Portrait of the Art Critic

An Inner Critic That Looms Large or Goes Missing

Most of us have this voice within us – our inner critic. For a few people, that voice might be missing. But for people living with obesity, it can loom large. This is how self-stigma works. The world is full of implicit bias about larger bodies. The bias is that size is an indication of worthiness. Though the bias is false, internalizing it is quite easy because it’s ever present.

At YWM2021, Rachel Goldman and Paul Davidson presented a very pragmatic session on dealing with this inner critic. They had good ideas about turning it down, but also a little reminder about how and when it can help.

Body Image and Self Image

Body image, said Goldman, is all about how a person views their physical self. Do we like the way we look? How we think about our bodies feeds into how we think about our whole selves. If it is true that thinking makes it so, then body image and self image provide a prime example. Goldman explains:

“Both our body image and self-esteem are created by our thoughts. Of course, external factors and the ‘noise’ all around us can contribute to how we perceive ourselves.

“It’s difficult to feel good about yourself if you have poor body image. It’s also difficult to take care of your body (and mind) if you think poorly of yourself. So it can become a vicious cycle.”

Stepping Back from Destructive Thoughts

Mindfulness can be helpful for stepping back from destructive thoughts. Not all thoughts are facts, Goldman reminds us. In a situation when negative thoughts and feelings might overwhelm us, we can start to recognize those thoughts for what they are. They are merely thoughts. We don’t have to change the thought. Just be aware it’s there and set it aside. We can ask ourselves if it’s helpful. We can move on to a more positive subject and reframe those more negative thoughts in a broader perspective.

The truth about ourselves lies somewhere in between the extremes of what we might think or feel at times.

Finding That Middle Ground

So this brings us to that middle ground we all need. In the discussion with YWM participants, the critical question arose: isn’t there some good that happens from having an inner critic? Davidson agreed, saying:

“We don’t want to accept everything we might say or do as if it’s perfect, because we could become absolute jerks. Highly narcissistic, nobody would want anything to do with us. We’ve seen how that goes sometimes.

“On the other hand, at the opposite extreme, where we think everything is horrible about ourselves, we’re not able to achieve very much. So we want a middle ground, where we are honest and compassionate with ourselves. This is where we can push ourselves to be our best.”

Click here for more on the problems of negative self talk and here for research on self-compassion for body image and weight stigma concerns. For perspective on recent research about some of the dangers of narcissism, click here.

Portrait of the Art Critic, painting by Mstislav Dobuzhinsky / WikiArt

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August 1, 2021

One Response to “An Inner Critic That Looms Large or Goes Missing”

  1. August 02, 2021 at 5:20 am, Mary-Jo said:

    Great presentation. When one moves or travels to another country, implicit bias leading to self-critique that can lead to feelings of self-unworthiness/rejection is taken to another level. Not only words, but constant looks, frowns, tsk-tsk’ it or sighs, patronizing giggles, not just from general public, but hcp’s, too. I’ve learned in some cultures, thinness to the extent of being, actually, TOO thin, scrawny looking is a sign of some sort of virtue, inner-discipline/strength, and even being healthier! Ironically, if not for the folks who KNEW I was healthier and happier the 12 years I had lost 100 lbs and kept it off, but who STILL loved me and reminded me I was STILL smart, funny, helpful, lovely despite weight regain, I don’t think I could have managed to get back on track, be the healthy person I am today.🌷