In the past, I have suffered from toxic self-criticism. Toxic self-criticism is when how we judge ourselves becomes extremely harmful to our mental, emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing.
I don’t know about you but, as the year comes to an end I have become super critical of myself for all the goals I didn’t achieve in 2021. Now, this is crazy as I achieved a lot. However, this doesn’t stop my internal judge, my inner critic from spinning out into overdrive.
Is it just me or have you noticed that this has happened to you?
In this blog, I guide you (and myself – this is constant work ) with ways to overcome toxic self-criticism. I will explore the Shadow Archetypes which influence us to judge ourselves so harshly. I will also support you with ways to rebalance the influence of these Shadow Archetypes with life-enriching qualities of other Feminine Archetypes.
Why are we so critical of ourselves?
It is an innate behaviour for us to judge ourselves harshly. Our brains have a natural bias to negativity.
However, our cultural programming has a lot to do with this too.
Our values, our work ethic and even our tendency to overcommit and create unrealistic expectations for ourselves are formed from a very young age. This is shaped by witnessing these types of behaviours in our parents and what they communicated to us about their expectations of us. This is reinforced by the evidence we find in the cultural messaging we receive from others. This could be through conversations, movies and television we watched, advertising, the news and social media. When we feel that we are not living up to the expectations of others, we can internalise this and our inner judge steps in to give us criticism.
For women, many of our people-pleasing, overcommitting tendencies are a “mother wound”. A mother wound is a self-damaging/self-protecting behaviour that we have inherited from our own mother and the culture we were raised in.
This is also true when we consider the unrealistic expectations about how we should feel this time of the year. All around us Christmas carols are playing. Their message to us is to “be of good cheer” or that it is “the happiest time of the year”. We interpret this to mean that we should be happy and cheery at this time of the year. The messaging implies that if we don’t feel like this, then there is something wrong with us.
However, for many of us, this is the busiest, most stressed time of the year as we juggle family commitments, end of year functions for us and our kids, Christmas shopping, work deadlines, budgets… The list goes on!
Toxic self-criticism and burnout risk
Most of us have just lived a super emotional stressful year with covid lockdowns, vaccine mandates and emotional upheavals. By this time of the year, many of us are already exhausted. The month of December can feel like the last stretch of a marathon.
When I was a child I recall watching the marathon runners of the Comrades Marathon in South Africa. The runners started looking excited and energised at the beginning of the race. However, the last hundred metres of the race was often the hardest for many of the runners. I remember witnessing runners limping, crawling and having to carry each other over the finish line, as exhausted and elated tears rolled down their faces. For some of us the month of December can feel like that (not kidding).
Where self-criticism becomes so toxic to us is when it comes to burnout. It may surprise you but many of us are at risk of or already in the grips of burnout.
Burnout is not simply feeling tired or even exhausted. One of the symptoms of burnout that we don’t often talk about is the psychological aspect of burnout. When we are in burnout we become more cynical, we complain more, we resent others more and we become super judgy of ourselves and others.
The Huntress Archetype
The Huntress Archetype is super important to us when it comes to setting and achieving our goals.
Often associated with the Greek Goddess Artemis (Goddess of the hunt), she is the Archetype we embody when we are mission-focused. This is a great resource already within every woman to use for her benefit.
However, when we fall under the influence of her Shadow Archetype the Wounded Warrior this can lead to feeling self-critical, overworked and burnt-out.
The Wounded Warrior is born out of hurt, moments of betrayal to our Maiden Archetype, or when we have failed to meet our commitments to ourselves.
When we are under the influence of the Wounded Warrior Archetype we:
- Become so fixated on our goals that we disregard everything else in our lives including our relationships.
- Are so protective of “our goals” that we forget that we can ask for help or delegate to others and we fall into the behaviour pattern of always being on “the hunt”.
- Continually strive for the next goal and are never satisfied with our achievements.
- Are prone to perfectionism and associate our self-worth with how productive we are.
When we are under the spell of Wounded Warrior energy we are constantly in survival mode which is exhausting!
The Selfless Mother Archetype
Another Shadow Archetype that can influence us at this time of our lives is the Shadow Mother Archetype or the Selfless Mother.
The Shadow of the Mother is to want to control and she too is prone to bouts of perfectionism. Think here about what it feels like for some mums to allow the kids to decorate the Christmas tree or allow family members to contribute to the Christmas meal.
Many women feel a strong connection to the Shadow Mother and have a love language of acts of service. When acts of service are our dominant love language we can spend the whole festive season serving others. We can attach our sense of self-worth to how much we serve others. We may also feel the constant need to compete against other mothers. We often get the message, “You have to do (XYZ) perfectly at Christmas, or you are not good enough.”
I think here about all the Pinterest-perfect Christmas Cookies, gingerbread houses and festive cupcakes I have worn myself out making over the years chasing the perfect Christmas!
A hallmark of the Selfless Mother Archetype is her lack of boundaries. She says yes to everything in order to please others. And so women who identify with this Archetype are at great risk of burning themselves out too.
It can never feel as if you have done enough and this often ends in tears and self-flagellation about the lousy mother that you are.
Please note: This Archetype is not just for mothers of physical children. We can be influenced by the Selfless Mother Archetype in other areas of our lives too, for example at work or with a partner. You can also be influenced by the Selfless Mother and Wounded Warrior Archetypes at the same time!
How to be kinder and more compassionate towards yourself and overcome toxic self-criticism
Here are some ways that you can balance out some of the Selfless Mother and/or Wounded Warrior’s influence over you.
Have you noticed feelings of exhaustion and overwhelm when considering your HUGE to-do list?
Or have you noticed your resentment toward others?
Have your noticed yourself judging or criticising yourself more than normal?
Then recognise this as a sign that you are in or at risk of burning out.
This may signify that you may need to remother yourself. You may need to take a big long look at how you can take accountability for your choices and lack of boundaries.
You may need to use the introspection of your Wild Women to reflect on “why” you are doing everything you committed to this time of year.
When you tap into the intuition of your Wise Woman she can help you to decern what is truly important to you and what is unnecessary “stuff” causing you unnecessary stress.
The Queen Archetype and her influence around boundaries can be an extremely valuable resource at this time of year.
Remember you don’t have to please everyone!
Honestly, if it is to the detriment of your mental, emotional and physical health don’t do it.
You can say “No”!
Compassion and empathy for our inner judge and victim
We have three parts of our psyche – the judge (inner critic), the judged (or victim) and the witness.
As I explain in my book When She Wakes, She Will Move Mountains, our witness is our empowered selves.
The witness does not judge. The witness does not take things personally. The witness approaches every situation with empathy, compassion and curiosity. When we practice modalities such as meditation, breathwork, shadowwork or yoga (to name a few) we strengthen our witness thinking.
It is so easy for us to fall into the trap of labelling the judge and the victim parts of ourselves as “bad”. However, these parts are still parts of ourselves. Every time we make these parts “bad” we are doing ourselves harm.
As I mentioned in the chapter Whole Woman in my book:
The Mother and Maiden archetypes can have an unhealthy codependent relationship. It is the nature of Maidens to want to grow up, go on adventures, and to explore their innate curiosity. It is part of a Mother’s nature to over-protect and to want to control. The Maiden feeling the need to be loved and accepted by the Mother and sensing that this love and acceptance will be lost to her if she grows up and changes, in turn, stunts her growth and stays small and obedient to continue to receive the warm glow of approval from the Mother. This occurs in our external relationships with our mother or our daughter(s) and is mirrored in our internal relationship between these two archetypes.
When She Wakes, She Will Move Mountains – Tanya Valentin
This causes a fracture in our Maiden self. A splitting of our ‘light’ acceptable parts off from our ‘dark’ unlovable attributes and the disconnection from and disowning of our dark self.
Thinking like this only will only cause a war inside of us. Seeing ourselves in these ways leads us down the path to self-loathing, struggle, and suffering. It births a fractured self and creates an alienation from ourselves as we move from our dark to our light as frequently, and as often, as we breathe in and out. We are in a state of constant flux between our positivity and melancholy.
Healing the dysfunctional Mother/Maiden Archetype relationship
If we would like to avoid falling into this Mother/Maiden dynamic in ourselves it is important for us to, first of all, become aware that this is happening.
Secondly, we need to do the shadow work with the assistance of our Wild Woman Archetype.
I encourage you to inquire into what the needs are of your judge, as well as the needs of your judged parts. Remember these are all parts of you. In my experience, our judge and our victim never act out of ill intent. They often have the same intention for you and can learn important lessons from each other when integrated using the witness.
In my book When She Wakes, She Will Move Mountains I walk you through a powerful shadow work exercise that can help you to integrate these parts. You can buy my book HERE.
Take a moment to recognise yourself and your achievements. Instead of beating yourself up about everything you didn’t achieve, celebrate and give thanks for all the things you did achieve. This is where we can comfort and heal our Maiden Archetype by doing inner child work.
My favourite way to do this is to embody my Mother Archetype. In this exercise, I write a letter to myself as if I was writing to my daughter. (Look at a photo of yourself as a child while doing this to make this more powerful)
- I take a moment to tell myself how proud I am of myself and I list all of my achievements big and small.
- I then thank myself for not giving up.
- I compassionately remind myself there is always more time.
- I reassure myself that whatever I didn’t achieve this year didn’t happen for a reason. If it is meant for me will happen at the right time.
If you haven’t tried writing love letters to yourself give it a go.
I promise you, it will change your relationship with yourself for the better!
As a Midlife Mentor for Women I support Soul-Led, Midlife Women who are on an awakening journey, to reconnect with and love the woman behind the roles, the responsibilities and the weight of the expectations of others.
I help you to unlearn the beliefs, behaviours and stories that no longer serve you so that you can live the next half of your life in a way feels true to who you authentically are as the Queen of your own life!
Would you like to find out more about how you can heal your Shadow Archetypes? Buy My Book When She Wakes She Will Move Mountains – 5 Steps to Reconnecting With Your Wild Authentic Inner Queen.