Comforting the Inner Critic

It was hard for me as a kid growing up to celebrate the successes in my life. There has always been a voice in my head telling me that I could have done things a little better. A little faster. A little smarter.

For whatever reason this was translated into a situation where people believed it was easy for me to achieve the things I did. People mused to me about how effortless my life must be, and that I shouldn’t bother celebrating getting straight A’s because there was no effort involved.

I didn’t tell anyone that the biggest drive in my life was fear. That voice in my head told me that if I didn’t succeed I would have no future. That I would die at any moment. That somebody close to me would get hurt. That really, I was just a failure anyway so I ought to just give up now.

In that sense, yes, it was easy to succeed. To succeed or believe that terrible things would befall you… succeeding seemed like the only option.

When I got older the voice took on a more intense role, and as my interest in school waned and was replaced with relationships the voice began to mimic all of my most awkward and heart breaking moments back to me. According to the voice, failure in a relationship meant failure at life, and I did all manner of things (and withstood all manner of things) to try to keep things together.

I tried many things to deal with these intrusive thoughts, first I tried to please them. For many years I did whatever I could to try to prove them wrong in a desperate effort to make them stop. They didn’t.

I tried to have a relationship where my intrusive thoughts became part of the dialogue. A third person in the relationship. My attempt to be open about the intense negativity and explain my odd behavior backfired and only upset my partner, ending things in an emotional explosion.

After that I tried to ignore the thoughts. I figured they must be bad after how my ex had responded and I didn’t want anything to do with them anymore. Unfortunately, it didn’t make them go away, and every subsequent “failure” or fear was repeated back to me on a loop. Something my emotional stability didn’t take too kindly to.

After 25 years of intrusive thoughts I became hostile toward them. I had a therapist who suggested contradicting these thoughts aloud to prove they had no basis in reality, but my thoughts were too cunning. When they wouldn’t stop or they would agitate me to the point of being unable to see reason I’d start arguing with them (not a pretty sight I’m afraid).

Much like the parrot (Marvin) my family had when I was growing up the noise from these intrusive thoughts in my head can be relentless. Also much like when I was dealing with a squawking Marvin it has not been uncommon for someone to walk into the room just as I am screaming, “shut up! Shut up! Shut up!”

(Although Marvin began telling random people to “shut up,” I am lucky that my intrusive thoughts have not caught on to mimicking these moments.)

Needless to say, both myself and everyone involved in my life were kind of in a tight spot. I didn’t know what to do, and constantly fighting these thoughts one at a time was both draining and time consuming.

When I brought this up to my therapist (a new one I guess, as this has clearly been an ongoing issue) she asked me to imagine I am both a child and my own mother, and to treat these intrusive thoughts the way I would treat myself as a child.

Frankly, after a few weeks I was still trying to wrap my head around what she said. A mother? A child? What does that have to do with anything? I don’t intend to have children so how do I know how a mother would act? I find children a little creepy (nothing personal) so we don’t have the best relationship. Moms either.

Should I make english muffin pizzas?

Ultimately the message I was failing to discern was that she wanted me to approach these feelings with more of a comforting and understanding point of view. Despite her terrible metaphor, I could imagine, perhaps, a puppy (way cuter and less jam-hands) as my intrusive thoughts.

Sometimes puppies bark or bite or simultaneously projectile vomit and poo on the floor (an imagine I will never be able to erase from my memory, thanks Luna) because they need attention and some nice belly scratches… maybe a bath after that poo thing too. Arguing with the puppy wont make it content, and neither will ignoring it.

I’ve taken this concept to heart, and even though this is definitely the biggest jerk of a puppy living in my brain, it is also just me hoping for reassurance, or comfort, or anything to help dispel that fear. And when I get reactive and angry sometimes I just need to say, “guess what? Your anger is totally justified right now! This is frustrating!” instead of using it to try and fight myself.

I’ve spent many years seeking justification or comfort or approval from other people, and there are genuinely some very difficult times I’ve experienced when I had reached out to every person I knew and been turned away. I find it a little amazing that I was capable of doing it myself this whole time, I just didn’t know how!

Obviously I am not cured. It is a work in progress, as always… and I can’t claim I haven’t told that puppy to shut up at least a few times in the time since then. I am simply doing the best I can trying to learn how to take care of myself and my life, and that (if nothing else) is comforting to me. As it turns out, I am in the market for more comfort, so whaddaya know?

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One response to “Comforting the Inner Critic

  1. When I was younger, my driving force was spite. I chose to succeed so I could give a big FU to everyone who was against me. When I had no one left to spite, my inner critic repeated all those negative voices from the past.

    I’m glad you are making progress, maybe I am too.

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