In the past few days, I’ve been throwing verbal swings, slaps, and crazy combination insults at this one unsuspecting person—
My self-critical voice is cranked up to maximum volume, the sheer loudness of it all drowning out any stream of rational thought.
I assure myself it’s “tough love” and “for my own good,” but really this whole self-critical crap is just that—crap.
But, it’s too late.
This harsh, endlessly judgmental voice burns like an out-of-control forest fire, raging through the trees of my mind, leaving them bare and ashen.
Damn, she’s good. This voice, she’s wicked.
She knows all my vulnerable spots and she’s an expert with the lighter, flicking it repeatedly while nailing an excellently evil laugh.
She’s quite the dedicated arsonist and won’t quit til the job’s done.
Her shouts of, “You’re never going to get anywhere. You’re never going to get your life together,” and, “You’re never going to be good enough,” settle into my stomach, their cruel rhythm making me sick with doubt.
The fire’s in full swing now.
My perception is altered and I start seeing everything in a negative light.
In this less-than-rational state, every little thing that happens is not just an event: it’s a way for this critical, bitchy voice to perpetuate her sob story.
Suddenly I’m examining all my interactions, becoming paranoid that people are attacking me.
I’m attacking me.
It’s funny how our pain can appear to come from external conditions, when, in actuality, it’s radiating from deep within us.
I’ve spent a good part of my life pushed up against the wall, cornered by my own self-criticism.
It’s a helluva waste of time.
Because, yes it’s totally true, I could do more to better myself, we all could!
But this is not the way.
Self-criticism so harsh that it paralyzes us is not the way to take steps towards anything.
It only makes sure that we stay stuck and miserable, right where we are.
But, if we can open a little bit, even in the midst of our most depressing thoughts, then there are these little moments that change everything.
This afternoon, as I sipped my coffee, a song called “Coffee” came on the radio. I laughed joyfully at the synchronicity and in the lightness of that sweet moment, I realized something:
F*ck that critical voice.
She couldn’t be more wrong.
There may not actually be a word to describe how completely, utterly off the mark she is.
I have made so much progress in my life, and I’m not letting her cruel statements blind my hopeful eyes.
I’m not letting her downplay all the hard work I’ve done.
I’m not letting her drug me with her deliriously mean statements.
But, more than anything, I refused to be stupefied by her criticism.
Because that’s what happens, doesn’t it?
We criticize ourselves to the point where we can’t even take action to improve our situation.
We criticize ourselves to the point where we are abused and broken inside.
So, I’m punching this harsh and horrible voice back, though not by telling her to, “Shut the f*ck up.”
Because I know how much she loves a good fight.
And, no I’m not going to do that false-positivity crap either.
I’m not going to sit there, saying “I love you” to myself a hundred times.
Because right now, I don’t.
The only way to evict her from my mind is to invite her fully in, to gently and boldly say: “Okay critical voice, go ahead. Let me have it. I want to hear it all.”
Then, I wait.
Suddenly, she’s silent and running away as fast as she can.
She deeply depends on my resistance, hatred, and knee-shaking fear of her.
If I don’t push back in the way she’s expecting, there’s nothing to feed her.
She starves and disappears completely.
Now, I begin to sober up from the dangerously addictive drug of self-hatred and I can finally breathe again.
And, as I breathe, I see that patience is key.
Gentle encouragement, fierce support, and bold patience are extremely powerful.
With this winning trio, we can actually make changes happen.
And, if we’re feeling especially brave, maybe we can vow to be so boldly patient with ourselves that we we’ll celebrate every little speck of progress and see the beauty of our smallest, tiniest efforts.
Maybe we can vow to be so fiercely supportive and so gently encouraging that we’ll know we can always look within for help.
Because a little bit progress is a lot of progress and the smallest change can transform everything.
And, we deserve to remember that, always.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Sarah Harvey
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Lexie Lannom/Flickr