I have a confession to make. Up until just recently, I was absolutely living my life on auto-pilot: I reacted to life based on the patterns of thinking and behavior that had been ingrained since my birth. I had an absolutely brutal Inner Critic. The slightest physical misstep or social faux pas would have me silently (sometimes verbally), viciously, and hatefully berating myself in terms most foul and vile.
Small things. A shoe slipping out of my hand as I prepared to put it on would unleash a vulgar harangue–“Oh, that was brilliant, you stupid f***ing b***h.”
I could never do anything fast enough for my Critic. Every single task would find my body tensed, stomach in a knot, neck muscles in such spasms I was unable to turn my head without searing pain. “C’mon! Hurry, hurry, HURRY UP WITH THOSE DAMN DISHES!!!” she would yell. “PEE??? Hold it till you’re done vacuuming!”
So, this was my life for about 55 years. My Critic was my constant companion, always making sure I knew how bothersome to others and completely inept and unlikeable I was.
In my case, my Critic’s voice belonged to my mother. Mom was an alcoholic and likely covert narcissist with her own demons that she never was able to acknowledge and banish. Had you talked to me just a year ago about my Mom, you would have been treated to a litany of all the ways I was done wrong. Today I am at peace with the way my life unfolded and hold no blame towards my Mom. She loved me the best she could but she was broken from childhood. She simply did not have the tools she needed to raise me in an emotionally healthy environment. I did the best I could with my children, too, but sadly I blindly recreated my mother’s parenting style. So I also did a crap-ton of damage to my kids as they grew up. I have regrets. Big ones. I have been blessed to receive forgiveness and understanding from my adult children. And I am still working on forgiving myself.
But as the saying goes, once we know better, we can do better. So how did I come to know better so I could heal myself and pave the way for future healthy generations?
First, I had an epiphany. I realized that my Inner Critic had spent 50+ years coloring my perceptions of myself. I truly believed I was that voiceless, unlikable, despised, devalued, unimportant, clumsy wallflower, nearly paralyzed with social anxiety and low self-esteem.
Shortly after, I had another epiphany. I realized that I would never, under any circumstances, speak to another soul in the way my Inner Critic spoke to me. I would hate myself for tearing another’s sense of worth to shreds with my words. And the lightbulb illuminated over my head. And I made it my new goal to treat myself as kindly, gently, and compassionately as I do others.
I will tell you, those first couple weeks were exhausting! I quickly became acutely aware of the constant barrage of negativity running through my mind. Nearly every single thought had to be filtered and corrected. I would knock over a cup of water, Inner Critic would go off, and I would need to just stop the inner shaming and remind myself that spilled water truly has no bearing on my value as a human being. I would tell myself that Everybody knocks over a cup of water sometimes!!!
Concurrent with the revised self-talk, I also worked on my need to rush and hurry through life. Washing dishes became an exercise in deep, slow, breathing and relaxing my neck, back, and stomach muscles. For a while I had to reteach myself to do chores without holding physical tension by consciously taking the chore s-l-o-w and keeping my mind calm and focused on the task at hand. It took many months, but I am able to actually work quickly at something now without becoming a big ball of tension.
I will never forget the day that I accidentally dropped a paper on the floor. And as I bent over to pick it up, I chuckled at myself, thinking “oops!” It stopped me in my tracks and I cried tears of gratitude: It was the first time that my initial response was not that of my Inner Critic. I accepted a mistake I had made, realizing that mistakes, missteps, and messing up is simply a beautiful part of being a human.
This may sound funny, but I actually approached going to the bathroom as a means of self-care! I reminded myself that tending to my bodily functions was normal and not something to put off.
I made a concerted effort to treat myself better. It wasn’t easy at first. I had to actually FORCE myself to buy a 5.00 bar of fancy fou-fou soap at the Dollar General. Experimented with a little make-up. Got a haircut. Started shaving my legs again. It took a while, but I was able to work up to following through on some long-delayed needs: New glasses. Dental work. Addressing my hearing/balance/sensory issues. I am finally beginning to feel worthy of kindness and compassion–from others, but especially from myself.
And where am I now? I am so much happier and more satisfied with life. I still struggle with social anxiety and shyness sometimes, but I am able to briefly chit-chat with a cashier without terror striking my heart anymore. I am more able to speak my truth without fear of rejection. I am learning who I really am and who I was meant to be all along.
I can now clearly see the incredible benefits my early experiences have provided me. I am compassionate. I want others to feel good about themselves. My childhood loneliness and dysfunction gave me opportunities to think deeply and spend many hours in solitary creative pursuits. I have developed incredible self-reliance that serves me well today.
I now know that my dysfunctional ways of dealing with my childhood were simply coping mechanisms that kept me emotionally safe at the time. And they were extremely effective in protecting me. But now, I am no longer that child who needs to protect herself. Those threats to my self-worth no longer exist. And so it is now time to let go of those ways that no longer serve me. Those ways that are now a hindrance to living the joyous, powerful life I came here to experience.
I think the best thing I’ve noticed is that I am now looking FORWARD instead of backwards. I have remembered, forgiven, and healed, and I’ve been able to release the emotional and physical blocks that kept me stuck in a sad existence for over half a century.
I finally feel as if I have a future, open to possibilities, opportunities, and joy. So…..better late than never!
Peace to you.