January 28, 2017
This week a client came into my office and said that she felt like she has two voices in her head – one that desires a glass of wine at the end of the day, and the other which chastises her for being “lazy” and “irresponsible” for wanting, or having, that glass.
“ARGH! It’s like I have to convince myself that it’s okay for me to have that glass of wine. How do I get rid of this?”
Pretty much everyone has some version of this story for themselves. The dang inner critic that tells us that we’re fat, lazy, stupid, mean, disrespectful, saying that we should know better or that we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing, questioning our every move, our every bite, our every word…. It’s exhausting.
The most common responses to this inner critic are either to listen to it, and then feel badly about ourselves, or to yell back and fight it. Both are draining and, in the end, perpetuating the inner drama. What if there’s another way?
If we give in to the inner judge and accept its criticism, we will both feel badly about ourselves (neither helpful nor fun) and we will give implicit permission for the critic to continue to belittle us.
If we fight the inner critic, we will also make it stronger. Consider a child. What is the best way to get him to do something? To tell them they can’t do it.
“You know you’re not supposed to go in there! What is your fascination with my forbidden closet of mysteries?”
This doesn’t really change as we become adults. Right now, as you read this, WHATEVER YOU DO, do NOT think of a pink elephant. Don’t do it….. oh… too late.
So if we give in to the inner critic, or if we fight it, we only embolden it.
Maybe there’s another option.
My mom tells this story of when she was a teenager and had a school dance. She picked out this dress which she loved, lost some weight to get it to fit, got her hair and makeup all perfect, and felt like a million bucks as she finished getting ready. She walked out of her room and presented herself to her mom. My grandmother’s response? “Well, it’s a good thing you’re not an ounce heavier otherwise you wouldn’t fit into that dress.” Yooowwwch!
On the surface, that’s really mean. And it definitely took my mom down a peg. But there’s a deeper story here.
At this point, my grandmother had been widowed and was a single mom raising two girls. She was tough as nails, but also still clearly deeply hurt and lonely inside. She didn’t want her kids to feel the same pain she felt. So to prevent that feeling, in her mind, my mom had to have a husband. And in order for her to get a husband, she had to look “perfect.” (see this other post about my grandmother embodying the Metal element of Chinese Medicine)
My grandmother’s mean critique was actually born from a place of good intention and love. It got all sorts of twisted on its journey from internal intention to external words, but it was rooted in love.
Such is the same with our own inner critic. Its anger, its judgment, its meanness is all actually born from a place of self-love. Its deepest aim may be to prevent us from being alone or hurt or abandoned, or from being ridiculed or physically ill. It may well be trying to keep us small and quiet because it doesn’t want others to see our flaws or it doesn’t want us to get big and popular only to fall from grace.
Whatever the root reason for our inner critic, it has a lot of evidence to support its views and actions. It is not irrational nor is it unwarranted. This doesn’t mean our inner critic is correct in its assessment of us. It doesn’t mean we yield to its yelling.
But what if we can have compassion for both the part of us that wants to have the glass of wine AND for the critic that is judging our actions? This is not about taking sides in that old-as-we-are battle that rages in our minds. Instead it is about understanding the wants and needs of both sides and treating them both with compassion and love.
“Yes, I understand that I want that glass of wine. It’s been a long day, and that will feel nice. AND I also understand that my inner critic is scared that I am worthless and will be considered by others to be lazy, so it’s considering that this glass of wine will lead me to be ostracized.
I also understand that I am an adult and as the adult me, my life and my relationships are not that fragile. It is not that my inner critic is wrong in its intention, but it is making a connection where there is none. Thank you, inner critic, for being on the look out and working to protect me. I get it. And maybe this time things will be just fine if I enjoy this wine.”
Fighting our inner critic is not helpful. We may win a battle here or there, but this is an endless war if we continue to fight. Instead, if we offer love, understanding, and compassion for our inner critics, we disarm them. When we access the hurt and fear underneath, we connect with the root intention of our critic. From this place, we can guide ourselves to a place of peace within.
Our inner critic wants the best for us, even if it goes about getting it in a backwards way. I’ll invite you to take some time with your inner critic and see what it’s end game is. Why does it talk to you that way? What is it trying to prevent? What is its underlying hurt or fear?
“I have decide to stick with love. Hate is too big a burden to bear.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.