Roger Gould, M.D.  

Specialties: Mental Health, Wellness, emotional eating

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How to Silence Your Inner Critic and Control Emotional Eating

Oct 29, 2013 - 3 comments

emotional eating


Shrink Yourself


Dr. Gould


Inner Critic


control emotional eating



For the sake of argument, let's name your inner critic Harriet. Harriet has a consistency in her negative attitudes and judgements towards you, and greatly influences your actions and beliefs about yourself. In fact, you've likely taken on many of her harsh and unfair criticisms as fact.

Things like, "You'll never lose weight," "You're not worth loving," and "You're a loser."

It is Harriet that you will need to get under control if you are to control your emotional eating. Let me repeat that, loudly and clearly:

If you truly wish to control emotional eating, you will first have to control your inner critic.

This means having a dialogue with Harriet. Actively attacking her in order to defend yourself against her accusations.

Your Inner Critic's 6 Major Accusations of You

1. If you're not perfect, then you're deeply flawed.
2. You're trying to cover up and deny your real faults.
3. You're a phony.
4. You're a pretend adult and don't deserve the full rights of adulthood.
5. You know that the good stuff about you isn't real.
6. Everybody knows what you're hiding.

What's Wrong with You?

It may seem unusual, but the first step in successfully talking back to your inner critic requires listing the things you actually don't like about yourself or that you think are wrong with you. Doing this will serve you greatly. Being up front and almost having a sense of humor about what you don't like about yourself brings you out of hiding and makes those self-doubts far less frightening.

Let's start with the list of Self-Doubt Labels we cover in the ShrinkYourself program. Pick any that apply to you:

I think I'm...

Not self-sufficient
Too dependent
Too meek
Totally alone

Now, write down a simple paragraph describing your self-doubt label(s) just like a storyteller would. e.g.

Dora, a fifty-six-year-old woman whose children are grown and live scattered throughout the country, has no job and no real interests of her own. Harriet convinces Dora that she's all alone and boring. Dora wouldn't dare put expectations on her children, but she doesn't know how to go out and meet new people on her own. Most days Dora sits at home with her disabled husband, retreats into books, and has an all-day grazing session. Harriet's right: Dora's virtually all alone and she is boring.

Defending Yourself

The self-doubt labels we've just covered deal with the first two accusations Harriet makes against you:

1. If you're not perfect, you're deeply flawed.
2. You're trying to cover up and deny your real faults.

Let me show you some responses that Dora could say to Harriet in response to Number 1:

Harriet: "If you're not perfect, Dora, you're deeply flawed.

Dora: "It's okay to have limitations."

"I can't expect to know everything."

"I can't control every situation."

"I can't expect to perfectly control myself."

"Not everyone can love me the way I want to be loved."

"I can't expect to perform perfectly."

"No one is perfect."

"Just because I can't do something right doesn't mean I can't do anything right."

"Just because I made mistakes in the past doesn't mean I won't do things better in the future. It's okay to have limitations."

The Truth

The big truth here is that we are all flawed because we are all human. There is no shame in this. And by accepting this truth, by embracing it, then utilizing any of the above responses to accusation #1, you, like Dora, arm yourself with an iron-clad argument that Harriet simply cannot refute.

When you say to Harriet, "Well, I can't expect to know everything," can she honestly turn around and tell you, "Yes, actually, you can expect to know everything..."

Even if she had the audacity to claim this, wouldn't you see right through her pathetic attempt to level you?

Your Faults

Accusation #2 You're trying to cover up and deny your real faults.

Perhaps you're terrified to admit any of your faults, worrying that they may indicate some horrible and shameful truth about you. Not only is this attitude harsh and wrong, it needlessly paralyzes you.

To be human is to have faults. Many faults. And the journey of life involves accepting that you, along with everyone else, is imperfect, filled with faults and figuring things out as you go.

Developing this ability to think for yourself, to accept that Harriet's accusations may have some truth to them--rather than automatically accepting Harriet's total black and white accusations--is crucial in empowering yourself to object to her arguments. Crucial to keeping you out of the prison cell of guilt and shame that you'd otherwise throw yourself into.

Here's how Dora could talk back to Harriet when she accuses her of #2:

Harriet: "Dora, you're all alone and boring. Your kids have all moved away. They don't want to be around you."

Dora: "Just because they don't live around me doesn't mean they don't love me. I did a good job raising them, and now they're confident enough to be on their own."

Harriet: "But you're boring. You don't do anything all day except read mystery novels and play Sudoku."

Dora: "You're right. I have been sitting around just passing time. It doesn't mean I'm boring, though. I've just forgotten who I am now that I'm not so busy taking care of the kids. I was actually a really great mother. I did a lot of creative things with the kids, and I bet I could apply those things to my own life now. By the way, Harriet, thanks for pointing out that I haven't been using my talents as well as I could be. Hey, any chance you play Sudoku? It's really quite challenging."

By Dora admitting to Harriet that her accusation has some truth to it, Harriet is silenced. Harriet's accusation is spiteful, based on a black and white judgement and deals solely with the past. Dora's argument, on the other hand, sees the shades of grey that real life is, and bases her argument on the here and now.

Moving Forward

Your inner critic has one sole purpose--to criticize you. She does this through the 6 major accusations listed above, and she is the first thing you'll have to control if you are to control your emotional eating.

The enemy is clear, then. Harriet's objective is on the table, as are her six weapons of personal destruction. Today you've discovered how to defend against the first two. Next week I'll go onto the remainder. If you'd like to get a head start, the ShrinkYourself Program is always just a click away.
As we continue on, please remember that the most empowering thing about all of this is that the bogey man (or woman in this case) has been exposed. Her mask is off. And her bite has been revealed to be no more than a vicious bark.

Harriet now knows that you know this. And soon she'll be on the ropes...
Don't give her an inch.

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by xBellaBellx, Oct 29, 2013
Is this pretty much the same for Addiction? I have noticed that my Harriet pushes me to give up when im close to letting go of my Addiction and healing...Harriet was so intense that I overdosed on Adderall, she convinved me that I will never be able to recover..that I will never have a life..

Avatar universal
by katmandu516, Nov 08, 2013
Yes, I think this definitely can relate to addiction, mine anyway. I was raised after my mother died by a real "Harriet" who relentlessly always put me down. Nothing I could ever do was right. She humiliated me, embarrassed me in every aspect of who I was. It was constant. So now, she "Harriet" is always in my head telling me negative things about myself. It's like a tape, that keeps playing and playing in my head, especially now that I am a recovering addict. I found this article to be very beneficial. I always wanted to start a Journal to get these memories out and on paper, and I think today will be the day I start. Because, I am a good person, who has made mistakes. I am not perfect, nobody is. I need to start building myself confidence up and quieting the inner "Harriet". I still have a lot of living to do in a positive way. I know I didn't go through all this for a good reason. Thank you so much!

Avatar universal
by Jaquta, Dec 07, 2013
I too was consistently shamed and hurt when growing up.  I was also always listening to my mother which often left me feeling disconnected and invalidated.  I think that I lost who I was in the process.  For me "Harriet" is a representation of my mother, my grandmother, etc.  For me, Harriet was controlling and commanded conforming.  I guess to the point where my self-esteem was so low that I felt broken and unable to fight back.
The tools that you've shared are extremely useful and relevant to where I'm at now.
I've been having flash backs from difficult times in my life.  I've been stuffing all the thoughts down because I didn't want to openly admit my feelings or behaviours.  With these tools I can own my thoughts and feelings.  I can choose not to give them power and I can come to a place of acceptance.
Waging war on "Harriet" may be fun.  A strategic game.  A fight worth investing in in order to move forward.
Thanks for the post and the mental challenge.

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