Sometimes I want to beg people, plead with them to stop.
To stop beating up on themselves.
To stop hating a part of who they are.
To stop limiting their capacity for growth.
In essence, I want to plead with people to do something revolutionary–to stop hating their inner critic.
It starts with the name calling. The inner critic is often referred to as a “monster,” or a “gremlin.” I’ve heard people say things like, “I’ve decided to tell my fear to fuck off!” Others declare that that’s it–they aren’t going to listen to the “gremlins” in their head, any longer.
I used to do it, too, until the day that I made one of the biggest connections of my life: that this small, scared part of me talked a big game, but underneath? It was terrified.
Imagine a mother, out of mind with fear because her child is missing, but bystanders who don’t realize this are calling her names or telling her to calm down, not understanding the gravity of that kind of terror. That’s the inner critic when it’s triggered, living in a world of fear and feeling out of control and powerless, unable to see the full picture.
And what was I doing to my critic for so many years? What do so many people do to that tender, scared part of themselves? Call it names. Tell it to “shut the fuck up.” Abuse it for being afraid. Make it wrong for being scared.
You can’t practice love and acceptance, while routinely saying and doing things that are anything BUT love and acceptance for this one part of your being that you are uncomfortable being with.
Shifting your relationship with the inner critic, from one of trying to beat it back to having a relationship with it, starts with what you call it.
If you currently call your critic a “monster” or a “gremlin,” consider this: If you were trying to get along better with someone, and they kept calling you a “monster,” then how would you feel?
If we want to meet other people in the world with love and compassion, without reservation, then we’ve got to meet ourselves there, first.
Take an honest look at what you do with the parts of yourself that you’re uncomfortable with: Are you beating them into submission? Or being an invitation for something greater?
Source of Power
The inner critic is a huge source of power–of all things!–that most people aren’t going anywhere near, much less tapping in to.
As my coach put it, “Your inner critic is your best friend, with lousy communication skills.”
When I first heard this, I thought, “My best friend wouldn’t tell me that I’m a pathetic piece of shit.”
But as I grew to understand the critic more, I resonated with the sentiment.
My inner critic was there to protect me–no matter what. No matter if she had to berate me into not going after a dream (to protect me from potential disappointment or rejection) or subtly undermine my confidence when I was preparing for a speaking event (in order to get me to pre-prepare for every imaginable scenario, and thus not face the rejection of a crowd).
My inner critic was steadfast and loyally committed to trying to steel me against any kind of potential pain that I might encounter. She would fight to the death to keep me from the pain, shame, or humiliation of perceived or actual rejection.
The problem was not that she was afraid or even usually the content of her message. The problem was the delivery of that message.
As I began tapping into this belief, I became less interested in numbing out my critic and more interested in seeing what it was that she had to say, and why it was that she wanted to say it.
If I was willing to find out what it was that she was so afraid of, I could start actually address those fears. That is powerful.
Leaning into the Fearful Edge
When you first start working with those inner critic voices, there’s a hump that you’ll encounter pretty quickly, and it’s this one:
After years of being ignored, the critic is resentful, which means that at first, it is bigger and louder and angrier.
Imagine that you have a friend or family member, and years of resentment have built up. You finally decide that you’re done with that game, and so you approach said person and try to make amends.
Chances are, while they might be interested, at least at first they’re going to have their hesitations. (“Are you serious? After all these years? Now you’re saying you want to patch things up and let go of the past? Well, before I can do that, I need to tell you all the terrible stuff you’ve done…”).
Also–the first voices to work with are likely to be the angriest, which can be terrifying.
Furthermore, there might be places where the critic is…right. If it’s accusing you of having been lazy, it’s possible that if you get honest, you can see places where you were lazy. Sorting out what’s what is a commitment to a process. Staying the course is critical, and it’s where you need a coach or resource that can give you tools for working through.
How do we transform this? Well, we do not transform our so-called weaknesses through endless recitation of affirmations until we can believe in our essential goodness.
We transform the so-called weaknesses by lifting them up to the light of examination, by having the courage to see where those things might be true, discarding them when we see objectively that they are not, understanding the impact of those parts on ourselves and others, and embracing our imperfection by practicing gentleness while we are learning and in process.
While the process of looking at our inner critic voices and what’s behind them is a scary one, it’s–oddly enough–a process that ends up creating safety. We feel safer when we see what we’re doing clearly than when we’re hiding from what we’re doing. We feel safer when we examine needs, and then meet them, rather than judging ourselves for the needs that we have.
In essence: when we listen to the critic, we learn that underneath the lousy communication skills, she might have something important to say, something that will bring clarity or something that points us to an area where we have unmet needs.
We can’t transform things with hatred. We only transform them with love, patience, compassion, acceptance, gentleness.
So–I want to beg of you, plead with you, to stop: I’d like to ask you to please quit making yourself wrong, by way of making your inner critic wrong.
It’s not your enemy.
When you make your inner critic into your enemy, you make yourself into an enemy, and the war within will rage on, and on, and on, and it will wear you down in the process.
Like two countries that need to put down arms and start talking about what each party is really after, we need to lay down arms and start asking our inner critics what essential needs aren’t being met, and then start collaborating as to how to meet them.
“Ease is the sign that it’s the right path.”
“I just need to speak my truth.”
“It must be meant to be.”
We hear these things often when we start to do personal work, and for some, it brings up skepticism of self-help.The examples of people who mis-use such concepts are rampant enough that the self-help mantra of the day can start to seem like it’s used to justify whatever position someone is in.
For instance, I’ve heard of or experienced someone saying, “Well, ease is the sign that it’s the right path for me.”
Yes, ease is one of the signs that something is in alignment with your life. And of course, I don’t believe that everything worth doing is always hard.
But boilerplate, “Ease is how I know this is right?” That attitude can really rob someone of an incredible learning experience.
I spent years of my own life resisting going into the hard stuff, always choosing whatever was easy. Finally, when I surrendered to dealing with the hard stuff, on the other side of incredible and deep discomfort is where I’ve found my greatest joy.
Or how about, “I just need to speak my truth?”
For years, I used and abused that one. Having come from a place where I was afraid to speak my truth, it felt heady and liberating for the self-help world to (seemingly) be encouraging me to start speaking my truth.
Speak my truth? Why, it was just what I’d been waiting for!
If someone didn’t like it, they must be someone who was encouraging me not to speak my truth. Bad friend!
But you see where I’m going with this. Using “I need to speak my truth” to complain, put someone down, offer unsolicited advice, vent my own angry judgments, or tear into someone’s character is a manipulation of the work.
The ethos of “speak your truth” is intended to bring greater connection–not give me or you or anyone else cart blanche to spout off opinions or advice (especially those that are unsolicited).
“Speak your truth” is intended to help people to come out of hiding, to have the courage to bring to everyone’s awareness even those things that might be difficult.
It’s not a permission slip to complain. It’s a permission slip to voice something in service to greater connection–either greater connection to who you are, or greater connection to another.
And–“It was just meant to be”?
Absolutely, sometimes. But just notice if you’re using this as a curative to avoid feelings of deep disappointment, especially when something you’ve been working towards hasn’t worked out.
This is why this is so tricky–because the world is full of dichotomous relationships, places where two different categories, both seeming opposites, can both be true.
Ease can be a sign of the right path–and it can be a cop-out to avoid challenging yourself. Speaking your truth can be liberation–and it can be an illusory cage, in which all that talking doesn’t really get you where you actually hope to go. What’s “meant to be” can be acceptance–or it can be avoidance.
Check your integrity on this one. Deep down, you always know the difference between the truth and a lie. It’s impossible to offer a set of guidelines for knowing when you’re doing the work and when you’re manipulating the work, other than this one: deep within, the truth of you knows. Check in.
So in case you didn’t get the memo–it’s no longer cool to use phrases such as “being your authentic self” or “living an authentic life” on the internet. And…you can probably already tell that in this piece, I’m about to disregard the memo.
A few years ago? It was totally fine to talk about “living authentically” and “finding your authentic self.” It was completely understood that our consumerist-driven, materialistic world tends to make people externalize their happiness, turn away from themselves, and thus, to not live “authentically.”
Right around the time everyone started to use this word, the backlash began–people were sick of the word because everyone was using it (understandable) and at least half of the people using it were using it…inauthentically (which is to say, they were using it as a branding message that they didn’t actually live).
There are some words that I’m happy to toss from the internet lexicon, especially those that both say very little and kind of gross me out (top of my list? “juicy” living. Shudder).
Yet–I keep mulling over “authenticity.” I keep thinking that even if it’s not supposed to be cool to like it…I kind of like it.
Actually, I keep thinking that I really dig it–that it’s a quality of life and a characteristic in a person that I actually endeavor to seek out and connect with.
I keep thinking that maybe it’s a concept that can help us if we make it central to our lives, and that perhaps it’s not one of those that needs to be tossed away.
In case you haven’t looked it up, lately, here’s what I found:
Authenticity. noun. The quality of being authentic; genuineness (courtesy of dictionary.com)
And isn’t that what we most want in our friends, our jobs, our romantic partners? The genuine experience? Yes. No sense in denying that.
So how do you know when you’re not cultivating the genuine experience and when authenticity is not a core operating principle in your life?
>> You say “yes” to things you don’t really want to say “yes” to. You do this both consciously and unconsciously. You say “yes” to the extra errand you didn’t really want to run, or you say “yes” unconsciously–yes to more time in front of the television even though it doesn’t feed your soul or yes to the person who asks if you’ll pimp their new e-course, because you feel bad saying no.
>> If you got honest, you’d quickly identify the little undercurrents of resentment. Resentment that he won’t help out around the house, more. Resentments that the kids had a meltdown. Resentment that your sister’s life seems easier. Resentment that your life doesn’t look like your Pinterest board.
>> You compare yourself to others. Whether you compare yourself and come out favorably or whether you compare yourself and come out in the red, it doesn’t matter. Both of these are illusions (despite how it may seem, you’re not doing your life any better, or any worse, than anyone else–we all have our own paths) and ticking off the “I’m doing it better” boxes feels just as miserable as ticking off the “I’m doing it worse” boxes.
>> Your outsides feel at odds with your insides. You stand in front of the closet, thinking, “I have no idea what to wear,” because you have no idea who bought that tailored skirt and button-down shirt when you know you yearn for dreadlocks and a maxi dress. Or you walk into your house and it never quite feels like home. Or you find yourself having lunch with three co-workers and pretending to be interested in things that really, you have no interest in.
>> You aren’t telling the truth in important relationships–like your marriage, or with your family or closest friend. Every time you hang out with your cousin, you come away angry at the things that she says–but you never talk to her about it. You feel like you and your hubs are more roommates than partners–but you’ve never initiated a conversation with him about it, or you tried it once and then didn’t do it again because he wasn’t responsive.
>> You aren’t taking responsibility for your life. Check this out: Think of someone you’re currently in conflict with. Whose fault is it that there’s distance between the two of you? Play the situation out in your head. It’s probably “theirs.”
If your cousin’s words bug you, the focus goes to what she says and how she should have said it differently–rather than taking responsibility for your reactions, or for speaking up, and rather than considering other possibilities (maybe you misunderstood; maybe she just needs to be made aware that what she said was insensitive and she’ll apologize; maybe you’re the one over-reacting and the onus to get over it is on you). If your husband isn’t responsive to your attempts to resuscitate the marriage, the focus goes to what he’s done (or is not doing), what he’s saying (or not saying), how he’s not showing up for the marriage.
>> And now, the biggie: You’re tired. A lot. Maybe even all of the time. Living inauthentically is exhausting.
“Living authentically” is often painted as a place you can arrive at, a black or white land of “you’re either doing it, or you’re not.” Most people who embark on uncovering their “authentic self” tend to think that their lives are in need of a complete overhaul.
That’s a wonderful, dramatic, passionate, spicy…fantasy. Starting over with a blank slate is fun, but it’s impossible with “living authentically.”
Why? Because there is no blank slate. Your life’s experiences have become etched upon your soul. You already have preferences, aches, and the promise of new, ecstatic joy to be discovered.
All of this is uniquely yours. You can screw with it to a certain degree. But within each of us, there’s a place where you simply can’t deny who you are.
The work of “living authentically” is not about finding yourself. It’s about removing the obstacles to finding yourself.
It’s an ongoing process. It won’t be done in one fell swoop. Not one of the so-called “thought leaders” that you might look up to right now are “done” with living “authentically.” It’s a practice, a process.
Removing (self-imposed) obstacles
Stop saying “yes” to the things you don’t want to say “yes” to. Start with what’s easiest and most in your control before moving to the harder stuff (saying “yes” to the boss’s request).
Get honest with yourself about your resentments. Then see above.
Start telling the truth–and tell it clean. Tell it with the intention to connect, not to criticize or make someone else wrong. (P.S. it’s a perversion of the work to criticize someone and then use “What? I’m just telling my truth!” as a fall back).
Clean out a closet. This is an astonishingly potent form of inner work. It will bring up all your stuff (literally and figuratively).
Release the illusion of comparisons. If you’re looking to anyone else as a gauge for whether or not you’re winning at life, you’re looking in all the wrong places.
Take responsibility for your life. It is, after all, your life–your choices. Your happiness. Your ecstatic joy.