September 2014
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Dear Readers,

While I love the freedom that summer allows there is no denying that the beginning of the school year brings back much appreciated structure to my life. September has always seemed more like the beginning of the year to me than January. It is in September that I turn my focus to reassessing my own needs and setting new goals. It was in that mindset that I sat down to write this newsletter. So this month instead of focusing on relationships with others, I will be addressing how we relate to ourselves. It is critical that we tend to our own needs if we want to be available to tend to our relationships. Think of the last time you were on an airplane and heard the flight attendant say, "If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first, and then assist the other person." We all need to "secure our own mask," i.e., tend to our own needs, before we can have successful relationships with others.

The month's feature article examines the inner critic that, for many of us, can be a constant, if unwanted, companion and offers some ways to turn down its volume. Then the Top Ten suggests several ways to get the most out of therapy for those of you who are ready to address your own needs and goals and would like some support.

Wishing you success in your "new year,"
Quieting Your Inner Critic

Most of us have a critic who is a constant in our inner lives. This internalized voice usually assumes the tone and language of an authority figure from our childhood. For some, or at some times, this voice is a gentle reminder to act in accordance with our own values. For others it can be a relentless badgering that causes insecurity or self-hatred.

Not everyone hears the critic as a voice in their heads. Sometimes, it's a way of being that manifests in repeated behaviors, including:

• sabotaging healthy relationships or good jobs;

• attempting to prove worthiness by striving for perfection; or

• being drawn into abusive relationships.

Where Does the Critic Come From?

A Protector
In Embracing Your Inner Critic, Hal and Sidra Stone write that in order to protect us from the pain and shame of always being found "less than," a voice develops within us "that echoes the concerns of people who were important to us in our early years." That voice criticizes us before anyone else can, in that way protecting us.

Some parents believe that the best way to teach their children life lessons is through punishment. What these practices usually teach is that we need to be punished in order to be good. Because we believe that punishment is the path to goodness, we continue to do it to ourselves as adults.

Internalized Shame
Internalized shame from childhood circumstances such as parental substance abuse, child abuse or domestic violence can create the most intractable inner critic. A child develops a sense of responsibility for his circumstances and then carries that shame into adulthood. It is then difficult for that child to receive genuine compliments or accept positive outcomes from his or her efforts.

How Can I Get It To SHUT UP?

It's unlikely that your inner critic will ever cease entirely. To the extent that it keeps you living in accordance with your own values, it isn't a bad thing. However, when your life is limited by the voice or your happiness is interrupted or thwarted, is it time to find ways to quiet it down. Below are a few ways to gain some control over your inner critic.

Pause And Listen
Often the inner critic is so powerful because we don't even know it is there. Feeling bad about ourselves has become so automatic we don't question the cause of the feeling. If we try to stop for a moment and hear what we are telling ourselves ("I am so stupid.") then we may be able to begin to challenge those faulty assertions and replace them with more accurate assessments. ("I made a mistake.")

Take Its Power
If you find it difficult to challenge your critic then you may want to try disempowering it. When your critic brings you a message "you can't possibly accomplish that goal" try responding with "yeah, yeah I've heard that before" and then do the thing you wanted to anyway. If you've had teenagers you are undoubtedly familiar with this skill.

The inner critic can be powerful and has been honing its skills from the time you were a child. It can be very helpful to have a trained partner to assist you in your work. A skilled therapist can help you to understand the roots of your critic and develop skills to either combat and/or release it.

Top 10: Ways To Get The Most Out Of Therapy

1. Be there! For many people it is difficult just to make the appointment. Once you have done that, honor yourself by making sure you are there.

2. Have some goals. What changes are you hoping to make? How will you know that you're progressing, or are ready to stop?

3. Bring notes. For some, it is easier to start a therapy appointment when they have a few thoughts jotted down.

4. Be honest. Yes, certainly with your therapist, but more importantly, with yourself.

5. Take notes. Taking notes can help you to absorb information from your session. However it does not work for everyone; don't take notes if it distracts you from being present in your session.

6. Write in a journal. Journaling helps you process your sessions and chart your progress.

7. Notice patterns. The key to change is often found by noticing which choices we make again and again.

8. Act on your insights. Sometimes seeing things differently makes all the difference but more often we have to act on those insights to see change in our lives.

9. Be responsible. Your therapist will support and guide you but you will have to do the needed work to heal and grow.

10. Be patient. Changes happen over time. With patience, you CAN meet your goals and live a happier life along the way.

Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications
Barbara is a psychotherapist with over 20 years of experience helping individuals and couples to achieve happier, more fulfilling lives. She assists clients to better understand themselves, improve their relationships and develop more effective responses to life's problems. Barbara works with adults confronting all types of challenges but is especially skilled at helping survivors of trauma.

Barbara always welcomes the opportunity to work with new clients.
Barbara Hill, LCSW-C
6236 Montrose Road
Rockville, MD 20852
Phone: (301) 340-3050