Identifying Strengths and Challenging Your Inner Critic -by Laura Novak, LCSW, CADC

It’s easy for a lot of us to identify areas where we can improve. It’s also easy to get caught up in comparing ourselves to others who seem smarter, more attractive, funnier, more disciplined, more easy going, wealthier, etc. What can happen is that when we are overly aware of and focus on what we DON’T have, we miss out on a lot. We miss out on the feeling of self-acceptance and being “enough,” we miss out on feeling gratitude about what we have, and we miss out on using our strengths. Here are some things to consider when focusing on your positive attributes and building self-esteem.

1. Sometimes people have a hard time identifying their strengths, especially when they have spent a considerable amount of time listening to their “inner critic.” Your inner critic is the voice in your head that tells you that who you are isn’t good enough. Its role isn’t to push you outside your comfort zone and provide you with a healthy dose of internal motivation. Instead, your inner critic often speaks harshly, using lots of shame-inducing “shoulds” about how you are supposed to be different than you are now. It often shrinks in it’s power by simply noticing it, and increasing your self awareness. When noticing your internal voice speaking harshly, you can also challenge it with these common cognitive distortions

Another tip-try saying “could,” instead of should, when speaking to yourself. It is much less shame-inducing.

2. Start paying attention to what you do well, the things you naturally gravitate towards, the things you love, and the amazing characteristics you already possess. We aren’t all made the same- and this is a good thing! When you notice envy creeping up into your relationships, practice self awareness. Sometimes when we notice something we like in another person, it is an opportunity to learn about ourselves, challenges ourselves, and step out of our comfort zones to learn a new skill or change our attitudes or beliefs. Or, sometimes we have an opportunity to see another perspective, even if we don’t agree.

3. There is no one quite like you who sees the world the same way you do. There is no one else out there with your own unique set of traits, gifts and talents. So spend some extra time recognizing all the things that make you who you are. A great place to start is by taking this online strengths test that helps you determine your 5 signature strengths (the test is free, although you will have to register.)

4. Once you learn what your strengths are, learn how to put them into practice. Are you using your signature strengths as often as possible? If not, how could you use them more in your day to day life?

It takes practice to quiet our inner critic. It also takes discernment to balance self-acceptance with self growth. It’s often a good thing to make positive changes and recognize areas in your life that could improve. Self criticism, however, is not useful. For a fun read and more on the subject of noticing your inner critic, check out Taming Your Gremlin, A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way by Rick Carson. For questions regarding building strengths, self growth, or recognizing your inner critic, contact Laura Novak, LCSW, CADC at 847-336-5621 EXT 151.