A recent study suggests that talking to your pets is a sign of social intelligence. And boy is that a real boost to my self-esteem since I talk to my cats all the time.
Oh, and they usually talk back.
Maybe it’s an only child thing, but I can carry on a conversation with a cat for a good 10 minutes.
Over the years, I’ve had many conversations with cats about important feline issues like birds, memes, and catnip. But I’d never had a kitty conversation turn ugly until I adopted Sadie.
Sadie is a brown tabby cat rescued from the mean streets of Birmingham, AL. But she’s more than just a pet to me. She’s my kitty alter ego.
I guess it’s no surprise when you consider all that we have in common.
“She’s highly food motivated,” the adoption counselor cautioned me. I had no choice but to laugh, “Well, that makes two of us!”
And at Sadie’s first vet appointment, the vet tech assured me, “It’s not that Sadie’s overweight, she’s just…short!” You and me both, Sadie.
I adopted Sadie in the middle of a decade-long body image crisis. And in her, I saw my own perceived flaws.
Of course, Sadie’s round belly was cute (even though mine kept me awake at night crying). And when Sadie finished her dinner and begged for more, it was funny (and not a response to disordered eating).
So given our shared struggles, it seemed only natural that I should talk to her about her weight. Sadie wasn’t in our home long before I started critiquing her size, her weight, and her eating habits.
“Don’t steal your sister’s food! You don’t need the extra calories!”
I guess I had it coming, but right after that was the first time that Sadie told me I was fat.
As the words came out of my mouth (on Sadie’s behalf, of course), I caught a concerned glance from my husband. “Where did Sadie learn how to talk like that?” he wondered.
But his worried tone didn’t stop me. And for over two years, Sadie voiced my meanest inner critic.
Sadie shared her opinions at any chance she could get. She told me I was fat, lazy, and should walk away from that bag of chips before I went back for another mouthful.
Sadie and I have since made amends, but I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about those years. That was before I was learning about body image and personal development. And it was certainly before I knew about the voice of the inner critic that haunts so many of us, negatively affecting our body image, career goals, and relationships.
So instead of dismissing that time as my “crazy cat lady” years, I’ve found a way to learn from my furry inner critic. I’ve identified some positive takeaways that helped me tame my unlikely inner critic.
Name and Separate
Identifying the voice of my inner critic was a crucial first step.
The best thing about Sadie the Inner Critic was that her voice was distinct from my own. Because Sadie has a “pet voice,” I could identify the presence of my inner critic immediately.
By naming and imagining a completely separate person (or animal!) as our inner critic, we can more easily identify negative thoughts. And by recognizing that our inner critics are not our own thoughts, it’s easier to separate the irrational inner critic from reality.
Forgive and Move On
When our inner critic comes calling, we may shut our eyes, cover our ears, and try to make the critic vanish into thin air. Poof. Or maybe we think it’s best to fight back (even though we could never be as cruel as our own inner critics).
But the goal isn’t to fight back. That just adds fuel to the mental fire.
So let’s expand on our newly named inner critic. What if the critic isn’t Cruella de Vil come to life? What if the inner critic is a furry friend (or at least a friendly face)?
Having an easy-to-forgive inner critic was essential for my progress. Sadie is nothing if not lovable, so I had little temptation to fight back. And the times I did, I ultimately had to stop and laugh at the absurdity of exchanging insults with my cat.
Instead of vilifying your inner critic, let your critic be a friend. After all, our inner critics are just trying to protect us, so let’s forgive their misguided chatter and move on.
Break the Cycle
Even though I understood the “game” that Sadie and I were playing, my self-loathing was so deeply entrenched that it was hard to break the cycle. I knew that Sadie was my inner mean girl, but why?
As with other bad habits, a deeper awareness of my inner critic’s tendencies helped me finally change my ways.
Sadie was my protective shield as I struggled to reconcile two separate realities: a highly restrictive diet and a body that didn’t want to be controlled or deprived anymore. Once I realized why my inner critic behaved the way she did, it was easier to use the awareness techniques of Name & Separate and Forgive & Move On.
Though I’ve certainly tamed my inner critic, I haven’t silenced her. And I’m not sure that any of us should expect to completely eliminate our inner critics.
But these days, when Sadie’s voice starts to bubble up, I can quickly identify what’s going on. Instead of snapping back or shutting down, I can stop the negative self-talk right there. I confidently tell Sadie that we don’t talk to each other that way anymore.
Besides, if she won’t shame me for buying larger jeans, I won’t judge her for stealing cat treats.