“What’s wrong with you?” “Why are you so lazy?” “Look at how much better and more successful he is than you.” If these judgments were lodged at a child, we would be up in arms in defense of his dignity and her sense of self. And yet, we routinely file these evaluations and many others….against ourselves. If you are not familiar with the inner judge that I describe, good on you, stop reading now. But, if this voice resonates and you don’t want it to be as prominent and forceful as it is now, I hope these lines can help.
Before getting to how to silence or at least muffle this voice, we will first explore how it became useful to us and therefore so popular in our mind stream. This inner judge first developed as we were pushed out of connection with those that we needed to keep us safe and loved. It was early on, you don’t remember it. With the ever present threat of disconnection and loneliness, the inner critic became a vehicle to help us assert control over our environment and relationships. It’s message of “be better and you will stop feeling so bad” gives us a sense of inner control. A brilliant (and automatic) psychological mechanism, unfortunately, it ends up creating more trouble than it solves. Seduced by the positive attention of others when you perform well, you begin to trust this voice as the vehicle to get back to the garden. But, it never gets you there as the applause fades and the impermanence of the experience sends a renewed threat signal. This, in turn, revives the compulsive attention seeking and self-judgment, time and again. So, while well meaning, it just doesn’t do the job and the fearful voice of self-attack grows louder, stronger and more insidious.
What to do? First, we can acknowledge that this part of you is well intentioned. He really wants you to feel good again and is using the positive feelings that you have experienced via others’ approval as a possible way to get there. That is why it is so hard to give him a rest. We fear that if we ignore him, we will lose the motivation to ever get out of this state of uncertainty. So, while we appreciate his good intentions, his methods are not working. He does not create more safety, stability and connection but rather, an increase of anxiety and loneliness.
In order to quiet him down, we need to offer him an alternative. The alternative is based on a verse of in chapter 27 of Psalms where the sweet singer Israel announces:
“While my father and mother have abandoned me, God has gathered me in.”
As the compassionate connection we sought in our parents was less accessible, we became stuck. We entered into a pit of shame and self-doubt (“it must be me..”) and hoped that high performance, maybe even perfection could alleviate the suffering. We did not yet have access to the awareness that there is a divine part of us, an essential consciousness that cannot be added to or taken away. Yes, God, the Ein Sof, the Infinite, our True Reality, gathers us in. From that place we accept ourselves as fundamentally divine and just as important, fundamentally flawed. We begin to see life as a journey of constantly reaching out from our palace of imperfection to share with others and the world our unique music. From this open space of self-compassion we in turn, create room for others to be gathered in, to come home to their divine humanity. We form the authentic loving relationships we have always longed for.
So, tell your inner critic that you appreciate him. You know he is looking out for you and trying to keep you moving in the right direction. And yet, let him know that he can relax. He can still be part of the music as his sharp eye is helpful when every once in a while there is a true threat. I think that he will appreciate knowing his place because this whole thing is just plain exhausting.