Achieving Goals Despite Your Inner Critic: A Helpful Metaphor

Often people want to make changes, but are overwhelmed by a very loud and convincing inner critic.

An inner critic is:

  • a powerful, internal voice that tells us we cannot do well in life and achieve our goals
  • a form of self-criticism
  • a common symptom of depression

An inner critic is a voice that is built up from messages we’ve heard from others or tell ourselves and carry with us as absolute truths. These messages are painful and can get in the way of taking action to improve our lives. For example:

  • You want to start a romantic relationship, but your inner critic says “I’m unlovable” and you avoid the pain of trying
  • You want to begin exercising regularly, but have heard past criticism about your appearance and body image and think “What’s the point?”
  • You have the thought “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t matter” so you choose to stay home instead of reach out to others to create relationships and plan events

Arguing with a strong inner critic can leave you fatigued, stressed, and even frozen when action is needed to complete goals. In fact, arguing with self-critical thoughts only makes them bigger, stronger, and more intimidating.

I like to use the metaphor of a tight rope walker to explain how we can take action toward our goals despite the presence of an inner critic that tells us we can’t do well or should give up.

Tight Rope Walker Metaphor

Bring to mind a tight rope walker at a circus. All the lights shine down on the tight rope walker and the circus tent is packed with a rowdy audience. The tight rope walker has one goal and that is to get to the other side.

In this metaphor, you are the tight rope walker and the audience is your inner critic. The audience shouts out your critical thoughts. Sometimes these thoughts can be so overwhelming that it’s hard to take even the first step to achieve the goals waiting for you at the end of the tight rope. The shouts are so powerful you think you will fall if they are not silenced.

In the audience are people from your past shouting negative messages that have stopped you from reaching your goals previously. One stands up and shouts, “You can’t do it!” Another yells, “You’re not good enough!” In the face of such critical thoughts, it is understandable why anyone might struggle to take action or take the risks required to achieve the results you want in life. Taking that first step is hard.

When critical thoughts are so overwhelming, it makes sense that we would want to reason with, hush, or try to silence the audience (our critical thoughts). Some people try to change or erase these critical thoughts through logical, reasoned debate. However, what if there is another way?

Let’s focus on what it takes for a tight rope walker to successfully make it across to the other side.

Tight rope walking requires mindful focus and attention despite being unable to control what the audience says and does. It doesn’t help to turn to the crowd and argue with the critics. Responding to, “You can’t do it” with “Yes, I can” or “You’re going to fall” with “No I am not and here are ten reasons why” just distracts you from your task. At worst, focusing on the critics could result in a fall.

Instead, success requires observing the negative voices (that is, the critical thoughts) and continuing on the path to the other side. It involves a willingness to experience the internal criticism, label it as thoughts and not truths, let it go, and continue on the path toward goals. This allows you to keep your focus on staying balanced and in control of your feet, which will help you to take the needed steps forward to achieve goals even if your inner critic is present.

To learn more:

If this sounds like a skill you’d like to develop, attending therapy can assist with addressing depressed moods and critical thoughts. We—at Portland Psychotherapy—are here to help you figure out how to let go of past experiences and messages from your inner critic.

Quit Drinking to Create Better Relationships

Many people drink as part of socializing with others and feel it helps them loosen up, have a better time, and overcome any social anxiety they may feel. They may think alcohol helps them stay connected with people and have better relationships.  Yet, after reflection, some people find that alcohol use actually interferes with their relationships.

However, quitting or cutting back drinking is often difficult. It can be an isolating experience for someone who has been a “social drinker”. In addition, people who normally drink during social occasions can often find themselves coping with increased anxiety when attempting to connect with others. This makes quitting or cutting back alcohol hard when you start to think you might need to.

Why it’s hard to stop being a social drinker

People often meet for drinks after work. This is a common way that professional adults are able to form interpersonal connections with colleagues. It is also a common way that people meet their future intimate partners. Many people find friendships and dating often involve drinking alcohol.

Given this situation, the exciting nightlife in cities such as Portland—with its wide variety of craft beers and breweries—can make it even more difficult to avoid being around alcohol if trying to quit. In turn, this can make it even harder to refrain from drinking alcohol if you have a drinking problem (and simply too easy to slip back into depending on alcohol to feel okay).

It is really hard to go against the grain, and the social pressure to drink can be very strong. However, anyone grappling with an alcohol problem knows that it is necessary to resist that peer pressure.

If you have ever felt “different” from everyone around you in a social situation where you are the only one not drinking, you know this is hard. It’s also another reason why you need support to stay the course.

Alcohol is no longer helping my relationships. What should I do?

It is not easy to change any habit—especially one that involves using alcohol (or drugs) to ease anxiety or depression.  If you have relied on alcohol to help you relate to other people, you may find it difficult to feel the same level of comfort in your relationships without alcohol.

A therapist can assist you in identifying how alcohol is affecting your life and your relationships, and how quitting drinking can make a difference in your life. Portland Psychotherapy has therapists who are knowledgeable, and can help you get control over your drinking and get your life back on track.

Your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) and What It Can Tell You

Excessive drinking is a safety issue in more ways than one. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 10,265 individuals were killed in drunk-driving accidents in 2015 alone. Use of Uber or Lyft may help one avoid driving while intoxicated, however, drinking has other risks we often don’t think about.

Safety Risks of Excessive Drinking

Drinking past the recommended alcohol consumption limit is linked to numerous other safety risks besides car accidents. Injuries resulting from falls are more likely in people who are impaired by the effects of over-drinking. Excessive alcohol consumption is also closely-linked to fatal swimming and boating accidents, as you can easily misjudge your ability to do either when intoxicated. Of course, you are also at higher risk of ending up in jail.

Therefore, it is a good idea to understand the concept of Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). In determining whether an impaired driver is drunk, BAC is measured by the police officer who suspects an intoxicated driver. If the BAC is at least the legal limit of 0.08, a DUI charge will be issued.

Importantly, maintaining your BAC under the legal limit is required when planning to drive home after a party where alcohol has been consumed. However, it is important to realize that you can actually become impaired by alcohol with a lower BAC than 0.08 and even charged with a DUI when you are below the legal limit. This is because some people have a more pronounced physiological reaction to alcohol than others.

Calculating your BAC

BAC charts and calculators require an understanding of the alcohol content of a “standard” drink. The following is representative of the alcohol content of a “standard” drink:

  • 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol)
  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (40% alcohol)

It is a good idea to keep both ounces and percentages in mind when calculating the amount of ingested drinks needed to remain under 0.08 BAC. It is also an equally good idea to recognize that you can still become impaired from alcohol even if you are under 0.08 BAC. Your BAC level at any point in time is not necessarily an indicator of whether you are addicted to alcohol. Instead, it is just an indicator of your level of intoxication—and, therefore, your probable safety in walking, driving, or engaging in any activity that requires quick reflexes (like sports) or complex problem solving.

There are many BAC calculators available online, but I recommend the website, http://bloodalcoholcalculator.org, as a useful resource (as it offers both a BAC chart and calculator).

Your BAC and getting help from a therapist

If it is hard for you to maintain the recommended BAC or you often drink to excess, you may need the help of a therapist to address your drinking problem. Tolerance to increased alcohol ingestion and binge drinking are two signs that you need help to deal with your alcohol consumption. One way to know you have developed tolerance is if you have a blood level of .08 or higher and yet don’t feel any signs of intoxication.

Besides helping you deal with your over-drinking, a therapist can help you to explore other factors (e.g., stress, emotions, family history, and personality) that may be fostering a loss of control over your drinking. It’s never too early (or late) to address a drinking problem.

Drinking Too Much and Trying to Stop?

Most people who drink excessively experience times where they know it is causing problems for them. From too many hang-overs to conflicts with family members and friends, drinking frequently to excess can interfere with your relationships, impact your work and other activities, and basically disrupt your life. Is this you or someone you know?

When a heavy drinker receives feedback from others that they have a problem with alcohol consumption, that feedback often is advice to entirely cease alcohol consumption immediately. But, that just exacerbates the problem. Indeed, it can make a person who enjoys drinking (and/or relies on alcohol as a stress-reliever) feel stuck to the point where that drinker just gives up trying to quit. Long-term habits are truly hard to break, and choosing to entirely stop drinking all at once is not possible for the majority of over-drinkers. You are not a failure.

Abstinence from alcohol – Is this necessary for me?

“How can I make my drinking more manageable without stopping altogether?” This is a question that I often hear in working with people who are struggling to change their relationship with alcohol. My experience is that many people who are heavy drinkers feel that just ceasing entirely from drinking is not a realistic option for them. Likewise, they feel frustrated that the “cold turkey” and “just stop drinking” option is the one most often presented to them.

I don’t argue for (or against) the merits of embarking on the path of total abstinence from drinking for an adult who has had a drinking problem. This can be the right path for one person, but the wrong path for someone else. The important thing is to recognize if you have a drinking problem, so you can take steps to address it.

What if I can’t just stop drinking?

Those with repeated difficulty sticking to their plans of limiting their drinking often experience increased feelings of shame—as well as feeling hopeless about changing their alcohol over-consumption. Working with a trained therapist to change your relationship with alcohol may be the best option if you have been unable to make that change alone.

We—at Portland Psychotherapy—are here to help you figure out the best way for you to take control of your drinking, and find better ways of coping with the pull of negative patterns that push you toward drinking to excess. You do not have to do it all by yourself, and we can help you stick to your goals.