A May, 2015 book from Rowman & Littlefield, and the topic of the talk at the WCPA Annual Meeting
Jacqueline Hornor Plumez, Ph.D.
I have found that most women – and many men – live with a litany of self-criticism:
You look fat.
How could you be so stupid?
You really blew it!
No one wants to hear what you have to say.
Don’t even try—it will never work.
It’s what I have come to call The Bitch in Your Head.
Some people hear The Bitch and think it’s motivating—encouraging them to work harder or smarter. Other people think it protects them from being disappointed or arrogant. But most people are so used to their barrage of self-criticism that they are hardly aware of it – it’s just background noise wearing away their self-esteem and limiting their potential.
As a psychologist, I was frustrated because traditional psychotherapy techniques didn’t seem very efficient or effective in combating my patients’ self-criticism. Then one day I began a session with a lawyer who had many ways of putting herself down. That day she had a new one: even though she liked being a lawyer, she berated herself for not getting an MBA and making more money on Wall Street. I needed something dramatic to break her self-criticism, so I said, “Boy are you a bitch!” She pulled back as if I had struck her. I waited a beat and added, “to yourself.” It worked! By labeling and personifying the negative voice in her head as “a bitch,” she could finally hear how self-destructive she was being.
My next patient was a woman whose husband had left her. She felt too insecure to begin dating until she could afford breast implants. When she told me she turned down a date with a cute guy she liked at her gym, I used my Bitch line again, then followed it with, “Would you ever tell your daughter not to date until she was a D-cup?” Again, labeling self-defeating thoughts as The Bitch, helped break through resistance.
I didn’t start calling everyone a Bitch, but I did notice that over the next year, almost every patient – in one way or another — was “Bitchy” to themselves. And outside the office, even though many men gave me a blank stare when I said I was working on a book called, The Bitch in Your Head: How to Finally Squash Your Inner Critic, every woman got it.
The mayor of a small town told me, “I can’t even get out of bed in the morning before it starts. The minute I open my eyes, I begin thinking of all the mistakes I made the day before.” A woman with a long, successful career said, “Every time I get a consulting job, my Bitch says, ‘Can you really do this? Who do you think you are?’” And after I told an executive about The Bitch, she emailed me to say, “I realize I can spend hours dwelling on something I said or did, even if it didn’t matter all that much.”
It’s not that men aren’t self-critical, it’s just that most seem to spend far less time on self-doubt. Studies show that women blame themselves when they make mistakes, while men often blame the situation or someone else. When women look in mirrors, they focus on what they don’t like, while men focus on what they do like. And speaking of gender differences, how many men do you know who berate themselves for being “a terrible parent” or feel very guilty about spending so much time away from the kids at the office or the golf course?
Whether you are male or female, it’s possible for The Bitch to affect every area and every era of your life. And it is the biggest thing that keeps people from fulfilling their dreams. So I want to leave you with a question, ”If I had a magic wand, and could make anything possible, If you didn’t have to worry that people would think you were crazy – or about whether you had the skills or training or money to pull it off, if ANYTHING was possible, what would you do?”
Whatever comes to your mind, don’t let The Bitch tell you it’s impossible. Instead, try to come up with all the ways you could make your dream come true.
Disclaimer: Although Dr. Plumez is a member of the Westchester County Psychological Association (WCPA,) the views in this article are hers and not the views of WCPA.
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