In the midst of figuring out how to respond to the deep turmoil happening in so many parts of the world right now, I have been thinking a great deal about a different kind of turmoil -the private kind that wages wars between our ears and inside of our rib cages.
The kind that can be as constant a companion in our own daily existence as a TV that stays on in a house all day, every day.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the power of uncomfortable conversations. I'm going to take my own advice and risk having this uncomfortable conversation with you, because the most common frustrations I hear from students and clients include:
I feel like my own worst enemy and: If I could just get out of my own way...I’m so hard on myself...
And because I spent the first part of my lifetime saying these things and believing they were irreversible and "fixed" parts of my existence.
If you're anything like me, you feel like there is more of you to access - more power, more confidence, more freedom - but that Inner Critic voice in your head (I call mine The Tiny Terrorist) seems to be standing in the middle of the doorway, blocking your entrance to the magnitude of what’s possible in you, sometimes with a gun to your head.
What does yours say? Maybe something to the tune of:
You're not good enough. You're not loveable. There's something wrong with you. You're a failure. It's too late for you. You're not attractive. There's something wrong with you. Everyone on Facebook is doing better than you. You're not good enough for him/her/the industry. You’re not far enough along. They're all going to find out you're a fraud. There's something wrong with you.
Or maybe something else as equally destructive. Or more destructive.
This is hard to talk about, because we're smart adults! It can feel vulnerable, and absurd to admit that we experience such ridiculousness. If we heard someone we love saying things like this out loud, we would immediately call them on their B.S.
Heaven forbid we are as kind - or even 50% as kind - to ourselves as we are to others.
In the privacy of our own minds, however, these beliefs are deeply real and feel like truth with a capital ‘T’.
What's worse, our protective, Inner Critics will relentlessly and skillfully go to great lengths to look for evidence of these beliefs as proof of their argument.
(Like when someone gives us a series of compliments that we promptly disregard and instead focus on finding the singular word, sentence, or tone that might indicate otherwise).
And they’re wired to do this! These parts of us originate from the oldest, caveman parts of our brain (our amygdalas) that are designed to protect us from danger.
Shaped by our early life experiences, they diligently keep trying to do their job of protecting us, though no longer effective.
Walking around being controlled by our Inner Critic is like driving with an emergency break on when you don’t know it’s on.
You know something’s not working, but you can’t figure out how to accelerate.
And I know you have big work to do, so acceleration is a must.
So how do we lift the break?
(Because, hear me, dear ones: we CAN lift the break.)
Self-help books tell us to “Just think positively!” and say some affirmations while hugging yourself in the mirror.
I don't know how that’s working for you, but these reductive, simplistic, and unsustainable solutions don’t seem to accommodate my complex and mysterious brain.
Instead, I have found that first getting curious about and, then bravely working with these parts critical and judging parts of ourselves (not against them/trying to get rid of them) is the key to unlocking our greatness, wholeness, and fullness.
Like a strength workout for your brain and heart, research tells us that this kind of compassion practice has lasting positive affects on the brain and actually makes our amygdalas shrink!
Here is a line of inquiry to try if you are feeling held back by limiting beliefs from Inner Critics.
(See what happens - and change your brain for the better while you're at it!)
Messages of “just loving ourselves” abound. While a beautiful sentiment, for me is this is a gargantuan task that feels confusing and always leaving you falling short, giving your Inner Critic yet even more evidence for why you are a failure.
Instead, what if we try getting curious about these voices in our heads, commit to getting to know them, realizing that they are real, but not true, and collaborating with them to do our big work in the world.
I’m going to keep writing about this periodically, because we don't talk enough about it, and because turning attention toward these inner conflicts will invariably have positive affects on what's arising externally in our world.