A Conversation with My Inner Critic

Over the years I have caught glimpses of you in the mirror, wicked; in a sudden stridency in my own voice, have heard you mock me; in the tightening of my muscles felt the pull of your anger and the whine of your greed twist my countenance; felt your indifference blank my face when pity was called for. You are there, lurking under every kind act I do, ready to defeat me. Lately, rather than drop the lid of my shock over your intrusion, I have looked for you with new eyes opened to your tricks, but more, opened to your rootedness in life. Come, I open my arms to you also, once-dread stranger. Come, as a friend I would welcome you to stretch your apartments within me from the cramped to comforting side. Thus I would disarm you. For I have recently learned, learned looking straight into your eyes: The holiness of God is everywhere. Elsie Landstrom, Inward Light, No. 67

You’ve got to kiss your demon on the lips.  Steve Brown

We all have an inner critic who causes us to question most everything we do.  This voice inside our head often leaves us wondering if we can ever do anything right.  It’s exhausting when we try to please it, because it’s impossible to, and often listening to it leaves us very ashamed.

In his book Wholeheartedness, Chuck DeGroat describes the battle with our nagging inner critic and offers the solution of self- compassion, rather than more self-esteem.   Not only does our society which pushes us to do more try harder contribute to our harsh inner critic, but so does growing up in an abusive family.

I know this inner critic only too well.  No matter how many times I try to shut her up, ignore her, or distract myself from listening to her, she bites at my heels like a yapping dog.  So I’ve learned to live with her the best way I can, which usually results in being exhausted. 

In Wholeheartedness, Dr. Degroat offers a better solution than just coping with our inner critic when he tells us about a patient named Jack who comes to his office tortured by his harsh inner critic.  He advises Jack to engage his inner critic in conversation.

Last night I went to a group therapy session and my inner critic came out.  During the session we discussed pain and how we cope.   When it came my time to share I explained how I had dealt with pain in all the wrong ways – contempt towards myself,  contempt towards others,  numbing,  and denial.   And as soon as I shared, my inner critic began to shout.  You just think you know it all. You are such a show out. You need to be quiet. These ladies all think you are full of yourself and full of pride.  This is going to be another train wreck you just wait and see. 

I’m so tired of the exhaustion I feel when I argue with my inner critic.  I’m also tired of trying to silence her voice. So today I’ve pulled up a chair and really listened to what she’s saying to me.  I think my inner critics warnings have something to do with my amygdala going into overdrive, because I’ve opened up and been vulnerable and that feels like a very unsafe thing for someone who’s been hurt like I have been to do.  A little over a year ago I was betrayed by leaders in my church when I confessed to them.  I had longed to be heard and helped by them, but instead they pressured me into confessing to the whole church in a letter,  and rather than reading my whole confession, they edited it to make it more palatable to fit the story they wanted to tell the church. To them an affair was a much better story for the reputation of the church than abuse.  I had convinced myself when I handed them my letter that people in the church would understand what happened to me and forgive.  I also hoped they’d gain understanding about spiritual abuse, but that didn’t happen. I was traumatized to the point that I didn’t want to go anywhere in public for fear people would see me. My inner critic wants me to be silent, because she is trying to protect me from further harm, just as she did when my adopted father was angry and spiralling out of control and she told me to be quiet, go to my room and stay out of harm’s way.  My inner critic was once a friend who didn’t want to see me hurt.  She came alongside of me when I was a scared little girl.  She told me what to do to.  I realized I had never thanked her or offered her compassion for what we’ve been through.  And I’ve decided it’s time for that to change.

I know you care about me and you don’t want me to suffer anymore.  Thank you for coming into my life when I was a little girl and helping to keep me safe.  You knew if I said or did the wrong things that I’d trigger my father and things would become more stressful. You watched my parents carefully and told me when circumstances were volatile and told me when  to go to my room.  You were right to tell me that. I could not do anything about my parent’s pain or how they took it out on me.  I could only control myself in an effort to stop any further distress.  So listening to you helped me through a really hard time.

But it was hard being alone all those years, just us against the world. And the only way for me not to be alone is to share vulnerably with others. I know you must be tired of carrying the burden of trying to do and say all the right things to keep everyone from being upset.  I know you must be lonely, too.  Wouldn’t you like to rest in the comfort of others?

Yes, I agree with you the whole thing at the church was a complete train wreck. I thought I knew what I was doing when I confessed.  I thought I was smart enough to conclude that others would understand,  but I was wrong. I could not know what others would do and I wish I’d have thought it through more.  But still what’s done is done and I learned so much through that.  I think the biggest thing I learned  was that most of us don’t  know what to do with our pain.  And there was a whole lot of pain in that church.

But I’m in a different place now and so are you.  We’re forgiven and free. And we have a story to tell.  God doesn’t want us to do this alone anymore.  He wants us to let others love us. He wants us to love ourselves.  So take my hand and let’s work together…

Breathe by Johnny Diaz

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