May is mental health awareness month and at Huddl we want to encourage early intervention of children’s mental health issues and an open discussion in order to help break the stigma. In her latest blog Dr Hazel Harrison discusses how the ‘critical critter’ inside all of us is fed on a diet of negative self-talk and unsupportive words from others. How do we strengthen ourselves and teach our children to build up the same resilience?
Dr Hazel describes how somewhere, inside us all, hides the CRITICAL CRITTER – a rather unforgiving creature. The Critical Critter is fed on a diet of negative self-talk and unkind, unsupportive words from others. Each time we hear harsh and unjustified criticism, it’s like giving the critter more food to munch on.
After a while, we notice that the Critter has grown and started to become stronger. In fact, they are bossing everything upstairs in our minds around; bullying them, even. The Critter is making frequent visits upstairs to tell the thinking characters that they’re wasting their time.
Not content with that, he is also lurking downstairs and telling Fearsome Fred that he’s right to panic and flip the lid, because it’s all going to go wrong. And when it does, insists the Critter, Fearless Fred will be to blame because he’s useless.
The Critter in Action
What else does the Critter do? Well, on sports day – aged 7 – our internal critic sits on the sidelines and bursts into fits of self-incriminating giggles when we trip over in the running race.
Aged 16, it hides under the exam desk and repeatedly whispers ‘Hey thicko – you’re gonna fail at this!’ When it’s time to leave education and think about a career, the Critter starts a chorus of ‘You’ll never do it; you’re not going to make it; you’ll never amount to anything.’
In short, the CRITICAL CRITTER makes us feel rubbish about ourselves. It makes us give up when things get tough. It makes us feel sad and miserable. But we can fight back…
5 ways to shrink the Critter
If your Critter has grown and taken charge recently then Dr Hazel provides some invaluable tips to help:
1. Give your Critter a name: This may sound a bit daft, but separating your inner critic from yourself is a great way to give you the space you need to notice what it’s saying, quieten it down and tame it. Call it anything you want – just make it memorable.
2. Take the Friends and Family Test: Whenever you notice your Critter speaking negatively, ask yourself: “Would I speak like this to my best friend or closest family member?” If the answer is “no”, then don’t allow it to speak to you that way – be your own best friend.
3. Answer back: You may have been told as a child that it’s rude to answer back – but this isn’t the case with Critters. You need to boss them about, just as they’ve been bossing you, to make them shrink. So when you hear Critter chanting ‘This’ll never work, you’ve always been useless at this’, answer back. Use these sentences and your Critter will be eating broccoli for a week!
- “That’s enough out of you Critter – I’m doing my best”
- “I can’t hear you Critter, I’m too busy being amazing over here”
- “Maybe it didn’t work this time Critter, but I’m giving it another go”
4. Call for Back Up: If the Critter is firing out harsh words when you’re working hard to try and master something or reach a goal, prove it wrong (and keep it quiet) by trying again. Maybe you’re doing a Couch to 5K running programme, trying your hand at knitting, or learning how to boil an egg – whatever it is, seek the advice and support of people who have done it before. If you surround yourself with those who say “You can” then it’ll be harder for your Critter to keep yelling at you to give up. And soon, it will stop shouting ‘You can’t’ and sit quietly in a corner chomping on an apple.
5. Strengthen yourself: Being under attack from the Critter is tough and, for some people, can feel relentless. It can make us question ourselves, our parenting skills, our ability to do our job… everything; even whether we should get out of bed. To cope with this relentless criticism, it’s important that we find things about ourselves that we like. Each day, make time to notice the things – no matter how small they are – that went well BECAUSE OF YOU. And don’t be surprised if your Critter laughs with contempt at your first try at a list. Use the tips above to wipe the smile off its face – and put one back on your own.
Dr Hazel Harrison, is a Clinical Psychologist with more than 10 years’ professional experience in both the National Health Service (NHS) and private sector.