Silence is golden when it comes to inner critic
Stars and Stripes July 21, 2023
I pop another shelled peanut into my mouth, and swig the sweaty bottle of beer I had propped in the sand. The late-afternoon sun warms the tops of my thighs, which are spread out across my beach chair like under-filled water balloons. This sight would normally make me grimace and readjust, in search of a position that would put my body parts in a more complimentary position.
But at this moment during our summer beach vacation, I feel no self-judgment.
“Maz, what’s the next crossword question?” I ask my 80-year-old mother seated in her beach chair nearby. A retired first grade teacher, my mother brings enriching activities in her beach bag, like trivia questions, crossword puzzles and word games. Over the years, our family came to rely upon Maz to entertain us while we lounged in the sand.
“Twenty-one across, four letters, ‘Hoofed creatures,’” she reads aloud, waiting for me to answer first, even though she likely knows the answer. My unselfish mother never misses an opportunity to make others feel good about themselves.
I certainly can’t blame my mother. I wasn’t coddled or neglected or told that I “wasn’t good enough” by anyone in my childhood, but I’ve always been prone to self-criticism, negative self-talk, low self-esteem and self-deprecation — ever since I was a young girl.
I’m one of those annoying people that can’t take a compliment, even though I’m worthy. I don’t remember a time in my life that I didn’t want to lose weight, even though I’ve never been seriously heavy. I’ve always had an inner voice that says negative things like, “You’re such an idiot,” and “Shut the hell up for once,” even though I know this is unhealthy. I’m a poster child for impostor syndrome, because no matter what I accomplish, I don’t think I deserve recognition.
I even judge myself for having confidence issues, because they indicate that I’m too focused on myself. “You’re pathetic!” my inner voice would scold.
In middle school, I put myself on a diet because I thought I was fat. I clearly recall watching my classmates carrying trays around or opening lunch boxes, seemingly without a care in the world, while I self-consciously peeled the hard-boiled egg I’d allotted for my meal.
Like me, they were hungry. But unlike me, they ate without thinking about it. I, on the other hand, was giving in to shameful cravings. I thought I ate because I lacked self-discipline. Eating made me feel guilty.
During adolescence, I attached other insecurities to my weight and believed that if I could only lose 10 pounds, everything would be better. I’d be popular, funnier, smarter, more athletic, have better grades and have more friends. Boys would finally like me.
I leaned heavily on humor to overcompensate for what I perceived to be my shortcomings, earning the title of “Class Clown” in middle school and high school. Being funny became my crutch, seeing me through social situations into adulthood. Having a sense of humor not only helped me negotiate life, it also became part of my identity. It’s no coincidence that my husband is also a funny guy, and that our three kids are comedians.
As a military wife and mother, I was determined to spare my kids from low self-esteem, so I read books and researched, employing methods I thought would build confidence. Inevitably, our three kids had their own issues with weight, anxiety or “not-good-enough” thinking. My inner critic would blame me, but I also wonder if changing schools, deployments, social media and middle school bullies played their parts.
Sometimes, kids develop insecurities and there’s no clear reason why.
But, after four decades of being hassled by my inner critic, I’m starting to notice a change. Perhaps my inner voice is tired. Or perhaps I’ve finally convinced her that I’m not so bad after all. Regardless, I hear her less these days.
“Could it be ‘ewes’ or ‘deer’?” I ask Maz.
“Deer fits, good job!” my mother praises, and I accept without resistance.
As our shadows stretch out on the golden sand, I listen closely for her … hearing only the snap of cracking peanuts, the sluicing of surf and the mew of flying gulls.