“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’ll never work!”
In The Bitch in Your Head: How to Finally Squash Your Inner Critic (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2015), Dr. Jacqueline Hornor Plumez introduces us to “The Bitch”—that nagging voice that questions our capabilities, undermines our confidence, and fosters regret and self-doubt.
Over the course of her research, Dr. Plumez, an award-winning psychologist, spoke with hundreds of women, all of whom had stories about the self-critical voice they heard on a regular basis. We recently talked with Dr. Plumez about The Bitch and how we can finally silence her.
BookTrib: In the book you explain why The Bitch affects women more frequently and differently than men. Why do you think it’s so important for women in particular to recognize The Bitch in their heads?
Jacqueline Hornor Plumez: The gender differences are fascinating. Most women live with a litany of self-defeating self-criticism. We say things to ourselves that we would never say to a friend or our child. We know these things would be depressing to others, so we have to stop being so negative to ourselves.
When women look in the mirror, we focus on what we don’t like. But men do the opposite. For example, a guy with a giant beer belly might just pop an arm muscle and admire that. You can imagine the difference this makes in self-esteem and self-confidence.
I learned in graduate school that when women make mistakes, there is great fear of failure. But when they have a success, they credit luck. Men do the opposite: credit themselves for success and blame the situation or someone else for a failure. I am astounded to find that this gender difference still exists, and you can imagine how this holds women back from pursuing their aspirations at work and other places.
BT: As you explain in the book, you’ve personified “The Bitch in Our Heads” because it makes it easier for people to recognize the problem.
JHP: I found that traditional psychotherapy techniques didn’t work when I tried to help people who were self-critical. But when I began using the technique of labeling and personifying the negative thoughts in their heads as “The Bitch” they could hear how mean they were being.
BT: Beyond the name, though, the descriptions in the book give a clear depiction of The Bitch’s personality. For example, she lives in the past, constantly questioning our decisions. What is it about regret that is such a powerful weapon?
JHP: Dwelling on past mistakes is deadly because the time to change them has gone; we can’t go back and correct them. So with many people mistakes just keep rolling around in our minds, stinging like a whip. It does no one any good. To get past that people have to do something active about the thing they regret. For example, if it was something done to someone else, we can look for a way of making an apology, amends, or restitution. If that’s not possible, is there a way of helping someone else in the same situation?
On the other hand, if regret comes from a mistake, we can vow to learn from that mistake and try to behave differently. We can’t go back and change the foolish or mean things we did, but we can choose to try to try to be wiser and kinder moving forward.
BT: The Bitch, as you’ve explained her, is also a perfectionist. Where do you think this drive for perfection comes from?
JHP: Many perfectionists were raised by highly critical people. But all perfectionism comes from the totally mistaken concept that perfection is possible. There is no such thing. Give it up! I think 80 percent is as good as it gets. Unless someone’s life literally depends on not making a mistake, we just have to try to do things well, but accept that things, people, and situations will not be perfect.
BT: Can you give us a teaser from the book—something we can do to begin to recognize and vanquish The Bitch in our heads?
JHP: In general I would advise you to be as encouraging and helpful to yourself as you would to someone you love. Behave like a good parent and best friend to yourself. Spend your time trying to come up with ways you can get what you want, rather than on why you will fail in your aspirations.