Beliefnet
The Bliss Blog

I was speaking with someone today about her quite active inner critic. As I am intimately familiar with mine, I nodded knowingly as she went on to describe the ways in which hers puts her down, deprecates, denies her strengths and shines a spotlight on her perceived faults. I call mine Perfectionista who looks at me all judgmentally over her glasses, pointing a wagging finger and reminding me, “You should know better. You’re a therapist. How come you still have insecurities and self-doubt?  Wouldn’t you think that with all the tools at your disposal, you would be farther along on your path?” She is merciless, that one. A while ago, I decided to give her an essential job to do; that of keeping me structured and on-task. I am not naturally organized and tend to be easily distracted…ooooh, look, a squirrel! With the multiple hats I wear and crazy-busy schedule I keep, she is my secretary who documents scrupulously, takes notes, returns phone calls. She helps me pack for trips and plugs the addresses into the GPS, making sure the gas tank is full. She is also the one who reminded me to jot down this title as a writing prompt when I erroneously thought I would remember it. This person and I continued our conversation and the words, ‘minimize or criticize’ came out.

We both acknowledged our tendency to minimize our successes as we criticize ourselves for missing the mark. It reminds me of the poster I saw by the time clock where I worked at one point. The tongue in cheek words?  “The beatings will continue until morale improves around here.” We erroneously believe that by putting ourselves down, we will somehow lift ourselves up. It never works, and yet, we keep trying to elevate ourselves with hard work. I am all for putting my heart and soul into everything I do. There are times, despite my best efforts, that the outcome is not as I hoped it would be. If results were commensurate with my intention, commitment and follow through, I would be on top of the world and uber-successful, by my standards. I am learning to let go of the insistence on burning the candle at both ends until there is no more wax left.

Another person I know had an intimate relationship with his own inner critic. He referred to his anxiety as being like a gang of bullies surrounding and taunting him, “You’re going to fail anyway, so why bother trying?” “Nothing is ever going to work for you.” “What if everything falls apart?” These inner demons echoed some of what he came to believe when he was in middle school — a period which seems to be the bane of the existence for many teens. It tends to be a point in their development when they cross an invisible line into their own personal hell. I can vouch for that in my own life and would not choose to relive those years from 7th-9th grade.

I reminded him that despite his apparent successes, such as graduating high school, preparing to go to college, finding a job he enjoys, having a small circle of reliable friends, as well as loving parents who believe in him, he would still fall prey to those self-sabotaging thoughts.

It made sense to him to treat these thoughts one at a time, like a line of individuals waiting for customer service. He agreed to run each one through validation filters. Was it true and knowable that he would fail? Of course not. Was it true nothing would ever work? No, he had successes that proved otherwise. And yes, sometimes things do fall apart, but then much of the time they can be put back together. He recognized that he was not Humpty Dumpty.

Neither am I. Not sitting on a wall, afraid of toppling off.

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