Being Honest About Me: A Love Letter to My Inner Critic.
Dear Inner Critic,
For years, I didn’t know you were there. So sneakily had you integrated yourself into my mind and thoughts that I took your presence and your softly spoken words as inseparable from my own thoughts.
“Nobody really likes you,” you would say to me, and I would believe you.
Instead of reaching out and making friends, I retreated, shy and afraid. At school, your words were confirmed when I was mocked, excluded, and insulted on a nearly daily basis.
“You’re so fat and ugly,” you would whisper as I looked into the mirror, and I took your words as gospel.
Anytime somebody flirted with me, told me that they found me attractive, or asked me out, I assumed that something was wrong with them. When I started to date, I was filled with anxiety that they would eventually realize that they needed an eye test, get corrective lenses, and realize what sort of creature they had ended up with.
“He’ll lose interest if he gets to know the real you,” you would add, helpfully, as I started to get more comfortable in my relationships.
I would panic at the first sign of disinterest. If my partner played video games instead of spending the evening telling me how beautiful I was, if he glanced at another woman, if he seemed less than ecstatic to meet up with me, I let your words ring in my ears and tell me that it was too late for this relationship and time to start looking for somebody who had not yet discovered how flawed and broken I was.
Then, of course, came the obsessive people-pleasing.
“You have to go, or she’ll hate you,” you would promise me when a friend summoned me out of my comfortable bedroom.
“You have to drink, or they’ll think you’re weird,” you told me when I didn’t really want to be drunk.
“You have to keep achieving, or you’re a failure,” you reminded me, no matter how many qualifications and certificates and degrees I accumulated.
And then, one day, I realized that you were there.
I don’t know exactly what changed, or how I came to notice, but suddenly I saw you standing there sheepishly in the corner. You were hiding yourself, projecting your voice across the walls, trying to convince me that your voice was coming from somewhere else.
Bu, somehow I knew at once who you were. And I decided to ask you the question that I hadn’t realized I’d been dying to ask for 29 years:
“Why are you so horrible to me?”
You were silent for a moment. You seemed to shrivel in the light, as if finally being seen caused you pain.
“Because… I want you to be better.”
I sat with your response for a moment. A part of me was surprised, yet a deeper part of me nodded, sagely, as if this were the obvious answer.
“Okay… I understand that you want me to be better,” I said to you, “but why do you have to go about it in such an abusive way?”
You looked a little ashamed.
“I don’t know any other way,” you said, sadly. “I just want to motivate you to be the best you can be.”
“But why?” I asked you. “If you think I’m so hideous, useless and stupid, why bother?”
“Because you can be amazing,” you replied. “Because you are intelligent and creative and you see things differently from everybody else. Because you can change the world.”
For a moment, I thought that perhaps I was no longer speaking to you. Were the wires crossed? Had I accidentally dialed into my Inner Mentor — that wise, kind, loving part of myself that would always assure me that things were good no matter what?
“I’m sorry,” I stumbled, “I thought you thought I was the worst.”
“I’m just afraid,” you told me then. “I’m so afraid that we’re going to end up alone, homeless, or… insignificant.”
And then I saw you for what you were: a terrified creature, convinced that it’s your job to keep me on my toes day and night so that I don’t succumb to danger or mediocrity. An overactive guard dog with only my best intentions in mind.
How had you become like this? I thought about my childhood, and I saw in you the echoes of parents and teachers. But more than that, I thought about the messages that I had been fed from the moment I was born.
Do more. Be more. Look better. Work harder. You have to be rich, beautiful and popular. Be successful. Start a business. Travel the world. Look like a model. Own the right things. Change yourself for others.
I wonder, Inner Critic, whether you exist in the same form in every human brain, or whether you are each shaped by the tides and winds of that individual’s life. I have no doubt that you are louder and more oppressive in some than others — I have met them, people so beaten down by the voice in their head that they will never feel that they have done enough to deserve love and happiness.
I dread to imagine how you show up in those who went through abuse, discrimination and racism.
Since we started speaking, I have noticed that my relationships have been beautiful and fulfilling. I have been able to show up as myself, to be honest about who I am and my expectations, and to attract the people I want instead of the people I feel I deserve.
I have been able to follow my dreams of being an entrepreneur, coaching, training in things that excite me, writing, living abroad, gardening, and connecting with amazing people all over the world. Since you agreed to accept the mantra Progress, not perfection, we have been able to achieve so much together , and I feel that we’ve only just begun!
Thank you, Inner Critic. I can hear you telling me now about how this article is a silly idea, how it may be insensitive to those suffering from chronic anxiety or depression, how not everybody experiences narrative in the same way that I do (and so do not experience “negative self-talk”), and how the current events unfolding in the world mean that this is a trivial issue to talk about.
Your contributions are meaningful and important, and I hope that my readers understand the intended lighthearted tone of this post.
I hope we will continue to work together for many years to come.
Gwyneth Jones grew up in the magical lands of North Wales, although she currently lives in Prague, Czech Republic. She considers herself a hippie, science nerd, amateur gardener, eco-activist, coach, writer, Work That Reconnects facilitator, host of The Way We Connect podcast, and founder of the Reconnection Revolution group. Gwyneth hopes that we can transition away from the industrial growth society that is destroying our planet and towards a compassionate and sustainable world, but only if we reconnect deeply with ourselves, each other and Nature. You could contact Gwyneth via her website.