socila anxiety

shhhh, Quiet Down Negative Nelly

Getting Stuck

Our inner critic creates anxious feelings

Often, when I consider doing something outside my comfort zone I start to get anxious, feel a tightness in my chest and I instantly think, “Nope I’m not doing that.” This critical inner voice stops me in my tracks and keeps me from growing personally and professionally. I named this inner voice Negative Nelly.

What Keeps Us Stuck?

  • Anxiety?
  • Social anxiety?
  • Worry?
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of rejection?
  • Lack of self-confidence?

What Is The Discomfort Telling Us?

Where do these uncomfortable feelings come from? It could be our inner critic—that voice that judges, criticizes, ridicules, tells us how scary life is, focuses on our mistakes, tells us we are "less than." These negative messages alert our instinctual fight, flight, freeze responses. This tells our body there is a potential danger, and we stop, avoid or flee the situation. (Some people push forward but we are not those people.)

The Critical Inner Voice

Our critical inner voice comes from life experiences. Maybe our parents were hypercritical, or our best friend pointed out all the times we lost a game, or we had a verbally abusive partner who found fault in everything we did.  We take those messages from loved ones to heart. But we don’t often recognize that Negative Nelly continues whispering them to us, even when they no longer apply, leading us to feel:

Our inner critic can make us feel anxious and overwhelmed
  • Sad
  • Lonely
  • Disconnected
  • Afraid
  • Unlovable
  • Depressed
  • Anxious
  • Overwhelmed

I could go on and on.

It’s Time To Quiet Your Critic

The wonderful thing is that we don’t have to sit idly by and listen! We can challenge and quiet the inner critic who keeps us stuck. With counseling, we can learn to be mindful and begin to recognize the negative messages, and why we hear them. When we begin to pay attention we can then challenge our unhelpful, negative commentator. We can learn self-compassion and to embrace our imperfections.

4 Steps to Recognize Your Inner Critic

1. Take note of your physical sensations when a new situation or opportunity presents itself.

2.  Sense whether you're feeling uncomfortable, anxious, or stressed out.

3. Pause and take a few slow deep breaths.

4. Ask yourself with curiosity and without judgment, "What is the message my body is telling me?"

  • I’m scared.
  • I can’t do this because________.
  • Others will judge me if I don’t succeed.
  • Why try, I will fail.
  • I am not worthy.
  • I will be rejected.

Respond With Care

As you recognize these negative internal messages you can start to question their validity. Is the threat real? A creepy guy or girl? A physical or emotional harm? If it's your inner critic that’s keeping you from moving forward, respond with care and self-compassion. Then you can begin to challenge your Negative Nelly. It’s not always easy to understand what the inner critic wants us to hear, but meditation and mindfulness can help.

Tara Brach’s R.A.I.N. meditation can help you recognize the negative message and respond with care.

How Do We Get Unstuck?

Feeling uncomfortable is necessary if we want to move decisively towards our goals. Those tasks that make us feel unsettled create new opportunities to push beyond our everyday experiences. You might still feel anxious, scared, or worried in new situations. The key is to be able to put those uncomfortable feelings into perspective and to respond from a positive place. 

It’s Time To Grow

Counseling can help you understand how your inner critic holds you back, how to acknowledge the negative thoughts and find the path towards growth.

Are you ready to move ahead, to makes some changes, to challenge your Negative Nelly, to get unstuck?

Elizabeth Cush, MA, LCPC, is an Annapolis therapist helping people manage their stress and anxiety. Progression Counseling, offices in Arnold and Annapolis. 410-340-8469