Dear inner critic: you are only partly right

We all have critics. Especially as parents, it can feel that everyone suddenly has a strong opinion about what we’re doing wrong. Our third cousin from Kansas. Our former co-worker at the drive-thru coffee stand. That dude in the check-out aisle at Target.

But for many of us, the most vicious critic is the one in our own heads. It’s like our brain is receiving constant push notifications about our #parentfails. You should have. You didn’t. You will never.

Negative self-talk can seriously muddy our stream of consciousness. Worse, it can seep into how we communicate with our children and become the model for their own little inner voices.

The Mayo Clinic describes four specific types of negative self-talk.

Filtering. We magnify the fact that our friend’s baby is already walking at the age at which our baby is just starting to crawl. We filter out the fact that our baby is right on-track with developmental milestones.

Personalizing. When the babysitter cancels, we are sure the reason is that she’s disgusted by our messy house instead of believing her when she said that she has the flu.

Catastrophizing. Our boss announces her retirement, and we automatically imagine that her replacement will eliminate our flex schedule arrangement. Now who will pick up our 2nd grader on early-out Thursdays? We might as well quit right now!

-Polarizing. We feel that if we’re not a perfect parent then we’re a monster. The idea of “good enough” parenting is only valid for others, not ourselves.

Thich Nhat Hanh, the internationally-beloved Zen Buddhist teacher, offers help for breaking from these unhelpful thought patterns. In No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering, Hanh invites us to remember that we are all a mixture of strength and weakness, altruism and selfishness, generosity and greed. As such, he encourages us to face critics (external or internal) with the mantra, “Darling, you are only partly right.”

You had us at “darling.”

The fact is that we can’t successfully battle harsh criticism with more harsh criticism. (Shame on you for engaging in negative self-talk, you worthless ball of beetle dung!) It just doesn’t work. But addressing ourselves as “darling,” is so tender, right? It’s hard to say the word out loud without getting buttery inside.

The gentle correction, “you are only partly right,” allows that maybe there is some level of truth to the thought, while also pushing for a deeper interpretation. Maybe it is technically accurate to note that a friend’s baby is already walking at the age at which our baby is just starting to crawl, but it is inaccurate to draw any conclusions about our own baby through comparison.

Interestingly, Thich Nhat Hanh also responds to praise with “Darling, you are only partly right.” Even when times are good, we can cultivate acceptance of ourselves as consistently imperfect. If we can let go of the idea that we can ever be 100% flawless, then it’s easier to let go of the idea that we can be 100% flawed. We’re always both. We’re always neither. In the Buddhist-y sense, we simply always are.

Some of us may find that a mantra is not enough, and may need extra help from mental health professionals to change our patterns of thinking. Whatever the means, when we make peace with our inner critic, we will find our own company more pleasant, and our kids will too.

Plus, when they lash out because we wouldn’t let them eat gummy bears after teeth-brushing, calling us a “queen bee meanie head,” we’ll be armed with the perfect comeback.

“Darling, you are only partly right.”


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