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When Things Go Wrong: Taming Your Inner Critic

We all know the disappointment of making plans, having our hopes up, and then things go totally and utterly wrong. It can be something small, like a birthday hoopla or a dinner party you’ve looked forward to hosting, to something bigger like your own wedding or a child’s graduation. No matter what it is, when things don’t go ‘according to plan’ it’s easy to get hung up on how things were supposed to go, instead of readjusting your expectations and accepting (and embracing) how things did go.

Our recent family holidays, which were far from perfect and had a few hiccups (ER visit, not fun!) highlighted this struggle for me. But honestly, it’s something I wrestle with almost daily. Expectations are disappointments waiting to happen, Brene Brown says, and I’m still working on letting go of my many expectations and simply letting things be. As a go-getter perfectionistic helper type (enneagram 3) I have 3 defaults when it comes to things go “wrong”:

  1. Anger
  2. Fixing
  3. Shutting down

First I spend a good chunk of time being angry that things are never perfect and why do I even bother and everything is so hard etc. Then I either jump right to #3 and stew for a few hours (cough, days) swearing that nothing is worth my effort and I’m giving up on trying altogether – or I jump into I CAN FIX THIS mode. Neither are actually that productive or healthy. Because even though having a “can-do” attitude when negative circumstances happen might seem more positive then shutting down, both are deeply rooted in the fear that comes up when things go awry and my inner critic comes out:

This is my fault. 

My inner critic is quick to shift the blame to me when things – big and small – go wrong, and it definitely doesn’t make difficult circumstances any better. Either my fear of being at fault is masked by anger – WHY DOES EVERYTHING BAD HAPPEN TO ME – or its masked by going into fixing mode – I CAN FIX THIS AND THEREFORE AVOID FEELING RESPONSIBLE. But eventually the anger fades and the fixing falls apart and I’m left with even more frustration because I haven’t let myself FEEL what I’m really feeling and I’m still in the disappointing circumstances that got me angry/fixing to begin with.

*sigh*

So how do we deal when things a go wrong? And how do we tell our inner critic (another term for the negative self talk that can pop up when you’re already feeling down) to pipe down, so that we can make room for an attitude change and getting through, or even finding joy in the circumstances we find ourself in?

First, you have to let yourself feel what you’re feeling, without judgement: disappointment, anger, hurt, victimized. Part of letting go of the inner critic is nurturing your feelings and making space for them. You’re ALLOWED to feel upset when things go wrong. Speak to yourself as you would a friend when you feel disappointed or angry over something not working out (“thats so frustrating, I’m so sorry”), and silence the inner critic before she has a chance to tell you why it’s all your fault (she’s lying).

Second, check your expectations. Often times we don’t realize that what we’re expecting is totally unrealistic, or at least very unlikely. Without meaning too we’ve imagined our holiday, our day off, our anniversary going PERFECTLY. We don’t remember to make room for real life normal hiccups (like weather, bad moods) to happen. Then when they do, we’re so hung up on our expectations that we can’t effectively adapt to the actual reality of the circumstances. THIS ISN’T HOW IT WAS SUPPOSED TO GO, we think. Maybe not, but this is how it is. Acknowledging that our expectations were off base helps us shift from “this isn’t fair, it wasn’t supposed to be like this” to “this is how it is, how can I be effective and helpful in this current situation”.

Tiffany Roe (@mindfulcounseling on Instagram) calls this non-striving acceptance. It’s a mindfulness skill we can develop, to let go of needing things to be different then what they are and the need to fix them, and to accept what is.

Third, when things go wrong, we need to resist the urge to blame.

It’s my fault.

It’s your fault.

It’s the baristas fault, if she hadn’t screwed up your order you wouldn’t have been behind schedule and then wouldn’t have gotten rear ended in the parking lot and had to spend your weekend getaway money on car repairs BLAME THE BARISTA!

Maybe it really is the baristas fault. But more likely you’re just looking for someone to blame because it gives you a sense of control. It sucks when things don’t go how we planned! But sometimes things just happen, like kids getting sick during family holidays, and blaming it on someone won’t fix anything. Not even blaming yourself, which is especially easy for moms to do, because we put ourselves in charge of everyone’s happiness. And while blaming yourself might make you feel better (well, worse) because it makes you feel back in control, accepting that you didn’t actually have control and aren’t in charge of everyone’s happiness is what will actually help.

Lastly, just remember: things don’t have to be perfect to be good.

Maybe your family vacations plans didn’t include a week of rain, so therefore you decide it’s ruined. Or, you can let yourself feel bummed about not getting a tan and playing on the beach, accept that there is no one to blame (not even yourself) for the weather changing, and remember that things don’t have to be perfect or #hashtagable to be good. Maybe your family’s annual beach vacation turns into an indoor, restful week spent cozying up together and getting some much needed down time. But if you spend your time stewing over how crappy your current circumstances are, you’ll miss the upside to them.

I’m not perfect at this. I have spent many a date night fuming over plans that fell through, or weekends moping because sick kids ruined whatever I had planned. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, our family holidays were FAR from perfect. We had many moments that weren’t “Instagram worthy”. But for maybe the first time ever, I leaned into accepting what was instead of obsessing over what I thought it would be. Because of that I was able to find tiny (sometimes minuscule) pockets of joy in the difficult moments. And when my inner critic did show up to blame things that were totally out of my control on me, I showed her the door.

“It’s not about what is. It’s about what it can become.” Dr. Seuss

Tell me about a time that a bad situation turned into a good one, or how you were able to shift your attitude even if the circumstance didn’t change at all!

Even when things go wrong, your attitude can still go right ✌🏻

B.

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