Day 2232: Who is your harshest critic?

For years, I would have answered the question, “Who is your harshest critic?” like so:

“It’s me.”

Many of the people I work with in therapy also say that they are their own harshest critics. Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Narrative Therapy, and other proven techniques, we acknowledge the harm of that harsh criticism and reduce its toxicity.

There are times in my life when my answer to the question, “Who is your harshest critic?” would be, “It’s not me.”  I remember, decades ago, when I agonized over whether to leave my job as a writer at a technology company, which had not worked out as I expected.  I said many harshly critical things to myself  (including “you make terrible decisions!”  “what makes you think you’ll find a better job?”)  as I went through the  painful process of pros and cons about staying or leaving.  One of the obvious advantages of leaving was that I did not respect management at that company, so  I did end up resigning. Before I left,  one of the top managers said harsh things to me, including labeling me “a quitter” and somebody not capable of sticking to things that are challenging and difficult.  Once this man externalized my internal harsh criticism, I was able to recognize the unfairness in his reaction, stand up straight, look him in the eye, and say, “That’s not true. I’m leaving because I know I can be happier elsewhere.”

I’ll never forget how good that felt — to directly confront those harsh messages and say, “That’s not true.”

Since becoming a therapist, I’ve done a therapeutic exercise in groups where people write down their harsh internal criticisms and we externalize them.  Somebody in the group reads the harsh critical statement out loud, and the person gets a chance to respond back, sometimes being coached by others.  It’s always inspiring to witness people challenge their internalized harsh critics, replacing those old and toxic messages with more accepting and helpful ones.

Last night, when I performed my latest original song, “It’s Not Me,” about a toxically critical person, I became my harshest critic, again. For one thing, I went on immediately after the featured performer,  a 13-year-old prodigy “– The Mighty Quinn”  — who blew out the joint with his fiddle playing and his singing.  Here’s a photo of Quinn and his father:

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They were the proverbial tough act to follow.  I considered saying, “Let’s hear it for my opening act!” before I started performing, but I harshly criticized that and said something else instead.  As I started playing,  I realized that my ukulele was out of tune. I blanked on something I wanted to say,  and I didn’t like that I needed to use a cheat sheet to remember some of the chords and words.  After I finished,  I sat down, ignoring the applause and the positive comments from people in the audience, listening, instead,  to my harsh inner critic.

I then asked my new co-worker and friend, Alice (who is also a musician), whether she felt bad when her performances weren’t up to her own standards. She said many supportive things, including, “I think you’ll feel better when you watch the recording.”

And, when I watched the recording later, I did feel better. I let go of the role of my own harshest critic and, as always, it felt great! Here‘s the recording, which Alice made:

When I watch this, I use one of my helpful phrases: “It’s good enough AND I can make it better.”

In the past, I’ve been the harshest critic of my blog writing and my photographs, like these:

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For now,   I’m celebrating not being my own harshest critic.

Thanks to all who helped me create today’s post and — of course — to YOU, for your kind acceptance (of me and yourself) (I hope!)

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Categories: cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, original song, personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

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30 thoughts on “Day 2232: Who is your harshest critic?

  1. I am so glad that you are you, Ann. The world is a better place because of it.

  2. I’ve been to the Kickstand Cafe, but never to the open mic. How fabulous. Your performance was funny and endearing. You have a sweet voice. Best of luck with your moving on. I need to also. I’m too hard on myself when I make mistakes.

  3. BRAVO!!!! I appreciate your phrase(s).

    I would like to learn to curb that inner critic myself….

  4. Hi Ann, I loved your song!!! I, too, tend to be very hard on myself, I cringe when I make the tiniest mistake, and fret about it!!! I wonder what it is like to barrel through life, accepting your own mistakes, and just moving on. Well, that’s certainly not me!!

  5. I love this post, Ann. One of your very best. Thank you.

  6. A stern super ego is a prime requirement for a therapist.

  7. The only criticism I have to offer is positive because your song had me laughing, and laughing even harder when you followed a few verses with “Apparently it’s not me who tuned this” and followed that with improvised rhymes on names of people in the audience.
    You’ve reminded me of a New York Times interview from November 2nd in which he said, “Whatever I do, I think I could do better. I’m fairly notorious for wanting another take and another take and another take and another take — and another take. And sometimes that’s good, but very often it becomes counterproductive.” He’s a tough act to follow but I think it’s good to take advice from Rowan because it can help you keep growin’.

  8. My daughters keep telling me that I need to not be so hard on myself

  9. You’ll have a huge backing here 🙂

  10. The video is great! You noticed and called out things and it made them funny. And the song is great.

  11. You’re so much better than you think you are, my friend. ʚɞ(ू•ᴗ•ू❁)

  12. Love how you engaged the audience Ann! It is you and not me after all ❣️

  13. I love your performance, Ann. I think if we never have an inner critic we run into the possibility of becoming arrogant. I think there’s balance somewhere here. I’m glad you came back to shift your perspective and realize you’d had a very fine performance after all! 🙂

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