Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Inner Critic

I've just completed chapter 7 in Beverly Engel's book, Healing your Emotional Self.  Well...minus one mirror therapy assignment, which I am saving for later in the day.  I must sort through the information I've just received.  Don't be mistaken; I didn't complete all of chapter 7 today - I read a few sections a day over the past few days.  After about chapter 4 or 5, I stopped reading full chapters in one sitting.  Why?  Because it's f-bomb bloody difficult.  Now moving on.


Chapter 7 is titled Quieting and Countering Your Inner Critic.  Sounds like something I'd write on my bucket list.  "People who were emotionally abused or neglected in childhood tend to have much in common, including a tendency to continually evaluate themselves, judge themselves harshly, and set unreasonable expectations for themselves" (Engel 117).  This so reminds me of this recent post.  Engel goes on to say that these tendencies "can hang on, a regretful legacy of the childhood abuse or neglect you experienced" (117).  The word legacy got me thinking.

My Legacy, or Lack Thereof
I don't want my legacy to be defined by my past.  To me, when I think of one's legacy, of my legacy, I think of the future -- what I will have accomplished in my lifetime.  And while I think it's a good choice to keep my past out of this legacy, the fact that I use the phrase "what I will have done" means there is no action now.  I am waiting, still, for the right time, the right frame of mind, the right leg of my journey in which I am healed from my past, to do something, anything, that will become my legacy.  Waiting until I am "healed" and "better" and "capable" is bringing my past into this legacy I speak of.  My childhood experiences say I am not yet ready, that I am too damaged, to create a life for which I will be remembered by.   My childhood experiences which flowed into poor adult choices tell me I am too far gone, I have too many X's by my name and too many people view me and remember me by these X's.

The Inner Critic Exposed
Engel gives an example of her client Connie, who explains, "I'm always afraid I'll say something that will let other people know just how incompetent I really am.  I don't trust other's assessments of me.  No matter what people tell me, based on my own criteria, I'm just not good enough" (118).  Connie's story reminds me of my own story.  I feel like I'm living this huge lie, like I'm teetering on the edge of admiration and acceptance and being found out for the monster I am.  Most days I feel like I'm hiding behind the disguise of childhood trauma.  I'm not in pain because of my past, I'm in pain because of the awful ways I have treated people.

This section of chapter 7 ended with a questionnaire to assess the strength of my inner critic.  I'm not going to go into the questions or my answers.  All I need to say here is that my inner critic could take on, and defeat, Megatron without so much as breaking a sweat, or fingernail, if it were to have any.

Initially (a.k.a. before reading this chapter), I didn't think too much of my inner critic.  Yes, I have a constant, negative, destructive, degrading dialogue running through my brain, but...what do I do about it?  This dialogue is just something I've come to live with and agree with.  "A loud, verbose inner critic is enormously poisonous to your psychological health -- more so, in fact, than any trauma or deprivation you have experienced.  We can often heal our wounds and recover from our losses, but the critic is always with us, judging us, blaming us, finding fault in us" (119).  What I'm hearing is:  Even when I am healed, I am not healed.  I can only go so far in my journey.  Blame and shame will always be with me.  I really am damaged goods.

Wow.  Inner critic, much?  I am literally holding the book in my hand and reading the words on the page in black and white and my inner critic is bashing the truth about my inner critic.  Like...it's all right here in front of me, and I am still listening to that damn voice.  A thought begins to form.  The only way out of this, this pain and depression and emptiness communicated through my inner critic, is through God.  What else on earth could possibly save me from me?  Sure, I can do all the human stuff - read the books, attend counseling sessions, write and share and move along in my life.  But to truly heal, to truly uncover and discard all of this junk to live a life of freedom and peace and contentment, well...that requires more strength and wisdom than any human could possibly possess.

Compare, Despair, Repeat
Page 120:  Blast from the past.  "Your inner critic constantly compares you with other people.  Comparison is closely related to self-judgement -- so much so that if you are comparing yourself to someone else, you are also judging yourself.  When the inner critic is in control, comparison is always oriented toward determining worth or value -- that is, who is better.  If you are different from someone in some way, this means that one of you must be better than the other" (120).

On Wednesday, November 30th of 2011, I wrote (and I quote), "I have been quite discontent.  And with this discontentment has come nagging, complaining, frustration, and bouts of anger and sadness.  I've compared myself to just about every person, place, and thing I could think of regarding education, intelligence, financial status, and careers as well as sanity, healthy living, bountiful relationships, and happiness.  And to officially affirm myself as a Glutton for Punishment, I've compared myself to all of my bf's friends, ex-girlfriends, and family relationships.  Why?  Because it hurts so good.  Discontent is ingrained in me.  Comparing my endless deficiencies to others' strengths and accomplishments is like brushing my teeth.  I don't think twice about doing it; in fact, I think it's necessary.  I feel unhappy every day.  I feel "not good enough" every day.  I experience strife in my relationships every day.  It all comes so naturally."

Your inner critic (120-121):
  • "is undermining your self-worth every day of your life"
  • "is so woven into the fabric of your very being that you seldom if ever notice its devastating effects"
  • "can seem reasonable and justified, a natural, familiar part of you"
So, we've established a connection here.

When Engel describes how her client Celia compares herself to others and how Celia "is deep in a depression" when it's all said and done, a self-revelation begins to formulate.
Inner Critic --> Judging/Demonishing/Comparing --> Depression  
I never considered that my thoughts, my raging inner critic, contributed to my depression.  I've always thought my depression was caused by past events, past people, things I can't control.  Realizing how pervasive my inner critic is, I see the extent to which my depression continues is rooted in my thoughts.  I can't control the why's and how's and what's surrounding the birth of my depression, but I can control its life expectancy.

Mother, May I [Tell You to Shut Up]?
"She shamed you," my counselor once responded, after describing a particular confusing and frustrating encounter with my mother.  Shame.  Not a word I would have thought to use to describe my journey.  But with every page I turn, I think, "Are you kidding yourself?  Newsflash!  Shame was the bully of your childhood, and that bully is still standing right behind you."

"The critical voice can be activated in any situation in which you find yourself feeling vulnerable or exposed.  Once activated, a shaming spiral is set in motion that has a power of its own.  It is imperative that you externalize this internal dialogue, because it is one of the major ways you keep yourself feeling bad about yourself" (123).  To assist in this externalization process, Engel poses the following questions (122):
  • Who did your parents want you to be and why?  How did they communicate this, and how did it affect you?
  • How does the way you relate to yourself reflect how they related to you?
Here goes.  

What did my mother want for me?  My first thought is "to be miserable".  I can't imagine her expecting me to be anything else with the ways she treated me.  Growing up, she constantly told me, "I want you to have a better life than what I had."  Nice, huh?  Then she used this "hope for a better life for her children" to tell me how much she's done for me, how much she's doing, and how much I don't appreciate any of it as is apparent by my terrible behavior.  Yes, a better life indeed.

What did my mother want from me?  She demanded respect, appreciation, helpfulness, consideration, being a better sister/daughter/student/friend, no talking back, happier facial expressions, taking things less seriously, worrying less...do you see the pattern here?  What she wanted from me only had to do with her and proving my goodness.  And the things she demanded from me, my inadequacies that needed correction, were precisely caused by her neglect and abuse.  What about...oh, I don't know..."always give 100%", "be patience and thoughtful", "assertiveness", "obedience to God and your family".  I never heard anything remotely close to that.  It was all about making her life easier, making her feel loved and needed, making her mood happy.  What about us, mom?  What about your children who need you to make them feel loved and needed and important?

Why did my mother want this from/for me?  Because I needed to act right.  Because I was selfish.  Because I was mean to my little sisters.  Because I needed to be better than the way I was.

How did she communicate this?  Yelling, crying, silent treatment, threats of abandonment, embarrassment.

How did this affect me?  Well, for starters, I'm reading a book titled "Healing your Emotional Self" and blogging about my journey of healing from the pain of my childhood.  I felt small.  I talked small and fought small.  I felt bad, less than, inherently defected.  By kindergarten, I formed thoughts such as, "Why would anyone want to be my friend?  I'm a bad sister.  I'm a bad daughter."  By third grade, I thought, "I have anger built up that no one knows where it came from, probably from my dad never being around or wanting me in his life."  I began counseling in third grade and often missed school because I was depressed - an action that continued well into my adulthood.  Around this age, I began thinking, "It would be better if I wasn't around."  I was too  young to know exactly what this meant, but as I grew older and matured, I had constant thoughts of ending my life and feelings of inferiority and being worthless of love.  I made choices well into my twenties based around these thoughts.

Sabotage (to be continued)
The remaining half of chapter 7 goes into your inner critic becoming a saboteur.  I was too-close-for-comfort familiar with the descriptions and explanations included in this half of the chapter.  I am taking a break from this emotional buffet and will continue with my chapter 7 self-counseling session in my next post.

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