Criticism comes from somewhere. After all, babies do not think their butts look fat when they wear velour. A difficult parent, an overbearing relative: chances are, when you beat yourself up for not being wonderful, you’re using someone else’s words. And in terms of dating, it’s hard enough when it’s just two people trying to explore a new relationship — let alone when you bring these ghosts from your past into the restaurant.
How do you get rid of them, then? Sure, there are boatloads of books you can read, some of them pretty effective in identifying and overcoming self criticism. Therapy helps, so do friends. You can learn to replace those voices with kinder, gentler ones. Unfortunately, they tend to talk more quietly. But for starters, here are two tips to help you get rid of the extra company when you’re trying to kindle a potential romance.
- Acknowledge your dinner guests. Maybe not to your date (they may not quite understand yet), but if you feel yourself looking at the menu and yielding to, say, your Grammy telling you not to trust anyone who’s nice to you, tell her hello! Remind yourself the voice telling you that not especially helpful belief didn’t come from you. Hearing your grandmother say that — remembering her say that — is your unchangeable history, but whether to buy in to her belief or not … that’s up to you. So acknowledge these judgments. And label where they came from. That’s the first step towards getting rid of these unhelpful thoughts — or at least making them more polite and less destructive.
- Introduce your guests to the party. Let’s say you’ve been told, at some point in your life, that you’re not very attractive. Naturally then, whenever you meet someone new, you’re going to remember this. No matter how nice you look, no matter how well you’ve cleaned up, you’re going to be carrying this belief around on a date like a lead bowling ball in your purse or billfold. So let’s now assume you’ve identified — through therapy, conversations with friends, even reading this brief article — who in your past taught you to believe that. Now what? Bring them to the party and show them what they’re missing! Next time you’re out on a date, look at the differences between what’s happening — beautiful woman/handsome man out with smiling dinner companion, for example — and what your Grammy/Uncle/Mom/Dad/Sister/Brother used to tell you. Notice these differences. If you want, point out these differences later, in a journal entry, or shout them to your old friend or relative while driving home in your car, listening to the radio. A new definition for classic rock, indeed.
The point is, we all have enough doubts and insecurities without carrying those of others around with us. So develop your own fears! Create new problems! Just don’t let this Grammy person (memo: she had major issues, by the way) dictate how you should behave in the here and now. She may have had good reason, based on her own experiences, for her beliefs. But that’s her story. It doesn’t have to be yours.