Do you have an “inner critic”? It’s possible that you do and don’t realize it. I say that because I believe it’s something that everyone struggles with at various points in life. An inner critic is that inner dialogue that seems to drive your thoughts, behaviors, feelings, actions- primarily about yourself. Interestingly enough, your inner critic often sounds like yourself. That is why it’s so tempting and hard to dismiss. It makes you hesitant to question the inner critic or even talk back to correct it. In reality, your inner critic comes from a lot of different places. It may come from negative or hurtful things your parents have said in the past. It may come from society. It may come from past hurts and past traumas. For instance, your inner critic might tell you things like:
“Of course they don’t like you.”
“You can’t do that.”
“Why would you even try that?”
“You’re not worthy of this.”
So you’re probably noticing that your inner critic is problematic for a lot of reasons, mostly because your inner critic is usually wrong. A negative inner critic has the power to keep you from growing, keep you from trying new things, and generally keep you from joyful and positive experiences.
However, if you don’t tame your inner critic and get it under control, it will control you. So, how do you control your inner critic?
Notice and identify your inner critic. You need to be able to notice when your inner critic is activated. If we are not mindful, we will not notice the inner critic but it’s essential that you learn to realize when it’s happening. Meditation and mindfulness practices are a great way to gradually help you to begin to notice your inner critic a lot faster.
Learn about your inner critic. Sometimes, you might feel hesitant to learn more about your inner critic because we’ve been told that if there is something bad or negative inside of you, it should be ignored or not talked about. However the opposite is true. You need to lean into your inner critic and get to know it so that you’ll know exactly how to combat it. Journaling is one way to gradually get to know your inner critic. Whenever you notice your inner critic is being activated, write it down. After a few journal entries, see if you can identify patterns in the inner critic’s dialogue.
Start fighting back against your inner critic. Once you feel confident in your ability to identify and know your inner critic more, you can start to fight back. This can be done with affirmations. An affirmation is simply a positive (or even neutral, if positive feels too strong) statement about yourself or your current reality. For example, if my inner critic has told me that I’m not good at something, my affirmation might be “I have many strengths,” or “I can practice to become better.” Either way, the affirmation is used to combat the negative idea that your inner critic has given.
Flood your inner critic with positive vibes. In addition to fighting back against your inner critic, you need to totally drown your inner critic out by surrounding yourself with positive people, positive images, positive environments, positive feelings, etc. When you flood your inner critic with positivity, it loses its power and gradually will have no option but to become more positive and useful.
Want to learn more about controlling your inner critic? Check out episode #28 of 'A Different Perspective' Podcast.
Photo by: Jo-Jo Jones Photography
Talking about suicide is hard, for several reasons. Not only are we constantly combating the stigma of mental health in general, but we also are frequently turning our backs to the reality of suicide in our communities. No one wants to talk about if or when they may have felt suicidal. Rarely do we hear about those lost by suicide or the impact that was had on their friends or family members. Suicide has a way of leaving an eerily quiet and lingering trial of guilt, sadness, shame, and isolation, which further perpetuates stigma.
I know there has always been this myth that “Black people don’t kill themselves.” Well, I’m here to tell you that is false. Rather, I’m here to reveal that we all knew it was false all along. In fact, many of us have been impacted by suicide in some way and those around us may not even know. We like to pretend that WE or those we love will never and would never even consider suicide because it’s very difficult to imagine that someone would want to end their life. We like to pretend this doesn’t happen to us because we are constantly telling ourselves that we are strong and that suicide is a weakness We like to pretend this doesn’t happen to us because we have religion and our relationship with God is “supposed to” shield us from any pain that we can’t handle. We like to pretend this doesn’t happen to us because we tell ourselves that it could always be worse. Pretending that Black people don’t die by suicide makes it so that we don’t have to confront the pain of our lives or the pain of our loved ones. Pretending that we are immune from thoughts or death by suicide creates an illusion that in the long run only hurts us.
The reality is that there are several factors and circumstances that put us at risk for suicide. These include psychological distress, substance abuse, access to weapons and firearms, social isolation, homelessness, exposure to violence, family dysfunction, maladaptive coping skills, and exposure to racial inequality and oppression. We are also much more likely to die by suicide if we have previously attempted suicide. Black communities are further put at risk for suicide because of the limited access to mental health service that we frequently experience, due to lack of proximity of services, lack of insurance for mental health coverage, stigma, and distrust of mental health professionals.
So what are the facts about suicide in the Black community?
(Source: “African American Suicide Fact Sheet, Based on 2015 Data (2017)”, American Association of Suicidology)
We have to keep talking about suicide. We cannot afford to be silent about this because being silent has never made suicide go away. If anything, our silence makes suicide more likely to happen because it allows us and those we love to go unnoticed and suffer alone. Talking about suicide is key in the prevention of suicide.
If you know someone who is considering suicide:
Take them seriously.
Get them help.
If you are considering suicide:
Talk to someone.
Take this seriously.
Ask for help.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.
To hear more about how suicide impacts the Black community and to learn probable reasons for why death by suicide among Black children is on the rise, tune into episode 20 of ‘A Different Perspective’ podcast.
In the years that I have been a psychologist, one thing I have learned is that many people are afraid to go to mental health therapy. I can recall several clients who have come to see me and later admitted that they were afraid to even consider coming. Luckily, they decided to push through and soon realized that coming to therapy was one of the greatest decisions they had made.
There are many reasons why going to therapy can seem “scary” or produce some fear. If you are (or have been) afraid to go to therapy, rest assured that you are not alone. Below are the most common reasons I believe that many of us are afraid to go to therapy. I hope this list eases some of your worries and pushes you further toward the decision to say YES to mental health therapy.
Listen to Episode 19 of 'A Different Perspective' podcast to learn more about overcoming fear of mental health therapy.
Intentionally choosing to thrive in your current life is revolutionary. I say this because we (and our ancestors before us) live in a time and a society that often seems to be full of hate, fear, and distress. Living in this type of environment causes us to unintentionally get into “survival mode”- which puts limits and constraints on the potential and quality for our lives. When we live in a racist or otherwise oppressive society, it often means that we also live in constant fear and anxiety for our livelihood. We are encouraged to become smaller, different, or told to be less threatening. We then begin to internalize these messages from society, and even encourage our children and loved ones to live in fear, with anxiety, and with limitations.
This sick and limiting cycle is often the result of intergenerational experiences of racial trauma. If you have not read Dr. Joy DeGruy’s “Posttraumatic Slave Syndrome” or even just watched some of her YouTube clips on this phenomena, you should! Dr. DeGruy has done an excellent job at explaining and characterizing the exact effects that extreme racism and oppressive conditions have had on Black Americans. The unfortunate part is that these conditions persist, and so do the effects. Fortunately, many psychologists and other mental health professionals are finally catching on to the fact that racial trauma is real and needs further research and study.
Racial trauma can be understood as a subset of trauma, as it specifically addresses traumatic experiences that are related to race, racism, and race-related stressors. Therefore, racial trauma can be defined as racial experiences of real or perceived threat or danger. These experiences can be directly experienced or the witnessing of someone else’s experience. This can also be triggered by hearing about the racial experiences of others. These racial experiences often cause feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, fear of safety, and perceived shortening of life expectancy (i.e. “I may not make it to 25 years old.”). Racial trauma rarely involve a single event, and is more likely to be a culmination of racial experiences, resulting in insidious and chronic stress. These racial events include individual racist events, consequences of institutional racism, effects of cultural racism, daily microaggressions, and perceived racism.
It would be difficult to find any person of color who lives in America and has not experienced some sort of racism, or race-related stressor. Therefore, it is likely that many of us experience and are impacted by varying levels of racial trauma. Likewise, it is common to encounter individuals who have experienced other traumatic events at some point in their lives. More frightening is the idea that there are many people of color who experience racial trauma, in addition to other non-racial traumas. This means that there are even more disturbing consequences for their lives.
Knowing this information about trauma, racial traumas, and knowing the conditions of the society in which we live, I want to us turn our attention to thriving. “The art of thriving” explains the manner in which one chooses to push toward a life of optimal health, wellness, and one that exceeds beyond merely surviving. While we may not always have control over the systemic or external conditions that surround us, we do have control over the following:
"The Art of Thriving"
Live in “what is…” not “what if.”
It’s important for us to learn to build our lives around what is, rather than what if. Many of us are notorious for living a life of what if- “What if this happens,” “What if that happens,” “What if this doesn’t work,” “What if this goes wrong.” The problem with what if is that it leads to infinite possibilities, most of which never happen. Entertaining multiple what ifs leave us feeling anxious, emotionally distressed, and can lead to depression, as we begin to feel hopeless about the future and out of control. Today, start to put more energy into what is happening right now. What is happening right here, right now, in this very moment? Practice living in the present moment, because every moment of life truly should be enjoyed in the present.
Celebrate the wins.
When we live in a world and society full of oppression, chaos or toxic energy, it’s very easy to notice the negative things happening. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to find the negative than the positive. So, where are the wins? Today, start to be intentional about finding the wins. Moments of peace, joy, laughter, etc. are not distractions. They are necessary to find and incorporate balance in our lives. We all need some wins and we need to get really good at finding them. Find your balance between happiness, joy, humor, and a healthy dose of awareness in what is happening in the world.
Feed and nourish yourself.
We must get into the habit of feeding and nourishing ourselves with holistic wellness and care, i.e. self-care. Our physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual selves need to be fed and well nourished. When we are well fed and nourished, we are then better able to sustain the stressors that come into our lives. It’s like a protective bubble or protective shield. When we are physically fit, emotionally healthy, have positive relationships, have good role models, when we feel good about our jobs, etc., negative things don’t impact us as much. Today, figure out in what ways you can begin (or continue) to feed and nourish yourself (this may help!).
Strengthen your sense of agency.
When you are marginalized or oppressed, you become accustomed to feeling like external factors have a very unfair, unjust and controlling influence on your life. Yes, there are many things that are out of our control and have the power to influence our life in negative ways. This compromises our ability to develop our own sense of agency- the belief in the choice and control we have in our lives. So, thriving comes with strengthening this sense of agency. We tend to have a stronger sense of well-being when we feel that we have control over our own lives. Today, find a way to take back your agency by noticing what you do have control over in this moment of your life. Tap into the choices you have or the moments where you can take control over your life. Steer the direction of your life in your favor. Don’t give away your agency to the ills of the world.
Live in accord with your values.
Whenever I have a client who is having trouble redirecting their life, I always encourage them to tap into their values. What do you value? What matters to you? What is important to you? What principles do you live by? How do you want to be remembered? What do you want your legacy to be? Our values are important because they guide our actions, influence our behaviors, drive our perceptions of the world, and have a lot of impact on the decisions we make. Today, figure out what it is that truly matters to you by getting to the core of what you value in this life.
Do what makes you come alive.
As Howard Thurman once said, “Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs most is people who have come alive.” Instead of figuring out what you can do for the world, do what makes you come alive. Do the things that you are extremely passionate about, the things that bring you happiness and joy- because this is the very gift that you need to give to the world, society, and your community. This is what the world and those around you need to see so that they, too, will feel encouraged to come alive.
Read more about healing from trauma here…
If you enjoyed reading this, also listen to Ep. 3 “The Art of Thriving” and Ep. 17 “Should we watch videos of police brutality and Black death?” of ‘A Different Perspective’ Podcast.
I know a lot about trauma. Over the past few years, I have been lucky to have learned so much about trauma, in all its forms. Learning about trauma has served several purposes for me. At one point in my career, I worked closely with traumatized youth, many of which were children of color and had been physically assaulted, emotionally abused, neglected, homeless, sexualized, and harmed in ways one could hardly imagine. I don’t do that type of work anymore, but I’ll always be grateful for those experiences. More recently, the role trauma has played in my professional life has helped me to better understand all the ways that Black people and communities have been impacted by trauma. The answer to this question is remarkably profound, as our community has been impacted by many forms of trauma (i.e. single traumas, complex traumas, collective traumas, racial traumas, intergenerational traumas-similar to Dr. DeGruy’s theory of ‘Posttraumatic Slave Syndrome’).
The layers and depth of our trauma are real and I found myself digging deeper and deeper into the layers. I don’t think I was alone in this. I noticed a collective “call to action” in the Black community to unearth the truth regarding all the ways in which we have been harmed throughout our history. Many of us were learning more of our history by reading and teaching others. We watched Root. We watched videos of police brutality. We performed spoken words of our pain. We listened to Kendrick Lamar, A Tribe Called Quest, and Solange. Even our artists, athletes, and beloved celebrities were in on the awakening. It was actually a magical time. We all collectively became conscious and “woke up”. No one could take that knowledge and awareness from us. We are a much better people for this awakening.
I continued to dig deep into the understandings of our traumas and pain, until I realized that with anything, balance is needed. I noticed myself moving in a direction that also elicited a different type of pain. In the world of clinical psychology, we call it secondary or vicarious trauma, which occurs when one becomes traumatized by the witnessing or secondary experiencing of a traumatic act. In my studies and deepening understandings of trauma, I became moody, emotional, and I had difficulty relating and socializing with people who did not look like me. I felt worried about the well-being of my family, friends, and community because we were Black. I did not feel safe. Again, I was not alone in this, as I also noticed a wave of collective re-traumatizing as we all worked to increase our awareness of our trauma and pain. I noticed more students of color come into my office, with complaints of symptoms of posttraumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) that was brought about by their own new awareness of their world. Very quickly, our awakening had turned into something painful and difficult to manage. This led me to wonder: What does healing look like for Black people?
Ironically, I know that many of us are reluctant to shift our focus from trauma and pain to healing. I understand that for some, contemplating that sort of shift in focus can feel like one is “selling out” or that we aren’t able to handle the pressure of staying awake. Being conscious is like wearing a badge of honor or declaring some sort of prestige. It’s something that many of us brag about because we know just how difficult it is to keep your eyes open to the injustices of the world. But like many things, our concept of wokeness and consciousness needs to change, and instead should include an aspect of wellness. Instead, our awakening should be necessitated by essential self-care and wellness so that we are able to sustain our new found knowledge, insights, and education about ourselves, our history, and our community.
Imagine a world in which Black people were consciously aware of our history, struggles, pain, while also keenly aware of the value and need for healing and taking care of ourselves. Imagine what it would be like for us all to start taking our healing and wellness so seriously, that it has no choice but to greatly impact our children and their children. We will be better parents, better leaders, better teachers, better friends, and better people. We will be better to ourselves. The healing will be exponential, as the impact of our growth and improvement begins to impact the lives of others around us. I get excited when I consider the power and strength that may come from our community as we begin to make this important shift to healing. For me, this does not seem unattainable or impossible. I believe it is possible for us to begin to shift our focus to healing, so that we can begin to experience life in a much healthier and well-adjusted way. We deserve this. We need this!
Our healing must be holistic, meaning that it must encompass every and all aspects of health and wellness. In my clinical work, I frequently teach others about the eight domains of wellness- physical, emotional, social, environmental, spiritual, occupational, intellectual, and financial. Being aware and giving attention of all eight of these areas of wellness will ensure that we are achieving healing and wellness holistically. A great way to begin approaching holistic healing and wellness would be to ask yourself the following questions:
In what ways can I enhance my (insert each aspect of wellness here) health?
Where can I establish more healthy boundaries in my life?
What brings me joy?
What will move me forward in life?
What is good for me?
What does it look like when I take care of myself?
Another great way to begin approaching holistic healing and wellness would be to take part in the #21DaysofSelfCare challenge. This is a challenge I created to help myself and others jumpstart a self-care journey. It teaches you about all eight domains of wellness and how you can begin to incorporate these aspects into your life now and for the future. You can learn more about the #21DaysofSelfCare challenge here.
It would be hypocritical for me to ask you to challenge and commit yourself to healing without doing this for myself. So what does my healing look like now?
So what will your healing look like? How will you begin the shift from trauma to healing in your life? Let me know here, here, here, or here and please encourage others to join us in this collective move toward healing.
Want to hear more about trauma and its effects?
Listen to Ep. 8 of 'A Different Perspective' podcast.
*Subscribe to the podcast, on iTunes, Google Play, or Soundcloud.
Dr. Amber Thornton
Clinical psychologist with a passion for family, community, culture, and diversity.