Changing Deceptive Inner Critic Brain Messages
In their ground-breaking book, You Are Not Your Brain, Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz M.D. and Dr. Rebecca Gladding M.D. share Dr. Schwartz’s 4 step method for overcoming OCD. This has now been expanded to apply to many anxiety disorders. In their introduction they write:
There are few true necessities in life, but for many of us, it doesn’t feel that way. A lifetime of habits, ingrained by repetition, can seemingly make us slaves to a not always beneficial master – our own brain.
Nothing is more confusing or painful than when your brain takes over your thoughts, attacks your self-worth, questions your abilities, overpowers you with cravings, or attempts to dictate your actions. Have you ever felt that something is compelling you to “go” places, mentally or emotionally, where you don’t want to be? Do you find yourself acting in uncharacteristic ways or doing things you don’t really want to be doing? THE REASON IS SIMPLE: Deceptive Brain Messages. These deceptive brain messages have intruded into your psyche and taken over your life. This can lead to:
• Overthinking problems and fretting over things that are out of your control
• Getting stuck or panicked by unfounded fear and worries
• Blaming and chastising yourself for things that are not your fault
• Engaging in unhealthy behaviors to escape life’s daily stresses
• Reverting to past patterns when you are trying to make a change
The more often you act in these unhealthy ways, the more you teach your brain that what is simply a habit (a learned behavior) is essential to your survival! Your brain does not distinguish whether the action is beneficial or destructive; it just responds to how you behave and then generates strong impulses, thoughts, desires, cravings, and urges that compel you to perpetuate your habit, whatever it may be. Clearly, the brain can exert a powerful grip on one’s life – BUT ONLY IF YOU LET IT! The good news is that you can overcome the brains control and rewire your brain to work for you by learning to debunk the myths it has been so successfully selling you and by choosing to act in healthy, adaptive ways.
A. Look at the following list of emotions. Circle the ones that you feel apply to you.
Humiliated, disrespected, insulted, mocked, accused, cheated on, bullied, beaten, manipulated, ignored, labeled, physically abused, ignored, laughed at, neglected, left out, sexually abused, robbed, rejected, misunderstood, put down, unappreciated, bossed around, held down, abandoned, disapproved of, terrified, shamed
B. When any of those above happened, how did you feel? Circle the different emotions you felt
Fear, horrified, nervous, hopeless, alarm, shock, fright, terror, panic, anxious, tense, uneasy, worried, despair
Anger, aggravated, irritated, agitated, grouchy, grumpy, frustrated, annoyed, outraged, furious, bitter, disgusted, vengeful, resentful, envious, tortured,
Sad, hurt, afflicted, miserable, unhappy, melancholy, grieving, disappointed, distressed, disillusioned, self-pity
Shame, remorse, guilty, broken, regretful, embarrassed, humiliated, disgraced
Alone, isolated, abandoned, rejected, insecure
C. When those things happened and you felt the way you did, what were you believing about yourself? Circle the different self-beliefs you have had
I don’t deserve love, I am a bad person, I am worthless, I am shameful, I am not lovable, I am inadequate, I am not good enough, I don’t deserve good things, I am broken, I am damaged goods, I am ugly, I am stupid, I am insignificant, I deserve to be miserable, I am different, I am unimportant, I don’t belong, nobody loves me, I cannot be trusted, I never do anything right, I am unable to take care of myself, I am not in control, I am weak, I am a failure, I must be good, I will never succeed, I am powerless
Here is the good news. These negative self-beliefs that you circled are lies! They may feel true, you may have strong feelings about them, but in reality, they are not true. As we begin to tune in to these feelings, emotions and negative beliefs we will become more aware of our reactions and allow God
Deconstruct the negative self-beliefs
We need to deconstruct the lies that come from our inner critic. Look at the ones you circled in “C” above. List them below. When you do, be the prosecuting attorney. Your job is to prove that each on is false by asking questions which answers will disprove the claims or providing evidence that disproves what you are believing. Feel free to ask “witnesses” to give testimony. Present incidents that show contrary prove against your claims about yourself.
Witnesses with proof against your claim ___________________________________________
Arguments against your claim ___________________________________________________
Incidents that disprove your inner critics claim ______________________________________
Disproving the perceived consequences of the negative self-beliefs
You can do the same thing with the perceived consequences of not doing what your inner critic thinks you should do. (Perfectionism, fear of failure, avoiding mistakes, having to be in control – all these have perceived consequences that your inner critic keeps in front of you!)
List the consequences of not being “perfect” or being in the situation you are afraid of.
After you list them, do the same as above. Argue against it. Use words like, “preposterous, ridiculous, absurd, ludicrous and outrageous” when exposing your false consequences. Get emotional! Go after it and help yourself overcome it just like you would if someone else you loved believed it. You need to emotionally see that these are lies and believe emotionally that you are not in any harm.
The result of this should be the same as when you recognize emotional sensations. You say, “This is faulty wiring. I don’t have to react! I am not going to die!” These thoughts, beliefs, and imaginations are the result of false associations. (False learnings. 1+1 does not equal 3!) You can say about each one, “This is faulty wiring. I don’t have to react! I am not going to die!”