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The inner critic is painfully misunderstood. It’s actually not out to get you. And silencing the inner critic? Silencing the inner critic doesn’t work.
Here’s a good metaphor: your inner critic is like one of those streetwise dogs that finally gets picked up by animal protection services.
This streetwise dog has been kicked a few times, gone hungry a few days, and this dog has responded to that by becoming one lean, mean, snarling machine.
The streetwise dog is really a sweet, lovable puppy inside–who learned some serious defense mechanisms to protect itself from danger or the things that it fears. If a hand holding a food dish is extended towards that dog, the dog will probably bite. Never mind the fact that now all the animal services people want to do is love and nurture this streetwise dog–at first, it’s not going to trust anyone. It’s going to trust what it has experienced and all of its survival mechanisms from the past.
The dog isn’t bad. It just has a set way of responding to the world.
Silencing the inner critic doesn’t work. If you put a muzzle on one of those streetwise dogs, sure, it won’t bite–until you take the muzzle off. Then you’re really going to get it.
If you want to stop a dog from biting, you need to rehabilitate it. You need to teach it a new way of being, not shut it down and hope for the best.
You start rehabilitating your critic by deciding that you won’t silence the critic, anymore.
Instead, you’ll get present to it.
You’ll choose to see that it’s not “bad,” it’s just a voice that has learned how to respond to life in a particular way, based on what it knows.
It just is.
It’s part of all of us. And if you’re on the journey to love and accept yourself, then let that journey start with just accepting that the inner critic is there, and then having the courage to believe that it can be managed, that the relationship is one that can shift with time.
Sometimes people misunderstand me as saying that acceptance equals letting the critic say whatever it wants.
Nope. This isn’t about letting things run amok. I’m not saying, “Let your inner critic say whatever it wants.”
I’m saying, Stop pretending that putting a muzzle on the problem, is what fixes the problem.
Back to the “streetwise dog” metaphor: That streetwise dog, once it’s picked up by animal services, will not be allowed to bite people or other dogs. They will practice boundaries.
At the same time, animal services won’t hit the dog, starve the dog, or hurt the dog as part of rehabilitation. The only thing that’s going to help that dog that’s so afraid and defended is this: loving boundaries.
You establish boundaries with an inner critic in the same way that you would with another person. You start by going into each interaction knowing that the communication must be respectful. As soon as your critic says something judgmental, condescending, blaming, or shaming, you respond with:
“Stop. Take a breathe. I’ll listen to your concerns, but they must be voiced respectfully.”
For awhile, this practice will feel a little bit crazy, because you’re basically talking to yourself and that always feels a little nuts. But what you’re really doing is reprogramming an old fear pattern, to create a new courage habit–the habit of noticing your inner critic voice, and responding to it in a different way instead of avoiding it or getting sucked in.
You, in fearful, triggered inner critic mode, are not bad. Your critic needs some boundaries. You can embrace this part of you and understand why it is what it is, while not letting that side of you bite.
Start getting present to this side of you–the inner critic–rather than trying not to see it or feel it or hear it or recognize it. Then start setting some boundaries. That’s how you’ll start managing the inner critic voice in a way that keeps it from stopping you with self-doubt.
The fear that you’re not good enough affects everyone, though it shows up differently for each person (for some of you, “not good enough” expresses itself as going into workaholic over-achiever mode; for others it shows up as comparisons; for others it shows up as procrastination and avoidance and not finishing what you start).
So let’s unpack it a bit. There are logical fallacies that underlie the fear of not being good enough. A logical fallacy is something that might seem logical or try to be based in logic, but the logic falls through because certain underlying assumptions that would make it true, just aren’t there.
Logical Fallacy #1: That “enough” can be clearly defined.
Consider this question:
How would you define “enough”?
You can probably list several ideas: “I’d be good enough if I…didn’t snap at my kids, made more money, lost X number of pounds, actually committed deeply to my spiritual practice, stopped procrastinating…”
But then we start to deconstruct this definition of “enough”–so please hang in here with me, and read each word, carefully, because this might be the start of your freedom from feeling not enough.
Can you really define what makes a person “enough”? Can you really define what makes you “enough”?
Walk through this with me: If someone makes plenty of money and is the “perfect” weight and is deeply committed to her spiritual practice and never procrastinates, many of the markers we tell ourselves would determine our own “enoughness”…
…how do you know for sure that those factors make her “enough”? Or what if she does all of those things–but she also yells at her kids. What if she has a massive rage-fest, one time a year, and she’s a perfect mother every other day of the year? What then?
I’m sure you see the point I’m getting at–that this “enough” idea is essentially undefinable. The boundaries are loose and impermeable.
Logical Fallacy #2: If I understand where I first started to think I’m not good enough, then I’ll be able to believe that I am good enough.
This one is only partially true. It’s only helpful if you’re going to use that understanding to see, in a compassionate way, the pain that the message-bearer was in when they imprinted their criticism and hurt onto you. In other words, it’s helpful to see that whoever taught you that you weren’t good enough, only taught you that because they didn’t believe that they were good enough.
Unfortunately, I see that a lot of well-intentioned coaches, therapists, workshop leaders, etc., will then encourage their clients to tell that person to “Fuck off” in an angry letter that they’ll never send, or they’ll find all the ways in which the early message-bearer was a screw-up and thus can’t be trusted, or they’ll instruct their clients to “not listen” to that voice, or even to tell that “not enough” voice to “Shut up!” every time they hear it.
Why doesn’t that “work”? Because hatred is hatred. If you try to feel like you are good enough by heaping the blame and criticism right back onto the person who first told you you weren’t “enough,” you’re just practicing what they practiced. They blamed or criticized you, and told you that you weren’t good enough, or they told you that something was wrong with you.
Telling them–either literally or in how you think of them–that they were wrong, to “fuck off” or “shut up,” or writing them angry letters, is just you doing the very thing that you’re saying you disagree with.
Logical Fallacy #3: That finding evidence of your enough-ness and affirming it (“I am enough; I am enough”), will help you to feel like you are good enough.
First, this doesn’t work because it buys right back into the idea that there even is a definition of “good enough.” The loop of trying to find the evidence in the first place, keeps you stuck in perpetually needing to find more evidence.
Second, this doesn’t work because you being good enough isn’t something you need to accrue evidence for. You already are good enough.
Now, I know that you’ve heard this, “You are already good enough” before, but let me illustrate this with a visual picture:
Trying to feel like you’re enough by gathering evidence of your enough-ness and saying over and over, “I am enough!” other words, is like standing with your back to a buffet table of food. Imagine it: a long table, tons of food, and it’s all right there, but you’re standing with your back to it, assuming that there is no food because you won’t acknowledge that it’s there, and you’re saying “I HAVE FOOD. I HAVE FOOD” over and over, in the hopes that then the food will come.
If you’d only stop assuming that the food isn’t there in the first place, you’d see that it’s actually there, and your decision to believe that it’s not, and the striving and chaos of trying to find the evidence, ends up turning you in circles–distracting you from what’s already there.
It’s all already there. You are already good enough. Saying, “I am good enough; I feel good enough” over and over isn’t what makes you feel that way.
No longer assuming that you’re not good enough, is what makes you feel good enough.
No longer turning your back to the fact that you are good enough, is what makes you feel good enough.
No longer trying to find evidence that you are good enough, is what makes you feel good enough.
You don’t need to find your enough-ness. You don’t need to assert it more often, in order to conjure it into being. You don’t need to go back and get angry at the people who are wounded just like you are, in probably almost the exact same ways, in the hopes that angry catharsis will purge you of your pain (after all, if that really worked, their criticisms and anger directed at you would have healed them).
What you actually need is to question definitions of “enough” (or deserving, worthiness, or “mattering” to others). As you question, listen carefully to what the voice is saying and the wound that it expresses.
Start to ask yourself why this voice would say this. What wound might prompt a voice to say such a thing–that you aren’t enough, aren’t deserving, or don’t matter?
That’s where you’ll find the help you’re looking for–within the voice that sounds so angry, but that is actually so wounded and so desperate for help that it’s going to start screaming, if it has to. If you’re desperate for water, your behavior will get more desperate. The hungrier you are, the more irritable you are. When you’re emotionally starving, the needs of those emotions, demanding nourishment, also get more extreme.
Listen to the voices of not good enough, and you’ll learn what they are really saying.
This voice that tells you that you aren’t enough…might just be an addiction. It literally might be this thing that you turn to, as a means of self-sabotage and playing victim. You might realize with startling clarity that you don’t actually, truly, honestly believe you “aren’t enough,” and that you just like to tell yourself this so that you don’t have to really put yourself out there (in career, in relationships, in lots of places).
It’s through listening to the voice, not trying to drown it out with affirmations, that you learn this valuable information and can then give less weight to the message–next time it comes up, you might take a breath and say to yourself, “Ah, yes. I totally see how I’m turning to that old message, again.”
This voice that tells you that you aren’t enough…might be defending against a pre-conceived idea that its needs won’t be met. Maybe you go to a place of thinking about how you’re “not good enough” because going to that place feels less vulnerable than actually asking your husband to please hold you for a few minutes, or telling a friend that you are terrified of completely irrational things, or risking failure when going after what you want.
It’s through listening to the voice, not spending time getting angry at whomever first told you that you weren’t enough, that you’ll learn this valuable information and can get to the important business of meeting your truest needs.
This voice that tells you that you aren’t enough…might be trying to keep you from making more mistakes, and thus it’s actually confused. This “not good enough” voice might think that it’s protecting you by telling you that you aren’t good enough–then you won’t go out into the world and make mistakes or be rejected or risk failure. It might be a self-protection mechanism disguised in really nasty voices.
The voice of not enough might not realize that actually, what would really help when you make mistakes is forgiveness. The voice might have also been taught that forgiveness is for wimps and chumps who let people take advantage of them; forgiveness is the same as pretending something didn’t happen; forgiveness means that what abuses did happen are somehow okay.
It’s through listening to this voice, not hoping and praying that you’ll finally figure out the “not enough” equation, that you might realize: “Holy shit. No one ever taught me about forgiveness, in my family. People were mad at you until the storm passed, and if I made a mistake, I had to bow and scrape my way into their good graces until they stopped being mad, which is not actually ‘forgiveness.’ If I learn how to actually forgive–what that process looks like–I’ll have another option for recognizing that when I make mistakes, I can repair that without beating up on myself.”
It’s listening to the voice–not rejecting it, making it bad or wrong, or trying to sprinkle affirmation fairy dust on it until it goes away–that gives you this incredibly insightful information.
Next time you ask yourself what it is that you struggle with, don’t say that your primary issue is “feeling like I’m not good enough.”
Say that your primary issue is struggling with listening to the voice. Say that your challenge is really about wanting to ignore the voice or beat that voice down (you and me both, sister–this is an ongoing journey).
Next time you’re tempted to go into “not enough” or any messages that are close-cousins, here’s one simple mantra that can replace those forced affirmations: “I’ll discover something, if I listen without attachment.”
Or here are two questions to ask yourself: “What are my definitions of ‘good enough’ and ‘not good enough’? Can I really define these?”
Spend less time searching for the enough-ness (trust me; the buffet table is right there).
Spend more time noticing and deconstructing the stuff that sits in the way when you’re ready to pull up a chair and feast.
Want the audio of this? Listen or download, below.
Awhile ago, I was seeing some craziness unfold, in real-time. Someone had sent me what is, officially, the Nastiest Email I’ve Ever Been Sent. It was an email loaded with the clear intention of cruelty and unkindness, so much so that within only a paragraph, I was clear that I didn’t want to read the rest of it (and to this day, I never have).
That day, I connected to something that had been hinting of its own existence, for some time: “This is not mine.”
You might be like I was: Earnest. Committed. Willing to own the mistakes and Do The Work.
And then crazy shit happens in your life, and you start with the questions: “How can I take radical responsibility for that?” or “How did I manifest that?” or “What are the choices that I should be making differently?”
These are great questions to ask. The path from victimhood to self-efficacy is paved on those questions.
But then there’s this question, which I hope will land with a ker-thunk in your soul:
What if sometimes that crazy shit that happens isn’t…yours?
Again: questions that ask you to assess your own responsibility and to account for your own poor choices are excellent questions to ask. I wish more of the world asked them, instead of trying to lay fault for things at someone else’s feet.
Also, I’m willing to say that a majority of the time, the crazy stuff of life probably is yours.
Or perhaps I’ll speak for myself—the majority of the time, when my life isn’t working? It is straight-up, no-question, without-a-doubt, me.
But we’re all bouncing around in the Universe together, here. It is inevitable that you will inadvertently suck someone’s chaotic tail wind, without even realizing it. There’s a lot going on in the cosmos that can’t be explained, and—dare I say it?—there’s even a certain amount of narcissism in assuming that each of us as individuals is some kind of epicenter of the manifestation of the Universe.
In other words, maybe sometimes we try to make the crazy shit that happens about us as individuals, because then we feel like we have a little corner of control.
Sometimes, hustling to take personal responsibility isn’t so very…responsible.
Sometimes, the most powerful thing you can do is accurately identify when someone else’s brand of crazy has nothing to do with you.
Bottom line? Do all the self-help you want, but understand that you aren’t going to self-help yourself out of dealing with people who are behaving in a way that’s kinda nuts.
There is no amount of goodness that you could ever be, to save someone else from their own wounds.
That doesn’t mean write them off, forego compassion, or stop your personal work. Please, do live in the light! Please, do heal your stuff and take personal responsibility for your own integrity.
Just be conscious of those times when you’re simply bumping up against someone else’s stuff, and taking it on, and it’s just not yours.
Try whispering it, three times: This isn’t mine. This isn’t mine. This isn’t mine.
Your body will tell you the truth. If you’re trying to run away from taking responsibility, chances are you’ll feel that low-grade, kinda-guilty, emmmmm maybe I’m trying to squirm out of something kind of a feeling.
But if you notice that you feel relief, and that the words feel like an arrow aimed true, then you know: it isn’t yours, it never was, and it’s not your responsibility to fix.
You do you.