How to Stop Judging Yourself
When we talk about how to stop judging yourself, we have to first talk about where it’s coming from: our inner critic. We all have one.
It comes from a place of fear and doubt, and usually, ironically, trying to protect us from potentially feeling negative emotions.
But at the end of the day your inner critic is kind of the worst. It’s harshly judgmental, and has no right spewing its opinion. And yet it’s running the show day in and day out. Think Regina George in Mean Girls.
Consider any of these familiar situations where it might pop up:
Thrashing through your closet trying to find somewhere to wear. Whenever you look in the mirror everything’s wrong and you call yourself ugly.
Sitting down for dinner with your fam, you really want the fettuccine alfredo. But you order the salad because a little voice pops up suggesting you’ve hit your caloric intake for the day.
The closer a reunion weekend with your girlfriends gets, the more you panic about weight you’ve gained over the past year. Everyone’s going to realize how much you’ve let yourself go.
What’s going on in each instance? Your inner critic is taking center stage, and it’s a real jerk.
It knows exactly how to find your weak spots and dig its finger in. And the problem is that this mean, judgmental inner voice affects everything, from how you treat yourself, to how you experience life, to how you take care of your health.
If you’re anything like we used to be, you may think having a harsh inner critic is a good thing, because it keeps you motivated and “on track” for your goals. But think of this inner voice as a roommate taking up real estate in your head: would you want to live with someone who’s always putting you down and telling you how terrible you are?
You gotta reign that in if you ever want to have a positive relationship with your body. Your desire for cheesy carbs instead of wilted greens is not the real problem here.
How to Stop Judging Yourself
Most chronic dieters have an extremely harsh inner critic, and are constantly bombarded with negative self talk. And these critical, judgmental thoughts affect how they feel and behave. It keeps them stuck in the painful dieting cycle, erodes their self-trust and confidence, and contributes to poor body image.
In order to break out of the dieting cycle, heal your relationship with food and accept yourself (and your body), you have to learn how to manage your mind and take control of that inner dialogue. And an effective way to do this is to learn how to coach yourself through those moments when your inner critic shows up.
This is a tool that will serve you endlessly, from challenging the food police, to shitty body image moments, to any instance of self-doubt or fear. It allows you to trust and become reliant on your own inner guidance, as opposed to other “experts” or external guidelines. Our goal as Intuitive Eating Coaches is to help our clients become their own coaches and know exactly how to handle challenges as they arise. It’s something we work on extensively in our Food Freedom Academy.
How to Stop Judging Yourself with Self Coaching
There are two key ways to overcome your inner critic and let go of self judgement. It’s a practice, and doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s highly effective.
The first way is to coach yourself in the moment.
This is useful for being able to handle panicky moments (like looking at a photo of yourself you don’t love), or when you feel anxiety rise up.
The first thing to do is start bringing some awareness to your thoughts. So often we don’t even notice the mean things we say to ourselves all day, and then wonder why we feel like shit. But we can’t start to change our thoughts until we identify them in the moment, so that’s step one. We recognize that we all have an inner critic, but it’s not actually us. When we can put some separation between ourselves and this mean voice, we can actually label it and notice when it pops up. We can say “oh there’s my inner critic again” and roll our eyes instead of immediately construing what it says as truth.
Meditation or some other mindfulness tool can be very useful here for observing your regular thoughts (I know, but just trust me on this one and try it.). You want to get curious about whatever comes up, as opposed to judging your thoughts or yourself, and meditation can help with this.
The second step is to practice cognitive behavior therapy (or CBT for short) to change your thought patterns. As you catch any negative or judgemental thoughts that pop up, actively challenge them. Ask yourself, is that really true? Where is the evidence to support this thought?
And the third step is to replace that judgmental thought with a kinder thought. To ask yourself what else could be true here? How else can I view this situation? How would I speak to a friend or a little girl? Tapping into self compassion is critical here, which a lot of our clients (and women in general) have a hard time with, but is something we can and should practice. We spoke about this at length in our interview with Dr. Kristin Neff, the leading researcher on self compassion!
We have to continuously work on shifting our thoughts, but as you keep practicing, I promise it will get easier. At some point you just sorta notice that you’ve stopped being so mean to yourself, and calling yourself ugly or berating yourself for screwing up is just not something that regularly happens anymore.
To quickly recap, here’s the in-the-moment strategy for how to stop judging yourself. The “three C’s,” if you will:
- Catch your inner critic popping up, label it.
- Challenge the critical thought by asking “is that true?”
- Change the negative thought and tap into self compassion by asking “how would I speak to a friend in this situation? What do I need right now?”
Let’s walk through an example and apply this framework to a shitty thought. Here’s one we hear a lot around here: you’re getting ready to go out in public again (after oh, about 14 months of isolation during a global pandemic), and feeling anxious about seeing people, worried they’ll judge how you look.
Perhaps you have a thought along the lines of “everyone is going to judge my weight and think I let myself go.” So in that moment, you:
- Catch your thought, and label the inner critic popping up: “Oh yep, hi, there it is again. Just trying to protect me from judgement and not feeling hurt, but it’s not actually helpful. It makes me feel self-conscious about my body and being seen.”
- Challenge the critical thought: “Is it actually true that everyone is going to judge me and I’m going to have a horrible time? Have I really ‘let myself go’ or am I actually working on taking the best possible care of myself right now? And so what if people did judge me, what does that mean for me? Do I really care so much about what others think and am I willing to let that ruin my day?”
- Change the negative thought and tap into self compassion: “If I was speaking to my friend right now, I would tell her that she is being really hard on herself, and there are so many wonderful qualities about her to focus on. I would say ‘you’re a kind, funny, smart woman who takes great care of herself and is worthy of enjoying herself at this party regardless of how she looks’. Right now, I really need some self compassion, to find a comfortable outfit I like to wear, and to go for a walk to get into how my body feels.”
That’s the process!
The second key step in how to stop judging yourself is to create a foundation for positive beliefs.
While the first approach is helpful to react in the moment when the inner critic pops up, the second is to identify the general beliefs you’re operating with. Our thoughts come from our beliefs, so if we can shift any negative beliefs, we’re less likely to constantly have negative thoughts.
The first step is to identify them, and it helps to actually write them out. This is an exercise we do with our clients, and it can be uncomfortable, but it’s critical for pulling out what you actually believe about yourself, your body, food, health, your life, etc.
Since most of us muggles have a lot of shitty beliefs about ourselves, it can be helpful to start with one area that you’re feeling challenged around or comes up often (for example, your body). So you’d write out the beliefs you have about your body, anything that you learned from your culture, or as a child. What did your parents or caregivers believe about bodies? How do these beliefs impact you?
I need to be thin in order to be happy
I need to diet and lose weight in order to be healthy
I could have a more successful career if I was thin
I can’t date in my current body, nobody will find me attractive
I’ll never be confident in the body I have
Now, for each belief you wrote out, write out a new belief. Even if you don’t fully believe it, what do you WANT to believe?
For example, “I need to diet and lose weight in order to be healthy” becomes “I can be healthy and take excellent care of myself at any size.”
Look at that! You now have a back pocket response for those moments when the inner critic pops up and tries to suggest you can’t be healthy in your current body without dieting (because that’s some bullshit). Repeating this process over and over again is how to stop judging yourself.
There are some tools we help our clients use to reinforce their new beliefs and begin to embody them, but the most important thing you need to do right now is identify your current beliefs and write out their replacements.
As you start to identify new beliefs, you can actually work on them which is where the magic happens. For example, if your actual goal is to improve your health, you can ask yourself “how can I work on my health now, in the body that I have?”
So to recap:
- Identify your negative beliefs by writing them out (starting with one area)
- Replace each one with a new positive, empowering belief (even if your mind is not fully on board yet: what do you want to believe?)
- Reinforce your new beliefs with the in-the-moment self coaching, and identify some attainable goals you can actually work on to ladder up to your new belief
And there you have it.
Now, listen. I know this is a lot to wrap your head around at first. And I also know this process of learning how to stop judging yourself can be challenging. It’s why coaching is so helpful, because a coach can help identify your shitty beliefs, help you understand where they come from, and get this framework into place for you. You get a strong foundation and tools to work with, so that eventually you’re able to coach yourself when you need to. A supportive community is also key for creating new beliefs and shifting your self talk. We invite you to come join ours if you’re in the market!
One last thing to know about your inner critic…
There are a few things that might trigger it, and it’s helpful to recognize what other factors might be at play when you’re feeling extra judgemental of your body:
- If something else in your life is out of whack and you’re feeling other hard emotions, but blaming your body for feeling like shit.
For example, perhaps you’ve had a really hard day. You’re exhausted and stressed, but you have to go to a birthday dinner and you’re having a hard time finding something to wear. Your default thought is “I look like shit and everything would just be easier if I was thinner.”
Instead of recognizing that life is just sometimes hard regardless of your body size, and you’re having a tough time, you blame your circumstances on your body which the inner critic thrives on.
In these situations, when your thoughts are feeling really harsh, it can be helpful to ask “what else is going on right now?” and see what comes up.
- When you physically feel crappy. It could be a lack of self care, or maybe you’re not tuning into what your body needs.
This happened to me the other day. I slept like shit after two glasses of wine and woke up feeling groggy and anxious. Instead of recognizing it right away and asking myself what my body needed in that moment, my inner critic jumped in right on cue suggesting I was gonna look like crap for a day of meetings.
When we’re physically feeling less than great, we tend to have less than great body image too. So next time you find your inner critic fired up, it could be worth considering your self care, asking if there’s anything you can do to physically feel better.
Ready to Finally Stop Judging Yourself?
Okay, friend. I hope this was helpful in learning why you regularly criticize yourself, and how to stop judging yourself. This is such an important concept in order to break out of the dieting cycle, and heal your relationship with food and your body, so I hope you feel equipped to start managing that inner critic.
If you are ready for deeper support in this process, so you can feel peace in your body and upgrade your confidence, we’re here for you. Book a free Breakthrough Session to chat with one of us to get clear on what isn’t working and the exact steps you need to take to put this struggle behind you.