Those of you who have read my book or have followed my blog for a while already know that I have names for the voices in my head. Those of you who are new to this blog might think that sounds bizarre, but it’s actually a really helpful idea I learned in the book, “Life Without Ed” by Jenni Schaefer and Thom Rutledge. In that book, Jenni and her therapist, Thom, talk about the importance of learning how to separate the gentle (real) you from the self-critical parts of you.
My own internal self-talk comes in various forms, some of it ditsy, some of it harsh, and some of it anxious:
“Henrietta” is the voice of my inner child, the silly, carefree girl in me who follows her instincts more than her head and doesn’t worry about what others think of her.
“Ed” is the name I attribute to any eating disordered thoughts (e.g., You’re fat. You need to lose weight.).
“Miss Perfectionist” is the name I gave to that voice in me that always wants things to be perfect. She’s anxious when things don’t go as planned. She chimes in with concerned words about what others might be thinking if I don’t achieve a certain standard (and nothing short of perfection will do).
For the most part, I’ve learned how to honor Henrietta’s voice and effectively squash the voices of Ed and Miss Perfectionist, but today Miss Perfectionist is at it again. This time, it was after a presentation that a colleague and I did at work. We were talking to a group of first-year college students and their parents about how to stay emotionally and physically healthy while studying abroad. From the very beginning of the presentation, it seemed that things weren’t going right (i.e., “Things aren’t going perfectly.”). We got started 10 minutes late (not our fault). Our co-presenters did not come prepared (not our fault). We had a hard time managing the comments of such a large group and were frequently derailed from the topic at hand (a skill we can definitely work on). We had less than 30 minutes to cover four major topics (not our fault). We switched back and forth from topic to topic trying to keep up with the questions of nervous parents and the blase attitudes of students (definitely something we could have done better). By the end of the presentation, my heart was racing, my armpits were sweaty, my cheeks were flushed, and I heard Miss Perfectionist screaming, “This was awful! You didn’t do anything right! They didn’t get any information that was helpful. You looked unorganized and unprepared. No wonder they weren’t paying attention!”
Despite the fact that I can now look back and see that many of these things were out of our control, Miss Perfectionist wants me to believe that I could have (no, should have) done better. Things should have gone smoothly, as planned. Miss Perfectionist doesn’t like making mistakes. She wants people to think she’s smooth, cool under pressure, intelligent, articulate, funny, graceful, and gracious. Anything short of ALL of those things AT ONCE and I haven’t lived up to her standards. It’s a hard act to follow. However, I’m working on letting go of Miss Perfectionist. Just being aware of that voice and knowing that I can counter it with more helpful self-talk is important.
What is your inner critic telling you today? Is there any way you can gently but firmly address your critic and help it be more realistic? I, for one, am telling Miss Perfectionist: “I did the best I could with the limited time and rushed nature of the presentation.” And that has to be good enough.
Peace, joy, and health.