It’s very unfortunate that you have had to endure so much pain from an abusive family. It will take considerable motivation and effort to transform your life and to stop your inner critic from abusing you.
There are important steps you can take to rebuild your life:
1. Suspend contact with abusers.
2. Transform your inner critic.
3. Spend time in more positive environments.
4. Regain your self-respect.
1. Suspending contact with abusers
It is vitally important that you start living away from those who are the source of your torment. If you’ve experienced excessive verbal or any physical abuse, you should suspend and if possible terminate contact with all negative people in your life. There is little hope that abusive behavior from people will change, particularly, if they sense that you want their support. Moreover, it is nearly impossible for you to gain a positive self-image in the company of mean people.
Perhaps later, when you have gained more self-empowerment, and your family’s negative effect on you has weakened, you can engage them on a limited basis. Right now, it’s important that you protect yourself from abuse.
You will eventually see clearly that your family’s negativity is about THEM and the way they feel about themselves, and NOT about you. Although it is liberating to know that their behavior comes from their own life experience and lack of self worth, this is rarely enough in itself for you to become self-empowered. The challenge now becomes to free yourself from the habit of belittling yourself, which you have acquired from them.
2. Transforming your inner critic
Your brain circuitry has become hard wired to reinforce your inner critic. So it will take daily and constant effort to be kind to yourself, and to be a cheerleader and wise adviser to yourself. Take a thorough inventory of all your good personal traits–there are many! Through ongoing practice you can transform your harsh inner critic into a helpful, compassionate, and objective supporter.
Notice when you’re being unnecessarily hard on yourself, and change the harmful language you use against yourself into constructive, compassionate guidance that you would expect from a loving parent or friend. Don’t expect perfection. When you catch yourself beating up on yourself, pause and laugh; then tell yourself, “It’s okay. At least I’m catching myself doing it.” Your inner voice will gradually transform from one of master critic to one of supportive guide.
3. Spending time in a positive environment
You will have to create your own “family” of friends and mentors whom you admire and who treat you with respect. How people treat you influences the way you feel about yourself, and how you feel about yourself influences the way people will treat you. So in order to choose to be happy, you need to choose to be around happy, respectful, positive, and self-empowered people on a regular basis. You’ll find it helpful and rewarding.
4. Gaining self-respect
Do things in your life that make you feel good about yourself. Treat yourself well, learn things, and do things that you enjoy. Get in the habit of reading something that’s inspirational, psychologically-educational, or just funny — humor has a wonderful effect on your psyche — on a daily basis in order to strengthen your positive mind-set. Join groups or activities where you learn skills, learn a language, dance, do sports or volunteer. When you do things you enjoy and learn new skills you’re interested in, you’re more enjoyable to be around.
As you practice these behaviors, they become easier and easier until eventually they become automatic and hard wired. This is a positive cycle that reinforces itself: You’ll feel better, and as a result you will get more positive feedback from much of the world around you, which in turn will make you feel better. Yet, it will initially take quite a bit of effort and practice to move into this upward spiral of optimism and confidence.
Spending time around life-embracing, self-empowered people and pursuing some of your personal interests will help you to silence the negative voices in your world. Over time you will learn to ignore those harsh critics in your universe. Good luck.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD
Read Angry Adult Child: “The years of terror from my mother has made me make sure that my son knows I love him. I fear, more than anything, his total rejection. HOWEVER, he often seems angry at me.”
Read “Dealing with Angry People.”