Category Archives: inner critic

Life is like a block of Swiss cheese

What do you do when you fall into a hole?


It started when I checked in, with my consultation group – stated my feeling of frustration and lamented about how hard it is to change my brain and live free of self-defeating thoughts. The same unkind thoughts that come up and replay over and over. I tried to change them but couldn’t. I had been feeling not good enough/unloved yet again – after a (minor transgression, really) hurt that I had experienced from someone I care about.

When I spoke it in the group I felt like I was just checking in honestly – acknowledging an awareness I had had about how stuck and pathetic I was feeling, and felt some relief just to articulate, say it. Having an awareness about a feeling is a little better than simply being overrun by that feeling. I also felt a little stupid and not as effective as my colleagues who always seem to have it all together. I thought I was speaking about something unique to just me.

But I was further uplifted to hear everyone else acknowledge in their check-ins that they too had self-defeating thoughts at times and they too struggled with how to deal with those.

We began talking about how life is like Swiss cheese… And I felt immediately understood – gotten. And oh yeah – not alone.

So often my clients tell me about some slip or dip they’ve had in their lives that brings them down. Ruminating about how they were feeling so good, but suddenly got caught off guard when their partner said something unkind; or when too many challenges piled up (being sick, tired, having a misunderstanding with their teen; not having enough time to have a conversation with a loved one, worrying about a sick coworker; and hearing of one more anti-immigrant sentiment expressed in the news, or another person of color who has been mistreated… Etc.) and they felt overwhelmed or inadequate; or feeling a pervasive sadness or irritation for seemingly no reason at all.

Sometimes they’ve eaten too much, or not eaten well; or not slept or not taken good enough care of themselves. Sometimes they’ve been crying too much, or raging too much, or feel hopeless or unmotivated. Sometimes they’ve been impatient with their kids and snapped at them. Sometimes they can’t seem to ever like themselves even though they’ve tried, or they’ve just had a long period of feeling some unwanted feeling (self-judgement, sadness, loneliness, vulnerability, heartache…) that they couldn’t shake or don’t know where it came from or what to do with).

These experiences remind me of Swiss cheese and how life is like a block of Swiss cheese.

Don’t you also think of Swiss cheese automatically, whenever you’re struggling with one (or several) of life‘s hardships? Let me explain…

We go along, feeling more less secure, intact in our lives. We have some good relationships, housing, families and friends we can choose to be with or not; a job, activities we enjoy. We’ve grown to feel mostly OK about ourselves, even if we don’t always take the best care of ourselves. That’s when we’re living on the structure, ridges, solid parts of the Swiss cheese.

And then, usually quite by surprise, we fall into one of those holes. Some holes are small, tiny, almost unnoticeable. Some are bigger and deeper. Suddenly we’re in the empty space of the Swiss cheese; the holes of life. It’s not just that Swiss cheese (life) is full of holes that is bad enough, but it’s what happens to our mind when we fall into those holes that really wreak havoc.

Typically we’ll experience a different state of mind when we fall into the holes. And sometimes one of those holes in the Swiss cheese leads to the next hole, to the next empty space, or to the next series of holes just like that.

Our state of mind shifts (or crashes) into being hurt, insecure, feeling unloved or not good enough like always when we slip into a hole. We might become distant or shut down, or hyperactivated; pessimistic; angered or very anxious. We get down on ourselves and can feel like pitiful examples of human beings. We may fall into old negative self-talk or those repetitive messages that always come up when we feel bad. We think we’ll never get it right; we’ll always be stuck.

Now Swiss cheese is actually pretty yummy. And the essence of it is that it’s full of holes. In fact, Swiss cheese has the right balance of cheese and holes so it still has flavor. The holes are what make it Swiss cheese. When people eat Swiss cheese, they don’t lament that the holes are there or that one hole is bigger than another. And maybe it’s the holes that actually hold up the cheese part, giving it definition, character, surround. Sometimes the slices are all holes… Sometimes it’s more firm. Sometimes a slice is rather lacy in design.

The holes in Swiss cheese come from bacteria that creates carbon monoxide bubbles that pop or from particles that get that process in motion. The holes in Swiss cheese are actually also called eyes. The holes are the identifier of the cheese – not a source of imperfection in the cheese. Turns out that the larger the eyes in the Swiss cheese, the more pronounced is the flavor. Although of course, cheese that has too many large eyes does not slice well and comes apart, so the size of the holes in the Swiss cheese are actually regulated in order to have the best cheese possible.

  • We all have self-defeating thoughts, criticisms, disappointments with ourselves and others. This is our default mode.
  • We all have some degree of difficulty when we fall into the holes of our Swiss cheese life. This usually takes place with a shift in our minds.
  • We all experience something in our bodies when our mind shifts (rapid breathing, heavy heart, tension in our necks or forehead, upset stomach, etc.). Our memories can even change.
  • We can soften the impact of falling into the holes of our Swiss cheese life: We can bring compassion to ourselves.
  • We can appreciate the “holes“ as what makes the Swiss cheese what it is. Maybe even see the holes as the foreground and not where something is missing. See the holes as what supports the structure of the cheese.
  • We can get out of the holes with kindness rather than making the holes bigger and losing the whole essence of the cheese.
  • We can see the holes as just another interesting hole, not a bottomless pit.
  • We might acknowledge the hole to someone who cares about us and feels instantly better by their sharing their Swiss cheese story also.
  • We might meditate our way out of a hole.
  • We might laugh at the absurdity of expecting we would never fall into another hole again.
  • We might notice that when caught in the middle of a hole in the Swiss cheese, that there is always some cheese nearby.
  • We might see the holes as what makes the Swiss cheese whole.

What happens when you fall into a hole in your Swiss cheese life? I’d love to hear from you about what you notice or how you get out (or stay in!) the hole. Just reply to this post.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with, in, or getting out of the (Swiss cheese) holes of life, please contact me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445

Tips for Taming the Inner Critic

How to manage that critical inner voice

elf compassion helps to tame the inner critic.

This month I’m starting a series of simplified blog posts. They will be more in the form of lists of best tips on topics like:

  • Favorite and best tips for:
  • Parenting with Mindfulness (being the best parent you can be)
  • Brain building activities
  • Improving intimate relationships – getting along with your partner
  • Dealing with anxiety and stress
  • Dealing with depression and stress
  • Dealing with overwhelm
  • Managing the time you don’t think you have
  • Navigating difficult parenting years
  • Having more family harmony
  • Women of color dealing with stress
  • Taming the inner critic
  • Developing a sense of personal power
  • Helping your child to limit device time
  • Managing difficult emotions (or calming down your Hot Mess)

My purpose is twofold:

I want to present useful information that’s easy to read and digest so you can apply it easily to your busy life. I know your time is precious, and if I can offer you one kernel of wisdom that doesn’t take 20 minutes to read, that will make your life easier and richer, I am all for that. I believe in making mindful practices more easily accessible in everyday life, to everyone.

Second, I have been told by many that I offer too much information – it’s good information, but sometimes difficult to digest because it requires more time. So I am being intentional about putting out the information in more bite-size pieces. Still powerful, but you only need to taste.

I don’t want to give you a firehose to drink from when you only need a sip of water!

Also, I have some professional projects I’m working on presently that require more of my own time and attention than I have left over after writing a full-length blog post. So, good for you and good for me too.

I still am available to hear from you and share ideas you have about living your best life in this challenging world we live in. Please feel free to respond, ask questions, or just share your perspective. Let me know if there are other topics you’d like “tips” about.

Today, here are some tips to manage that pesky inner critic’s voice…

Best Tips for Taming Your Inner Critic

Have you ever had a meditation experience that goes something like this?

“…Oh, it feels so good to follow my breath….My shoulders were so high…I’m just starting to let them drop…I feel myself sinking into the chair… I feel my weight in the chair……I think I’m gaining weight… My pants are too tight. It’s my own fault that I have no control when I walk by the donut shop….I eat when I’m stressed… I should know better than to eat when I’m stressed…Oh yeah, I’m supposed to be meditatingjust paying attention to my breath…It feels so good to just breathe…even though I’m sure I can’t even breathe right….Nowhere else to be…Nothing else to do...My to do list is so long – I can’t finish anything on it. Everyone else does such a better job. The one thing that’s been on my list for so long is to call my friend…It’s a terrible thing when I say friendships are so important to me and yet I don’t call them  back…I’m such a bad friend. I’m sure they’re annoyed with me…Don’t think about that right now! Just ‘meditate’!…I’m supposed to be meditatingJust breathe naturally...what’s the point of this anyways? All I do is think about everything else.  I can’t control my mind. I can’t even meditate right. I’m not good at this….WHAT? It’s time to stop already? I’m such a Hot Mess!…I wish I could just take a breath….”

This mind chatter often comes up when one is trying to create space through meditation or mindfulness. Then it just makes people feel bad and feel as if there is something wrong with them that prevents them from meditating right.

If you notice, this kind of mind chatter also comes up everywhere else in all kinds of circumstances and situations (like having dinner at a friend’s house, at a meeting at work, when your partner is complaining about their day, when your kids are stressing you out…).

Usually, it’s not friendly mind chatter. Usually, it’s a mean or critical inner voice that tries to take over…

Everyone has an inner critic. Here are some tips to keep your inner critic from ruining your life:

  • Soften your Hot Mess voice. Try to speak your feelings from the heart.
  • Speak to yourself like you would your child, or pet, or BFF.
  • The negative inner voice can negatively affect relationships with yourself and with others. So be gentle.
  • See the inner voice as a bubble of words coming out of your head… Poof it away.

Whenever you hear that tone of “you’re not good enough“, let that be a cue that this is not something you have to listen to closely – you won’t be tested on this.

Hold your inner critic with care, compassion – befriend it, get to know it and what it’s protected you from. Describe it. Ask questions of it (like what does it need? What’s it here to help you learn?).

Don’t try to get rid of it – just lessen its power.

Anytime you’re beating yourself up for making a mistake, not knowing, not being good enough, you’re treating yourself in an abusive way – taking away your own personal power, and victimizing yourself. Try treating yourself with compassion instead.

Instead of bringing criticism to the critic’s voice, bring curiosity, openness, inquiry.

See what it needs. What are its fears? Consider treating your inner critic with kindness. Problem-solve with it.

Know thyself. Know your feelings, wishes, thoughts, decisions. And speak them kindly to others, and especially to yourself.

Your Inner Critic can be associated with depression, anxiety, perfectionism. Catch yourself when you’re not letting your Inner Supporter get a word in edgewise.

Don’t be critical about the critical inner voice. Lots of times people don’t like to meditate because it brings up their inner critic and they think they’re doing it all wrong.

Inquire as to what are some favorite topics of your inner critic? Give a name to your inner critic (i.e. Zelda). Relate to it. See the inner critic as being in your corner. Appreciate it and that it cares about you and really wants you to live your own best life (though it might be awkward about how it communicates that to you).

Recognize and greet it when it shows up, but don’t let it be the only one you talk to you throughout the whole party. You must appreciate it, but keep a boundary – don’t let it be mean to you. When you notice it being mean, say “Get thee behind me Zelda!” Or something else a little dramatic and silly.

Using humor is one way of softening the inner critic’s voice.

Focus in on your values. When behavior is driven by things innately important and meaningful to you, that is a more powerful motivator than the critic demanding you to do something.

To clarify values, think of the happiest and most content person you know – somebody you admire most, and write down what traits make them so. Also when you’re dead and gone what do you most want to be remembered for? Write those traits down. These traits are indicative of your core values. Better to use these as a motivator than the inner critic.

Often times people are reluctant to let go of their inner critic because they think they won’t do anything and they’ll be lazy. It’s way better to motivate yourself with values than with self-punishment.

It’s not about getting rid of the inner critic, just know when to listen or not; or be able to turn down the volume of it.

You can have good self-esteem and still have an inner critic. You must be able to discriminate when to pay attention and when is it just noise.

Everyone has an inner critic. Some good ways to handle it are to picture it on a volume control knob that you can turn down. Or as a barking dog tied to a tree and you just keep on walking by. Or you can tell the inner critic to shut up. Or ask the critic what it’s trying to teach you and try to figure out that lesson. You can argue against it.

People who listen passively to the critic end up feeling terrible. This can then connect to depression. To defend yourself or make it a learning experience or take some action with it is more helpful.

Pay attention to how you decide when to listen to that voice and when not. Often it never occurs to somebody that they don’t have to listen to that voice.

Something silly but profound to try:

  • Say out loud what that voice usually says internally, for one minute.
  • Pick a cartoon character or funny voice and say all the exact same things again out loud, but with that funny voice.
  • Notice where the location of that voice is in your body.
  • Move the voice to come out of your body from a different place like you’re butt, or from your big toe, muffled through your shoe. Say again out loud, but only for a minute, those things your inner critic typically says, from that body part or with that voice. Notice how ridiculous it sounds. Let yourself laugh with kindness about that voice. This might seem superficial but can really reduce the power of the inner critic.

So these my best tips list for today. Do any of them resonate with you? I’d love to hear how you’re getting along with your inner critic, and any wisdom or challenges you’re aware of.

If you or someone you care about is having a hard time taming that inner critic, please contact me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445