Tag Archives: Inner critic

How I Healed Myself Through Shadow Work

This is going to sound awful, but the day my mother died I felt nothing but relief. It was finally over: A half-century of living under the shadow of an alcoholic, histrionic narcissist who was never able to conquer her own demons. I was finally free. Or so I thought. I will preface this article by stating that today, after doing over a year of intense Shadow work, I can honestly say I have nothing but love and gratitude for my mom. And a lot more understanding of her history and the generational family dynamics that shaped our relationship. One story I grew up hearing was how, when my grandmother found out she was pregnant with my mom (child #7, 10 years after her last child’s birth), she got drunk and repeatedly jumped off the back steps in an attempt to induce a miscarriage. This was one of those “funny family stories” that was frequently told at get-togethers with the aunts and uncles. Or how my mom was sent to live with her two adult sisters in succession, as my grandma abdicated her parental role and effectively rejected her youngest child. 

Understanding the Shadow

Obviously, I could fill pages with the backstory, but let’s get to it: Just what is the Shadow and why do I need to work on it? 

“The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.”

Carl Jung, Aion (1951)

Discovering My Shadows

For nearly 60 years I had an Inner Critic who was brutally judgmental of me. Every perceived misstep, every social interaction, every relationship issue unleashed a scathing inner dialog which outlined my worthlessness. This Inner Critic was my mother’s voice. Now, I know that my mother loved me deeply. But I also know that her own life did not give her the tools she needed to love a child in a healthy way. One would think that once this toxic person was permanently removed from my life, everything would sort itself out. But it didn’t, at least not immediately. For nearly 10 years, I let her live rent-free in my head, still shaping my perception of who I was from beyond the grave. Then about 2 years ago I began a Spiritual Awakening. It was at this time I realized that unless I dealt with all the dysfunctional programming I had absorbed, I would never know true satisfaction and joy. It was time to face the Shadow.

Shaken Foundations

As I began delving into my relationship with my mother, I began to see her as more than just a pathetic alcoholic who needed me to give her a sense of worth. As I picked at the façade of our relationship, I discovered what I perceived as a darker, more sinister underbelly:  She deliberately undermined my confidence in myself. She discounted my feelings to the point that I simply shut them off. She lied. She manipulated. She triangulated my sister and I, effectively destroying any chance of a loving sibling bond. All my childhood memories were suddenly being viewed through a new, disturbing lens. What was once seen as an extremely close mother-daughter relationship was now understood to be emotional enmeshment. I was always so proud of the fact that I could accomplish difficult tasks without ever thinking of asking for help. I was a star pupil, always striving for perfection. Anything less than a 4.0 GPA would throw me into a tailspin. Slowly I began to understand that many of the stoic traits that I was so proud of were actually a trauma response to Childhood Emotional Neglect. Dr. Jonice Webb coined the term, and you can learn more about  it here.These new realizations plunged me into what can only be described as an existential crisis. I began asking some big, seemingly unanswerable questions: Who AM I really? What is reality? Was everything a lie? How can one know Truth? I felt adrift, unsure whether my perception of every single thing and relationship in my life was accurate or skewed.

Here Comes The Blame Game

After realizing that everything I believed about myself and my relationship with my mom was not what I had thought, I got pissed. I mean, REALLY pissed.  That Woman was the cause of all my unhappiness, all my poor life choices, my devastating social anxiety and my unending feelings of worthlessness. I allowed myself to wallow in this pit of self-pity for several weeks. It took a while to wrap my head around the myriad ways I had been wronged. It may sound counter-productive, but this period of blaming my mom was quite helpful to my healing process. For the first time, it took the onus of my deficiencies off of me. Hey, I was a victim here! I was a small baby, unable to see what was happening to me or to do anything about it. Eventually, I tired of this newfound victim mentality, Suddenly I had a novel thought: OK, so I have a new understanding of my childhood and why I am the way I am. Now what? Am I going to stay in this place? I knew I wanted much, much more for myself. And at that point I decided to try to heal this deep Mother Wound and get on with the rest of my life.

Blessings Via YouTube

I began looking for more information on Childhood Emotional Neglect online. Eventually my search led me to a lovely woman on YouTube: Lisa A. Romano. I binge-listened for weeks on the hour-long drive to and from work. So often I would be moved to tears or would suddenly yell “YES! EXACTLY!” to no one in particular.  Lisa taught me so much about the complex relationship I had with my mom. But instead of heaping blame on the abuser, Lisa’s greatest gift is her ability to help people understand (and overcome!) the roots of their pain and dysfunction. Her comforting and loving words were like a balm to my soul. She became my stand-in mother, giving me the emotional support I had never had, and the strength to continue on my difficult healing journey. Another great discovery for me was the audiobook, “The Body Keeps The Score” by Bessel A. van der Kolk. 

Replacing my Inner Critic

I believe the month or so I spent countering my Inner Critic produced the greatest amount of healing in this entire process. Once I became aware of how damaging it was, I decided to stop it in its tracks every time it reared its ugly head. I was absolutely flabbergasted at how vicious and unforgiving and impatient this voice was. Spill a cup of water? Fucking useless asshole! Look at this shit! It was exhausting, but every single time it spoke up, I purposed to consciously give love and understanding to myself instead, essentially “re-mothering” myself.  So as soon as The Voice would start, I would respond with, “Everybody drops cups on occasion. It’s not a big deal. Human beings make mistakes. Dropping a cup has nothing to do with my worth as a person.” Over and over and over. Then one afternoon I bobbled a piece of paper and it fell to the floor. And I chuckled as I picked it up. And then I started crying.  Because that little chuckle was THE FIRST TIME that my Inner Critic ceased to lambaste me for a small  mistake. It was at that moment that I absolutely knew I was on the path to healing and becoming the person I was always meant to be. I continued to work on silencing my Inner Critic.

I soon realized that every single task I performed in my life was done with a sense of urgency. I never knew what it was like to do something without hurrying. One day I was washing dishes and I realized that my shoulders were tensed up around my ears, my stomach was in a huge knot, and I was urging myself to “hurry, hurry, hurry.” Not that I had any other pressing matters to attend at that moment. It was simply my go-to pace.Light bulb! I was holding my mother’s constant impatience in my own body. I decided at that moment to stop rushing. A few deep breaths, a conscious relaxation of the knotted muscles, and a reminder that there is no need to hurry was the beginning of my ability to release the emotional trauma I had been holding in my body for decades. I even stopped playing games on my phone which required a race against the clock, as they would often trigger me into a nervous mess.Soon, things that would have previously induced anxiety and stress became almost a meditation for me. For example, preparing a meal with a little glass of wine and some beautiful music is a fun, creative process that brings me a great sense of calm and satisfaction now.  

‘Months later, while I was at work I suddenly realized that my lifelong anxiety-induced stomach tension was completely gone! These amazing physical changes have taught me to pay close attention to my body. When my neck starts to hurt, or I feel that familiar knot in my stomach, I am able to pinpoint what is causing it and take steps to alleviate it before it takes hold.

How I Knew I Was (Mostly) Healed

I harbor no illusions that I have completely and fully dealt with every issue I’ve ever had. It is simply an implausible expectation. But I am totally fine with that. If I have to revisit something down the line, I know for certain that I now possess the tools to pick that scab and start the healing process.  Around six months ago, I noticed I was listening to my YouTube trauma healing videos less and less. I simply didn’t need them anymore and it felt like rehashing old news. Then one day I looked at my adult son and said, “That’s it. I’m done with this. I am ready to look forward now. I want to know what’s next.” Since then I have experienced the most incredible Spiritual growth, peace, and satisfaction imaginable. I even like myself now. Hell, I LOVE myself!  I sincerely hope my story has been of benefit to someone. Everyone’s healing journey is different, and I would love to hear yours! Feel free to comment below.

Better Late Than Never: My Experience in Getting My Inner Critic to STFU


Dobby and I spreading the love in Jackson Hole, WY

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.