Fear and Judgement: Fear of Being Judged

Judgement is a tough one for a lot of folks, including myself. It’s ubiquitous in American culture and can be used as a means to evaluate someone’s worth. In a lot of ways it’s used as you would use currency. To deem if someone holds value measured against your standards.

People fear judgement to be sure, and for good reason. It’s often times associated with guilt. Usually that guilt comes in the form of “what’s wrong with me that others are seeing me as bad or undeserving?” The idea of criminal comes up and paying back society for a debt that’s owed.

And not all judgements are loaded with fear. For example we may make a judgement call that it wouldn’t be safe to drive if we had another drink. This type of judgement is necessary for our survival, and to keep us safe. But what if judgements were placed on us because a caregiver wanted us to be different? In an attempt to control who we are and who we would become. What then?

This was the case for me growing up. I was criticized and judged so often that I just assumed that I would never add up to my caregivers expectations. And to make things worse, I was never really sure what I could do that would be acceptable by my caregivers. And thinking about it now, there was never any direction on how to improve, only negative judgements. So I copied their behaviors, their habits, hoping I would stumble upon the “correct” way of being.

We were big drinkers in our family. This was the first habit I picked up that was modeled for me. Also treating other people as though they were disposable. As though I didn’t really need their friendship, was another toxic habit I inferred. I burned a lot of bridges doing this. Though I wish I hadn’t now, some of the relationships I had during those times were unhealthy to say the least and at least partially modeled after unhealthy familial relationships. Knowing what I know now, I could have ended some relationships in a more amicable way, but I just didn’t know any better. And either did they (my caregivers) for that matter. We were operating under faulty instructions and doing the best we could with what we had. Which wasn’t much.

And that is one of the bigger issues that comes with consistent critical judgements. Being left with the paralyzing fear of either not belonging or the possibility of rejection. When you are reject by those who are supposed to love you unconditionally, you are left with absolutely no direction on learning how to have a felt sense of belonging. You just never feel like you belong. Aimlessly adrift.

For me this happened very early on. I remember there being such a loneliness and wanting to belong that I turned to anything that would bring me a sense of feeling apart of something. Regardless of how reckless or self destructive it seemed.

I can remember listening to The Grateful Dead’s, “Touch of Grey” in 1987-88 and connecting with the lyrics, “I will get by”. Later on when I was in highschool and hippy culture was making a re-emergence in the mid to late nineties, I took to it so quickly that I was making my own clothes and growing my hair out for dreads in less than six months. Everything I owned smelled of patchouli and I began drinking at the age of fourteen. All because I heard a song that had a seemingly positive message, mixed with the culture being popular at the time.

I was looking for someplace to belong. And if it wasn’t for those fond early childhood memories of feeling a little bit of optimism and hope while listening to the Dead, who knows where I’d be. I also imagine there was a draw to the gypsy culture that the Dead came to represent. A feeling of homelessness or at least a sense of misfits coming together, who have been roundly rejected by others to create their own sense of community and belonging.

But what’s so startling about the life choices I was making at fourteen, was that I was basing them on song lyrics I randomly heard when I was much younger because they gave me a sense of hope, however small. Instead of the loving guidance from capable caretakers, I had Jerry and hippy culture to show me how to get by. I had some good times for sure, but I’d trade them all for some love and support from those who should have been there for me.

This brings up another aspect of the fear of not belonging. The maddening fact that my caretakers had gone out of their way to make sure I knew I was not adding up by consistent criticisms about aspects of my personality or physical appearance. This led me believe that there was a thread of hope. That if I could somehow managed to please them by living up to their impossible standards in some way, then I’d belong. Of course what I didn’t realize at the time, but see all too clearly now is that the reason their standards were so impossible was because they themselves didn’t know how to belong. And if they felt as though they weren’t quite adding up, how would they be able to teach me?

So if this fear stems from not knowing how to belong, why then all the judgement? From my experiences with my caregivers growing up, the judgements came when we were too vulnerable to let one another in on a deeper emotional level. This was partly due to feeling as though we didn’t belong, but also as defence to keep each other at a distance so we couldn’t be seen as our authentic, vulnerable and hurt selves. The selves that felt like we aren’t good enough to be a part of a loving relationship because we had been hurt and abandoned so many times that we felt as though we deserved not to belong.

And to make things worse, this was a legacy we were handing down to one another. First because we didn’t know how to break the cycle, and second we were too scared to let people get too close because of all the damage we inflicted and incurred during past attempts to bond. So it became the undercurrent and foundation of all our unstable relationships. Built on fear of not belonging to something bigger, more supportive. Which is what I imagine we all wanted. And our negative judgements of each other swooped in to keep us from getting too close to one another for fear they would see our authentic “damaged” selves that had been tore down by ourselves and others so often. This was the cycle we were trapped in.

So if this was the legacy we had been handing down through the generations, and noone was feeling healthy, loved or supported, why haven’t we been able to go in a different direction and break the patterns? What was stopping us from giving up the ghost and finding the healthier, more supportive versions of ourselves and our relationships? The short answer is, because it’s difficult.

My experience was that I needed to feel through a life’s time worth of collected emotional wounds from those I was told I could rely on. And when our trust is abused by mixed messages about who we’re able to rely on, there’s a lot of confusion around who we are able to trust. And when our trust is taken advantage of, that’s when our defenses kick in. There’s a line from an Iron and Wine song, “Sacred Vision” that fits this mindset, “forgiveness is fickle when trust is a chore”. In my situation it was being critical of others using judgements to distance myself from those I felt I couldn’t trust.

But this had the effect of breading distrust, with myself and with others. With myself because I would often turn that critical voice inward and tear myself down. With others in that I was keeping them at a distance so as not to get hurt. But they were still feeling the sting and affects of my critical judgements of them.

In order to let people get close, I had to feel the hurt I was avoiding by keeping others at a distance with harsh criticisms. And those were some of the most difficult emotions I’ve ever had to feel. Sorting through those emotions was a kin to untangling a knot of live wires. Everytime I seized one, I’d get a shock from a past wound. But the more I untangled the easier it became. The more I allowed the emotions to flow, the more I was able to feel them as they came. Without anxiety and feeling overwhelmed.

And it takes patients with yourself, and persistence. But when I started I had no idea what I was doing. I had no healthy role models so I needed to find some Stat. I started with people I admire. People I didn’t actually know personally, so I could feel the safety of distance while experiencing their wisdom and trying it out for myself.

The people I thought of most were Oprah, Tom Hanks, Buddha, Adrienne from yoga with Adrienne and Dana Shultz from Minimalist Baker. As I’ve said above, I don’t know these people personally but it feels like they’re consistently projecting a positive and even tempered demeanor. Their characteristics are ways that I’d like to project myself in the world. Mixed with their work ethic and vitality, these are the people I want to model myself around. And the characteristics I want to use to build my relationships on and with. A firm and solid foundation based on support and caring interest, instead of harsh and critical judgements.

And with these new characteristics, I was then able to use them to build my values. Being loving support as one value and learning how to trust others and myself, another. When the characteristics of love and support are practiced, that is how trust is created. That is how a characteristic builds on or creates a value.

But this is all new territory to me. And with this new and steep learning curve came a fair amount of fear and emotional rawness. With noone around to show me what were the types of characteristics that built lasting and sustainable values, I was adrift again. Floating wherever the current took me. But once I started to build these values by practicing these characteristics, I was then able to set anchor and build the strong foundations that would be able to support lasting relationships.

And with the mutually built foundations of my new relationships, I found what I was missing in my old friendships. There was no effort put into building our bonds, so we didn’t value them as I would something that took time and effort. Emotion, understanding and forgiveness. All we had to build on in past relationships was a lot of alcohol and a few good times. What I’m finding now, building my relationships from my new set of values is that there is a greater amount of respect.

We appreciate the time and effort we’ve taken and put into the experiences we’ve had and are continuing to build. We value one another as a source of support and kind, genuine caring. We know that we can trust one another with what we’ve built together because we did it with love. And that’s what was missing from those relationships that were built on good times.

Support and the felt sense of belonging that comes with knowing that you are supported, trusted and cared about. The random text messages that get sent throughout the week as a way of checking in on how the other is doing. As opposed to finding out where we would be drinking that night. Asking for help in building shelves together to make a house feel more like a home, instead of cutting down a “friend” in front of a girl in hopes that you’ll hook up later. The examples are plentiful, but what remains is that feeling belonging and trust built on stable characteristics go hand in hand. Try to build them on anything else and it would be unstable at best.

And none of this would be possible if I didn’t first come to terms with the fear of my critical judgements. Of others, but mostly from myself. If we use critical judgements to keep others away for long enough, it begins to corrode our ability to connect with anyone, or anything at all. Critical thoughts work in the same ways acid does, circulate in and around the bonds we try to build, leaving them weak and frail. By turning inward and realizing how weak and frail all of my bonds had become, I then understood how important it is to actively work towards healing these weakened bonds by attending to the bond with myself.

This is arguably the most important bond because it paves the way for all of our other bonds to take shape. And this is where the tough work comes in. If you’ve left your internal landscape fallow for too long, the question then is, “I’m afraid of what I might find in there.” Incase this is where you are, let me just say that there are no monsters lurking here. Only the parts of us that are badly in need of some love and support 🙂

And there’s another benefit of practicing the characteristics of love and support. You become stronger in the process, building stronger bonds within yourself. You may be checking in with a friend who has had a tough day at work, but caring enough about someone else’s well being, to check in on them is also a way of attuning to your own sense of empathy. You are strengthening your empathic abilities by checking in with how you’re feeling about your friend, and acting with kindness, is a way to practice being support.

These are the healthy patterns that are possible when we choose to practice sustainable, healthy characteristics. We are then able to sustain these new relationships with healthier patterns, using our characteristics and values as a guide. It isn’t always going to be easy, but it is definitely worth the effort. And with some luck you’ll be surrounded by friends and family that are, sure irritating at times, but their value as a source of love and support will outweigh any habit that may rub you the wrong way.

Turning from critically judgemental to loving support is difficult. And maybe the most important characteristic that will have the biggest effect on how you make this change is through kindness. To yourself first and others. The more we practice kindness, especially toward ourselves, the more our actions, thoughts, moods and behaviors will naturally lean towards a kind disposition. And this will in turn affect how we connect with ourselves and with those close in.

These are only my experiences with trying to rebuild the relationships in my life after what feels like a life’s time worth of avoiding and neglecting my bonds. I hope this has been of some use to you. If you like me, have found yourself in a reconstruction phase of life, my advice is don’t give up! You’re much stronger than you think and help has a way of finding those who are in need, as long as you are open to the opportunity. Be well, good luck and peace 🙂 thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Mean looking Eagle Owl” by webheathcloseup is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When Love is Scarce: How do We Find Value in Our Relationships When Love is Finite

It’s no secret that I grew up in a household that confused love and belonging with how we were seen by others. There were undercurrents, okay maybe tidal waves of insecure self-image that ran through my family. Starting with weight, and extending to the clothing we wore, to how clean our house was, there was always the feeling of being judged for who we were. And who we were was written all over us by the things we did and owned, and how we looked doing them.

This was a very cold environment to grow up in, or rather I imagine it would feel cold if I had the ability to feel anything at all. There was always a numb, heavy feeling. As though the air were ripe with criticism and it was only the work of a moment for someone to descend and dispense with whatever it was that I was doing wrong. There’s a line in a song by Peter, Bjorn and John’s, “The Chills” that sums up this feeling, “your tongue is sharp, but I miss the taste of it.”

And that’s how it felt. There was the maddening search for approval from someone who constantly held it just out of reach. And feeling approved of was a precursor to feeling loved and belonging. And the game was rigged. I would never meet my caregivers impossible standards because they in turn never met the impossible standards set by their caregivers. You can’t give what you don’t have, i.e. approval for reaching a standard they themselves never reached nor felt approved of.

Looking back now, I’m able to see with some clarity as to how this has played out from generation to generation, and the sheer amount of emotional manipulation my family has endured and doled out simultaneously has help me to piece together that, we all probably feel a little like frauds when it comes to feeling love and belonging. That’s for sure how I felt for a long time.

The feeling still pops up from time to time, which I’ve come to expect. You don’t experience years of neglect and abuse and then suddenly expect those feelings of inadequacy to go away overnight. It takes years of self-care, and reparenting to even begin to feel again, in some cases. Then you’d better buckle your seatbelts because all those feelings come crashing in like the aforementioned emotional tidal-wave, taking with it just about everything.

So if we’ve only really experienced critical judgement from caregivers, and the moments of care, love and tenderness were fleeting if present at all, then how do we chose love, something we haven’t had any practice or experience with? From my experience, it helps to practice the pieces that add up to love. The patience, with self and others, keeping a non-judgemental state of mind, or at least not getting carried away with the stories we tell ourselves about what we’re doing wrong or how somebody else is not adding up to our expectations.

And none of this is easy. So another aspect of practicing love is being forgiving, of ourselves and others when we’ve stumbled. It’s inevitable that we will fall back to our old ways of being. By either judging someone for making a mistake instead of asking if they’re experiencing stress in their lives that may be impacting them here and now. Or beating ourselves up for overlooking a task we should have gotten to instead of appreciating how much we’re able to accomplish in the day.

So if patience and understanding are the pieces, forgiveness is the glue that binds these pieces together. But also, along the way, don’t forget to be open to the feelings and experiences we have that follow when we practice patience, or being accepting of and listening to others. Because those are the spaces where we change, when we “be the change you want to see in the world” or ourselves.

And of course, like anything worth the while, this all takes time. Another way to practice patients with yourself. When I started noticing how often I was judging others, it took some time before I could look at someone and not automatically deem them as overweight, or unattractive (two main areas of focus in my family). And it still happens. The difference now is, that I can recognize the thoughts that come to mind, and let them be, without judging myself for having them.

Tara Brach said something that really hit home with me in one of her dharma talks. To paraphrase, she said that you don’t have thoughts, your mind secretes them, saying you’re having a thought is like saying you’re circulating your blood, they just happen and the mind has no shame. And from my experience, I can get pretty worked up over the thoughts that are popping up. Especially if you’ve experienced any sort of verbal abuse or emotional manipulation from those closest to you. Self-doubt, fear and frustration are only a few of the emotions that come to pay a visit. So it’s nice to know that the thoughts that run through your mind aren’t a reflection of who you are.

Once we begin to cultivate these traits in ourselves, and by extension with others, we then can begin to experience the caring and ease in our current relationships that we may not have had modeled for us in our youth. It may not be easy, but it’s worth the while to foster these aspects of our relationships to feel a deeper connection and maybe more fulfilling overall. So stay the course! It’ll be difficult at times, but it gets easier with practice. Peace, and thanks for reading :]

Image Credits: “Scarce blood enough in all their sickly veins” by harold.lloyd is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Speed and Efficiency aren’t Always Correlated: Taking Care of Our Need to Achieve by Slowing Down and Being Kind to Ourselves

The drive to achieve in us humans is great. And it’s not such a bad trait. Collectively, we’ve developed and discovered a great many things that are wondrous and breathe taking, and some that are bland and scary. But we continue achieving anyway, regardless of what the outcome is. We can expand our views and ideas to accomplish deeds greater than the scope of our own lives, or we can narrow our view and focus on changes in the self and shades between as well. Whichever mode of how we choose to accomplish something isn’t inherently more virtuous than any other.

They say it is good to be selfless and act on behalf of those who can’t for themselves, but it is also said that to effect real change, you must first change yourself. However, there may be some pitfalls along the way. If we’re not careful they could cost us our desire to achieve something, either for the greater good or for our own greater good.

One trap we often fall into is wanting to obtain our desired outcome with our own clear map in mind and black and white thinking to navigate the way there. This often leads to dead ends and with a lack of willingness to vary our course to get to our final destination, when we eventually need to vary our plan because our map hasn’t accounted for unknown circumstances, we find ourselves lost and without direction. One of the ways we get caught in black and white thinking is to confuse speed with efficiency. Believing that that alone will lead to success.

This sort of speed equals efficiency and we need to be as efficient as possible, doesn’t usually give us the expected results we think it will. That being said, there is something about working with a quick, controlled focus. Like when you watch a master at his or her craft, moving with agility and dexterity, to create something unbelievably satisfying. But this type of speed and accuracy isn’t necessarily correlated with efficiency. More so it is due to the ten thousand hours the master of their craft committed to their task. And yes they move fast but they are also agile enough to change course if need be. And they are more than likely experts at that as well. Staying fluid.

So if it’s the fluidity of the work that is so impressive to watch in action, while speed is a product of repetition and practice, where does that leave efficiency? From my understanding efficiency is achieved after trying a varying degree of deviations from the main method and being able to adjust for the current circumstance in real time. How do we get there? By trying a bunch of different techniques and seeing what works and what doesn’t. A.k.a, lots of mistakes. The Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show comes to mind, singing along while blindly bandying things about until something is created.

I’m joking, but doesn’t it feel that way sometimes? Like we’re just throwing it together and praying that it comes together? It does for me for sure, until I get a few successful attempts under my belt and then the confidence starts to build. And this is true for most endeavors. From trying a new recipe, to taking a new yoga class, taking on new responsibilities at work, or life responsibilities… there is always something calling for our attention. Something new to try.

And in turn, something for us to make mistakes at. And this isn’t news to anybody for sure. We know by now that to “make an omelette, you must break a few eggs” but sometimes the line gets hazy as to where we feel the acceptable amount of the aforementioned eggs to break is drawn. Or if our plan says to break them a certain way and it doesn’t pan (sorry) out the way we expect it to, or it works but could be tweaked a bit for better results, if we can’t deviate from our plans then we miss an opportunity to stay fluid in our search for mastery or efficiency in our tasks.

One of the ways we learn new paths and stay fluid and where we’ll find another pitfall is working with others, collaborating. Often time we view mistakes as embarrassing and where speed is priority, wasting time can be something of a sensitive subject. Especially for those that feel as though they have to be good at everything they do on their terms to be as efficient and successful as possible.

So in the search for being efficient and where speed is a value and mistakes are seen as an embarrassing weakness, we will often times reject help from others. Or insist we have to do everything on our own in our own way, too proud to ask for help and being seen as someone who can’t handle their tasks. But it is this very instance where two minds coming together to understand and approach a problem from different perspectives that allows for the type of growth that implements change for the positive. In other words, more efficient.

I work with someone who exemplifies this sort of speed is priority above all else. And what was so eye opening about watching them work and actually hearing them say, “we have to be as efficient as possible”, is how much they reminded me of myself, not to long ago. My co-worker is a reasonably amicable person, but when they have something set in their head on how things should be done they don’t pull any punches. I’m a baker by trade and an example of this type of mindset in action is I feel encapsulated by one of our interactions we’ve had fairly recently.

We were making baguette, shaping the familiar cylindrical loaves we know and love as the iconic french bread. When I was flipping the dough from the pre-shaped form to the middle of the bench, crusty side down so that it didn’t stick to the bench, my co-worker asked, “could you please not flip the bread when you move the pre-shapes”. When I inquired why she wanted it done this way she responded with, “the crusty side is down, so when someone shapes, the crusty side will be on the outside of the loaf.” She was already anticipating that someone was going to make a mistake and wanted me to adjust for the person who may shape the loaf incorrectly. This made little sense to me since everyone on the team was experienced.

What it came down to for them was whether or not they could trust their co-workers. Or rely on someone else to do the right thing when called upon. I was working from a collaborative perspective, anticipating what would be most convenient for the team. When you have the mindset that everyone around you isn’t trustworthy, then you take on the role of responsibility for the outcome of the entire team. This is not only unreasonable but also unhealthy. What was and is so shocking for me is how much of my former self I see in my co-worker.

I remember having a tough night at a bakery I used to work at when I got into an argument with the owner about something. What I’m not to sure of now but knowing me it probably wasn’t a big deal. But I know I made it out to be. In the middle of our argument I told the owner that my bake looked like garbage when actually it was a very respectable bake. He said so himself. I think a few loaves may have been misshapen, but I blew up those two to three loaves into a complete failure for the entire night. It was this type of black and white thinking mixed with the impossible standard I set for myself and others which isolated me from those I worked with. And something I see so clearly now in my current co-worker’s actions.

This is a very isolating place to be and the only way out is through kindness, to ourselves and others. My former self and my current co-worker had/have the best of intentions. But that’s just it, they always have to be “the best”. There is no room for error and anything “less than” will be dealt with swiftly and with extreme prejudice. This is the very definition of passive aggressive behavior and turned inward, can result in self harm in negative self talk.

It’s like being in an abusive relationship, only there is nowhere to run where you won’t find yourself. You are always there to pick apart whatever perceived failure or mistake you see and there is always an underlying feeling of something being off. Like you’re not quite safe but can’t figure out why. From my experience this was the attitude that is cultivated by being in this passive aggressive state. Hyper vigilant and distrustful of yourself and others. No question a very isolating place to be.

But again the way out is kindness. It’s amazing how much a little self care goes toward reversing this critical state of being. Self care and kindness towards yourself and others begins to cultivate a loving attentiveness to the spots that get sticky when we want to pick ourselves apart. Staying with those feelings and being kind to them, but also staying with the feelings that come up when we experience them by observing them in others.

Because when we see these emotions in others, judge them as weak or unsavory in some way, we distance ourselves from them and become guarded against them. Or we actively are hostile towards them.

What I wasn’t taught and what I imagine most people aren’t who are in most need of this advice is these are not emotions specific to the individual that we are judging as other or less than. They are human emotions. You can’t kill or completely rid yourself of select emotions. Being human means that you sign up for the entire package. Pleasant and difficult emotions alike and all those shades between. So when you judge another for being in a certain emotion and when you eventually feel that emotional state, you will judge yourself with the same harsh scalpel you did another.

Furthermore, the more we practice this aggression towards others and self, what immerges is a low self esteem and self doubt. The Buddha said “what we think, we become”. It stands to reason that if we are filled with angry thoughts and those of aggression towards others, we become outwardly hostile and unpleasant to be around. The Buddha also said, “hatred never ceases by hatred but by love alone is healed”. So the more kind we are to ourselves and others, the more we cultivate a loving state that is capable of healing our fragile, wounded selves. Creating a space that is able to support the healing of ourselves and others.

So the more we judge ourselves for not adding up to the plans we’ve laid or when we eventually have to change course because something unpredictable happens, the more we get stuck in our ridged ways of being that become a source of frustration. A roadblock to what we truly want. Usually this means to be productive and good at what we do, efficient and capable. But the more we slow down in those moments of harsh judgement and see ourselves as honesty as struggling or lost with a lack of direction, and the more kindness we are able to bring to that lost self, the easier it will become to pull ourselves out of that state and into a place that is more flexible and understanding. More loving.

In the end, we will accomplish more by slowing down and bringing a loving attention to the places in need, than by any form of criticism or judgement. And it all starts with bringing kindness to what’s happening in the moment. With the feelings that arise.

A good way to loosen the grip of the harsh judge is to come up with a resource list. This is a list of things, places, people or events and activities, that you enjoy doing or being around or participating in. This is a good place to go when you need to bring some warmth and kindness to yourself. Because it’s not always easy to think of taking care of yourself when you’re in the midst of tearing yourself down. I have one in my Bullet Journal and it’s nice to look at even when we are in need of a quick pick-me-up.

So now that we have the resources we need to show ourselves some kindness when we don’t feel we, or someone we know, is adding up to the standard that may be a little unreasonable, who knows what we’ll be able to achieve. Peace 🙂

An update on my relationship with my co-worker. Our relationship has changed for the better due to me actively listening with kindness to what was bothering them. The more kindness we bring to our interactions, with self and others, the better off we all will be for it.

Image Credits: “Stress” by topgold is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Self-Care Emotional: How do You Relate to Your Inner-Critic?

“Bryony” by Trucknroll is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

We all have one. The voice that says we’ll never finish that degree, or I’m never gonna land the job that would be just right for me. I’m never going to find the woman/man who’s my true love or I’m just plain not adding up. I know mine well. It took some digging but when I finally realized who was behind the wheel and where he was steering me, I can tell you it was a real eye opener.

Getting to Know Your Critical Voice

My inner critic has taken the form of my abusers past, and I can actually pinpoint it in my body. Of course this took years of work to even begin to unlock my frozen tundra of emotion. And this was after decades of not being able to feel my body, or to even know what my emotions were. Also that I was the one in charge, not my emotions.

My inner critic will often tell me things about myself that just aren’t true. Such as I’m overweight even though I weigh 185 and am 5’10”. I’m unable to find and do meaningful and fulfilling work even though I’ve excelled in all my positions and graduated Cum Laude from college. I need a another to take care of me because I’m incapable of doing so for myself, regardless of my well organized and healthfully curated my lifestyle… The list goes on.

But what’s most important to understand about all our critics is, asides from the content being untrue and damaging to our psyche, how often we get lured into its siren’s song. And allow ourselves to be led astray from what our heart’s true aspirations are. If you’re reading this then you’ve probably come to some of your own healthy conclusions. But in case you haven’t I’m here to tell you you are not the contents of your inner critic. And the only control it has over you is the control you give to it.

Our Critic Takes its Cues From Our Pasts

I know from my own early childhood experiences of trauma, that my critic has grown strong from repeated infractions against my sense of self worth. And it may seem as though these experiences are relegated to those who’ve experienced some sort of trauma. But the numbers of those who have experienced trauma are staggering. It’s reported that “nearly 14% of children repeatedly experienced maltreatment by a caregiver, including nearly 4% who experienced physical abuse.” That’s about one in seven! That’s a lot of people.

But even those that haven’t experienced some sort of trauma in their lives, ways of coping with stress such as peer pressure and people pleasing have real consequences. And not to mention are a source of frustration for many. This all sounds pretty sad. And it is, but there are ways to identify our inner critic and create a caring cushion around it. To soften the blow when it does strike. This is where the hard work lay. In knowing how your inner critic has infiltrated your day to day routines and the patterns that we’ve cultivated in relating to it.

Recognizing Your Tells

Do you know the subtle signs of the transition between when you’re behind the wheel and your critic has taken over? Is there a low level of anxiety that is prevalent? Feeling as though you’re not adding up in some way for no reason? Are you believing things about yourself you know just aren’t true? These are just a few examples and they vary from person to person.

There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to knowing how you and your own personal inner critic relate to one another. Or the ways it has taken control in your life. But there is a commonality in coming to understanding who and what your inner critic is and needs. And it starts with listening.

When are the times you feel down on yourself? Or feel bad about a specific behavior or something you feel like you should be doing? Times that you are measuring yourself to another and feel as though you are coming up short? Those are the times and opportunities to listen inward. To feel where you feel them in your body. The places you are trying to avoid. That’s where you’ll find your critic.

Your critic is trying to tell you something but it’s afraid. Underneath that fear there is a protective quality, one that is trying to keep us safe. For me it’s, “I had better conform to certain expectations or else I’ll be rejected and unloved”. Listening to the message of what it’s trying to tell us and deciphering it from the fear will yield great rewards.

Finding What’s Underneath The Critic

Because once you find the message that is behind the fear, you can relate directly to the unattended hurt. The source of the wound. Though I should say when dealing with traumatic fear, this is something that should definitely be done in the care of a professional. And with the support of trusted family members and friends when possible. Tara Brach explains in one of her talks on relating to traumatic fear called, “Healing Trauma: The Light Shines Through the Broken Places” that it may not be safe to take in all the fear at once. It may end up retraumatize us.

I know from my own work with my therapist that learning the art of just this much, finding your window of tolerance is, is invaluable. Especially for those of us who have been trying to live up to our own imposed and impossible standards. Go hard or go home. The insatiable voice that keeps telling us we need to do more and accomplish greater deeds. And the critic doesn’t only focus on us. Others as well need to live up to our impossible standards or something terrible will happen. Or so we often times feel.

You’ve Met Your Inner Critic, Now What?

So what do we do when we finally come toe to toe with our inner critic? For me, it was about slowing down. It wasn’t until I stopped trying to work myself to death, to live up to the impossible standard I had created, that I realized it was never going to be enough. No matter how hard I worked, how I ignored my needs and those of others. No matter how critical I was of the job I was doing or others were doing, I was never going to meet the impossible standard I had in my mind of how things should be.

This took some doing because I was drinking 5 to 6 lattes a day and going hard to avoid coming home (figuratively). It wasn’t until I started meditating and switched to tea, one caffeinated cup a day, that I was able to create the space necessary to slow down and hear what my body was telling me. Instead of telling my body how to feel. It was a shock though. I won’t go into details but it hit hard. I was feeling all sorts of unattended emotion from my past. I had been ignoring not just the attic of my life but most of the useable square footage!

But that brought me to the second step of reckoning with the unfelt emotions. It was crazy at first. But my feelings began to slow down until they were manageable. Small enough to take in without being overwhelming. I needed a lot of support during that time too. And a lot of kindness. Mostly from and to myself.

I had been beating myself up for such a long time that there was some animosity for sure. But the more kindness I showed myself, the easier it became. Not only easier to bear but the inner critic began to lose it’s bite. When he would show up, which he still does sometimes, I could recognize him and treat him with kindness. Knowing that really it’s just the product of the ways I’ve been maltreated by myself and others.

So when you’re relating to your inner critic the key is to be kind. Kind to yourself, kindness to and from others as well. Because it’s that kindness that will then create the cushion around our hurt selves. The places our critics are protecting in order to make space for them to heal. And it’s not easy. People will say and do hurtful things and we will do and say hurtful things too. To ourselves and others. But it’s a practice. And the more we practice the better we become at being kind. And the more tame our critic will become. It’s doable, just don’t give up. Peace :] and thanks for reading!

Image credits: “Bryony” by Trucknroll is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Updated: 2/3/22

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