregiver has their own unresolved issues, we inherit a sense of shame whether anyone intended for that to happen or not. While guilt says we did something bad, shame says we are bad. There’s a big difference. I honestly feel that how it happened is not nearly as important as getting rid of it. Dwelling or blaming helps no one, while moving forward with healing helps everyone.
How to Disempower a Critical Inner Voice
I mentioned above how I demand evidence when my critical inner voice starts in on me again and then examine the statement to see if it’s true or false. Before you can get to that point, however, it’s important to acknowledge the messages you tell yourself all day long. If you find yourself suddenly feeling angry or sad, could it be in response to the messages of your inner critic? You will notice a thought pattern after a while and start gaining the strength to change it. Refuse to listen to those messages and replace them with truthful messages instead.
Living with a critical inner voice throughout life is a tragic waste of our precious time on earth. Besides being hostile, judgmental, and angry, our critical inner voice encourages deep depression that causes us to pull even further inward and isolate from the world. It is unceasingly negative to the point that it alienates us from those we love. Not all messages from our inner voice are conscious, however. If you find yourself continuing to act in self-sabotaging ways, working with a therapist can help you find, examine, and reject the unconscious messages as well as the conscious ones that say you’re just not good enough.
The Power of Positive Self-Talk in Depression Recovery
It can be challenging to take any action or have positive thoughts when you’re deep in the throes of depression. I certainly get that. For me, nothing happened until I took a solo road trip and had many hours to think without interruption. I had the thought that I cannot continuing living as I was. Something had to change, and in my case, that something was me. It at least gave me the motivation and courage to start thinking a little differently. The following thoughts were most helpful in terms of dealing with the depression itself:
- This won’t last forever.
- I am not a victim and not helpless to change my situation.
- I will get better day by day.
- People are willing to support me.
- It’s okay to make mistakes as long as I own them.
What it boiled down to, for me, is that I believed the lie that I was not worth taking care of. I deserved the abuse I heaped on my body and emotions. I now understand that to be a lie straight from the pits of hell! It’s a lie for me and it’s a lie for you. You are worthy. You are enough. You deserve the time and effort it takes to recover from something as incapacitating as severe depression. It’s a full-time job for me right now, and that’s okay because I’m worth it. We all are.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
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© 2019 Lisa Kroulik