There is an old Cherokee Indian legend that illustrates the battle between US and our INNER CRITIC beautifully. An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life.
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good–he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith."
"The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
In our culture, high self-esteem is something that has received a lot of attention.
- We want to feel talented, smart, accomplished and successful.
- We want to feel that we can accomplish anything if we put our mind to it.
- We want to feel special and important.
Yet insecurity, anxiety and depression are more rampant in our culture than ever before.
The problem lies in our unrealistic expectations about who we are supposed to be and how our lives are supposed to look.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t recognize that the expectations we place on ourselves are completely unattainable. Most of us feel that there is something inadequate about us or our lives, whether it is:
- How we look,
- How successful we are,
- How we parent,
- How our children are doing, or
- How our life goals are developing.
We are constantly comparing ourselves to an ideal version of ourselves, and always falling short.
Not only do we look at our own idealized versions of what our lives should look like, but we also make assumptions that other people’s lives actually DO look like this. We get standards of beauty from media and magazines, standards that the models and actresses themselves can’t measure up to, as they are “digitally enhanced,”or in other words, fake. We see our children trying to be the perfect student or the best athlete, leading to a dramatic rise in anxiety and depression among our them.
When we don’t meet our unrealistic and “perfectionistic” expectations that life should go exactly the way we want it to, we feel insecure and inadequate and as though we are not winning at the game of life. We beat ourselves up and take our frustrations out on the people who are closest to us.
What we fail to recognize as a culture is that being a human being means that, in many ways, we are all only average. We all have faults, flaws and limitations. But when we listen to our Inner Critic’s running commentary all day long about where we are inadequate, and what we need to improve, we automatically fall into the trap of continually judging and criticizing ourselves for our human inadequacies.
The more our Inner Critic makes us feel inadequate, the more different and separate we feel from others. This is a major source of anxiety and depression--the feeling that we are separate and different from others, and that we will be rejected because we are so different. Our inner critic makes us feel these feelings because it only focuses on the undesired aspects of our lives. We feel helpless, hopeless, and frustrated about how to change these aspects of our lives and think that our image of the way life “should” be is the correct perspective.
Transforming your relationship with yourself is about recognizing that we are all listening to the unrealistic messages of our inner critic, telling us that we are inadequate because our lives don’t match our ideal picture. We suffer because we want things to be different than the way they are right now.
If we stop feeding our Inner Critic, the power to make us feel that we need to fix, change or improve ourselves or our lives, we have the ability to feel the peace, joy and gratitude for who we are and the lives we are currently living.
Which wolf are you feeding?
At any given moment, the choice is yours.
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BIO: Joanna Kleinman is a psychotherapist and founder of The Center For Extraordinary Relationships In Cherry Hill, NJ. She has been in private practice for over 20 years, inspiring individuals across the country to live lives they love. The philosophy of her work is that the quality of our lives is determined by the quality of our relationships with ourselves and others. Through in person counseling, online virtual counseling with people across the country, and her nationally acclaimed workshop series “Dethroning Your Inner Critic”, Joanna has helped thousands of people to transform the quality of their relationships, the confidence by which they live their lives, and to create a permanent shift in how they experience themselves. These shifts are the result of an innovative and transformational approach in which stress, overwhelm and dissatisfaction can be altered, by learning to separate oneself from what she calls the “Inner Critic”; the voice in the mind that has been speaking to all of us all day, every day, for most of our lives. In understanding how this voice keeps people stuck in old identities, beliefs, patterns and behaviors, she has helped countless individuals, couples, and families let go of the past, redefine the future, and create breakthroughs in the quality of their relationships and their lives. Joanna has been a contributing writer for The Huffington Post, Women’s Health Magazine, Courier Post, South Jersey Mom Magazine, Parent.co, and Parents.com. She has been sought out as an expert motivational speaker for companies including Campowerment, Virtua Hospital’s Annual Women’s Conference, and the National Association of Women Business Owners. Joanna also served as a crisis intervention specialist and has worked with major corporations including Cigna Behavioral Health, Kantor Fitzgerald, Commerce Bank, Fleet Securities, and the U.S Navy. Joanna lives in Cherry Hill, NJ with her husband of twenty years, and her 3 children.