Inner Critic on Blast

I’ve been amazed by the support and outreach that I received after posting Down Day here on my blog and on Facebook.  Feeling propelled by the positive responses, I have had a million thoughts racing through my mind about what I want to write about next. My desk is surrounded by writing notebooks, old journals and a stack of books that guided me along my journey, any of which provide a hundred or more writing topics.  I can’t turn on the T.V. or open the internet without seeing an article on mental health. All incredibly inspiring – so what’s the problem??

I realized today that I had acquiesced to a self-imposed pressure of “perfect writing” (no such thing) for the “perfect reader” (anyone who I may be able to positively effect), after going public last week with some of my innermost thoughts and struggles.  Instead of writing for healing, I was frozen in perfectionist fear thoughts: “How is this story going to be interpreted?” “Who is going to judge me if I share this?” “Who am I to be writing with any authority on mental health issues??”  “My writing SUCKS and I have nothing of value to say!” DELETE YOUR BLOG, YOU BIG.FAT.DUMMY!!!”

Whoah. That escalated quickly.  The Inner Critic had armored up and was using FEAR as her weapon of choice.

I think I have my topic.

The Inner Critic wants us to stay small and quiet in order to feel safe. She hyperbolizes negative thought patterns and seeks to minimize growth and healing. Fear and the IC rely on one another, just a like a couple of BFFs, and they love to treat us to episodes of “Lifestyles of the Anxiety and Panic-ridden.”

So what can we do to quiet this Inner Critic in order to live more joyful and authentic lives? We must first learn to take away her power, which thrives in fear, shame and feelings of unworthiness.

“The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our FEAR of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.” – Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Sometimes I need to break things down very simply in order to fully process them, so let me do that with this quote:

  • The dark = traumatic experiences, things we keep hidden from others & sometimes ourselves
  • does not destroy = has no power over
  • the light = joy, love, happiness, shared common experience
  • it defines it = through our processing, acceptance and integration of the most difficult times of our lives, we are able to fully live as we are intended; our highest purpose & most authentic selves
  • It’s our FEAR of the dark = our worry over possible outcomes or side effects of dealing with the scary stuff
  • that casts our joy into the shadows = we are deprived of a life of joy if we allow fear to define and control us

So, in applying this quote to my writer’s block:

  • The dark = my inner critic
  • does not destroy = has no power over
  • the light = helping others through shared common experiences, personal healing
  • it defines it = years of accumulated negative self talk and personal judgement want to keep my in my safety zone, but I no longer want to live in that constricted space
  • It’s our FEAR of the dark = if I “go there,” share too much will I be rejected? what does the future hold if I continue on this path?
  • that casts our joy into the shadows = swirling thoughts, distraction, the voice of the inner critic could win out over the light, if I let them

I used writer’s block somewhat lightly as an example of how we can quiet the voice of the Inner Critic, but this process works in breaking down deeper issues as well.

For too many years my joy was cast to the shadows because I was afraid of the repercussions of acknowledging my real life struggles. I honestly didn’t think I could handle the reliving and retelling of some of those traumatic experiences, so I listened to the voice of the Inner Critic who affirmed my fear and feelings of unworthiness. But suffering endured and true joy was cast aside.

The good news is that the Inner Critic is disarmed in the face of mindfulness, love and self compassion. Now, when she starts yammering away, I acknowledge her: “Oh hey there, IC. Let’s have a chat. I really don’t need you here anymore. Fear does not control me. I am not ashamed of who I am. I am driven by the light. And light overcomes your darkness.”

If you struggle with the loud, obnoxious voice of an Inner Critic, disarm her. You can learn how to take a few steps toward deescalation by listening to this short guided meditation: “A Basic Meditation to Tame Your Inner Critic.” There is such relief to be found in the silence. You deserve to rest.

Down Day

I used to get really scared when I was having a Down Day. You know the feeling, the one that many of us call the “Sunday Scaries?” It’s that, “I feel sad and I don’t know why” on a random Tuesday feeling. When this happens to me, I typically run through my checklist of usual worry suspects – kid stress, work concerns, sleep deprivation, familial arguments,  friendship issues – to identify a culprit. On a Down Day, the check list typically comes up empty and what’s left is a case of the Unknown Scaries.

The Down Day feeling is a gnawing heaviness; a general malaise perhaps, to put it fancifully. My husband asks, after observing my quiet and distant behavior, “Are you okay?” and I answer, “Yes, I’m just having a Down Day.”

On a Down Day, a tear sits at the ready, waiting to emerge at the tiniest bit of distress or even a kind word.  Not a heavy duty, cleansing cry.  Just a few damp escapees down my cheek that expose hidden sadness to those who may cross my path. Tears, those traitors.

Most of my life was spent white-knuckling my way through a Down Day. Ever fearful that if I stopped moving, stopped numbing, another D, depression, would overtake me, beat me down and exile me. I had to move faster than the depression, like a storm you see in your rear view mirror that is quickly catching up to you.

GO GO GO. DO DO DO. Anything except FEEL FEEL FEEL. Feeling was scary and brought with it too many unknowns. I had convinced myself that my feelings were too much and way more than I, or anyone, could handle.

“The cure for pain is in the pain.
In Silence, there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.”        – Rumi

One gets to the point, however, where white-knuckling, busy-ness or any other false coping mechanism no longer work as “feeling avoidance strategies”. That storm in your rear view mirror catches up to you because, as Rumi says, the “cure for pain is in the pain.” We must sit in and then go through pain in order to get to the other side of it. Going around it? Not an option.

I have experienced adverse life experiences that span in time from early childhood through adulthood. No wonder on a random Tuesday the effect of this accumulated trauma may periodically show itself, often times without warning.

What I have learned in sitting with the pain, whether that is in a therapist’s office, in meditation, or in a mindfulness practice, is that when the deep pain and hurt reach out to you on a Down Day, they need to be attended to with compassion and love.

Our tendency is toward avoidance or covering up of the pain. Put on a mask of happiness and go on with our lives. However-

“What we resist, persists” – Carl Jung

Avoidance and numbing strategies create resistance to what is presenting itself, which then results in increased anxiety and depression. If we want to minimize Down Days, we need to do the opposite of resist: accept and allow.

So, what does it look like to “Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves” per Rumi? How do we stop doing and start feeling? Stop numbing and start healing?

For me, it’s an acceptance of, and sinking into, the flow of life’s ups and downs, acknowledging my feelings through stillness and meditation, along with a combination of self-compassion and self-care.

Self-compassion as defined by Kristin Neff, PhD., “requires the we stop to recognize our own suffering. We can’t be moved by our own pain if we don’t even acknowledge that it exists in the first place.” So, on a Down Day, I try to increase awareness, decrease avoidance and offer up some love.

For example, in meditation, I send love to the hurt parts of my emotional and physical self. I literally put a hand over my heart to comfort myself, and then connect with the love and light I send to those hurting places. Some times tears flow as a part of this practice, but when acting within the realm of self-compassion, I no longer think of them as traitors. Instead, they are truth – the truth and authenticity of my story. I feel you. I see you. And I honor the pain and suffering that I share with you.

Self-care can come in any positive action that feels comforting. For me, self-care is crawling into my bed with a good book or to watch a silly reality show, being with my family, snuggling with my dogs or even a mani/pedi. For others it may be a bath, watching a movie, or a phone call with a friend.

Self-care is also prioritizing my own mental healthcare even when my bank account, fear or life’s unexpected circumstances say I should cancel. I have stuck to this self-imposed guideline for the better part of three years and it’s the best gift I’ve ever given myself.*  Healing was not possible for me without intensive therapy.

Instead of being scared of a Down Day, I now know these times are the indicator that my innermost self needs a little love and attention. Sometimes there is a clear cause of the darkness; other days not-so-much as a clue. If you get a case of the Down Days, I hope that the combination of avoiding resistance through mindfulness and mediation practice, self-compassion and self-care will help you feel less scared too.

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*I highly recommend therapy for anyone battling anxiety, depression and PTSD. Keep looking until you find someone you can afford, who takes your insurance, etc., and make it a top priority for yourself. It took me multiple attempts over the years to find the “right” therapist, but when I did, it positively changed all aspects of my life.