We generally know what’s making life hard, but how often do we take the time to notice what is helping?
Every year, Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy reflects on the question inspired by Barbara Brown Taylor’s memoir, Leaving Church…What’s saving your life right now?
I think about this question every so often. It’s easier to find an answer in some seasons than in others. I appreciate that Anne’s yearly link-up comes in February when winter has already out stayed its welcome and spring still seems impossibly far away.
When I stop to think about it, there are plenty of things I could add to my list of what’s saving me right now—libraries, books, Pixel’s playfulness, exercise, my work as a coach, music, friendships, guacamole…
One of the things that’s making the biggest difference in my life right now is making it a priority to ask my inner critic what she is thinking every single day.
My internal dialogue has a history of being very harsh. Inside my own head, I have heard over and over and over how annoying I am and how no one likes me. I’ve been called all kinds of names and been told that I need to work harder and be better and that I’ll never be enough.
For much of my life I took those words truth…not very kind truth, but truth nonetheless. The truth is supposed to hurt, right?
I didn’t know any way to navigate that critical voice inside my head other than to try to ignore it while believing every word it said.
In more recent years, I’ve learned that there are other possibilities. I’ve learned that my inner critic is actually trying to protect me. She’s wounded and scared and has limited communication skills, but she’s trying to keep me safe in the only way she knows how.
My inner critic isn’t a horrible monster from the outside trying to ruin my life. She’s part of me and doing the best she can. The ways I’ve been responding to her have actually been very unkind.
I’ve been learning how to listen to what my inner critic has to say while setting boundaries around how she can speak to me. (Kate Swoboda at Your Courageous Life is a fantastic resource for working with your inner critic and understanding your fear patterns.)
For a few years, I would have lengthy and productive conversations with my inner critic when the judgmental chatter inside my head got too loud. Then, once my inner critic was honoring my request to speak respectfully, I stopped paying attention to what she had to say. While I wasn’t intentionally choosing to ignore her, my neglect was reinforcing her belief that the only way to be heard was to throw a tantrum.
For the past four months, I’ve been doing something different. Instead of waiting for my inner critic to demand my attention, I’m making a point of checking in with her every single day to ask what’s on her mind. It’s become part of my daily journaling process to dialogue with my inner critic on the page and it’s making a huge difference in my life.
Through showing up consistently, I’m showing my critic that I do care and that she can trust me. That part of me is feeling more heard and is starting to believe that she’s not on her own to protect me and try to manage everything.
As I consistently model and enforce boundaries around respectful communication, our conversations contain less harshness and more support. The progress we’re making in the way we communicate in my journal is carrying over into the rest of my life. I’m quicker to notice and get back on track when we fall into old patterns.
In consistently paying attention to my critic and what she is afraid of, I’m much more aware of my own fear patterns. When I’m not just reacting to a harsh voice in my head, I can get curious about what’s really going on and make thoughtful decisions about what is and isn’t actually dangerous and what is worth the risk.
I never expected to say that listening to my inner critic was saving my life, but the difference it’s making is amazing. I’m no longer shrinking at the harshness in my head and feeling stuck and miserable. In showing up consistently, I’m showing my inner critic she can trust me and I’m learning to trust myself.
Do I still hear harsh criticism sometimes? Of course, but I now know how to deal with it constructively. I’m not helpless in the face of it. I’m more aware of my patterns and can work with my fear instead of just dismissing myself as too lacking as a person or too much of a coward to do anything.
In a future post, I’ll share what more about what I’m learning from consistently conversing with my inner critic. These conversations are shifting that voice inside my head from something that makes everything even harder to something that’s actually helping.
Now I want to turn the question over to you…what is saving your life right now?
P.S. Here are my saving-my-life reflections from last year.