When "Tough Love" Has Left You with Tough Inner Critics

In an attempt to make us stronger and get the best out of us, it’s far too familiar that parents, teachers and caregivers have used the “tough love” approach on us. But what I keep seeing over and over working with clients is that there is a fine line… not all tough love is created equal, and not all people - especially when we are young - are able to take this kind of firmer encouragement without internalizing it as “I’m not good enough and never will be.” What happens is that we grow into adulthood with that underlying feeling of not good enough that undermines us at every challenge and every bend in the road. We become over-achievers who need to prove to everyone we can do anything or those of us who are more sensitive, become underachievers who start to crumple and retreat at any new challenge of doing something that may involve a good dose of rejection or criticism.

Inner critics develop from things we’ve heard others say to us, which then becomes our own special mixed tape inside our heads. Some of us can take it in one ear and out the other, but most of us, especially when we are young, don’t have that sort of mental or emotional capacity yet to sort all of the things encouraging or not and understand the meaning beyond the words. We only hear what is WRONG or what we need to do BETTER in order to belong, be accepted and fully LOVED.

I come from a semi-pro dance background, and even though I was not in the ranks of the NYC ballet, the competition, even at semi-professional level in NYC is fierce and there is an underlying feeling of never being good enough, even when you ARE good. Dancers constantly compare themselves to other dancers and teachers without good boundaries and self-awareness pick favorites in class and often leave others who need a little less critical feedback and more nurturing, behind.

When I combine the tough love and critical environment of the dance world with parents who had a highly critical eye for perfection and high standards, as an almost mid-life adult I finally found my ingredients for the the host of high-volume voices that love to pipe up whenever I’m doing something new, difficult or that takes a good amount of precision and courage. My strategy? Retreat and hide. This way no one can find me and I’ll be just fine! The drawback? Growth gets stunted and I keep myself STUCK.

Maybe your strategy with your inner critics has been to say fuck off every time they chime in and you try harder at everything and over time have burned out, even wondering what you’re really even going for anymore, anyway.

In both cases, the inner critics are running the story- your story. You’ve most likely developed habits and reactive defenses when the inner critics get really loud in order to deal that may be masking your true self from coming out to play in life, your way- in the way that would feel natural and best to you.

If you’re interested in learning more, I dive deep into dismantling the inner critics in my Three Month Program with tricks and tools from yoga philosophy mixed with coaching that really works. Take charge of your life on your terms. You can check it out under My Programs. In the meantime, let me know if you have any questions, or leave a comment!

With love,

Steph