Managing the Inner (And Outer) Critics in Life

Beautiful woman showing middle fingers

I think that I should be quite clear about how I really feel about anyone who makes a career of talking shit about others.  Get a (better) life.

I am a strong believer that human beings are their own worst enemies.

When I went through some creative rehabilitation and worked my way through most of Julia Cameron’s series “The Artist’s Way”, I came face-to-face with a foe that I already knew; but I didn’t know what to call her.  My inner critic was that voice in my head that knocked the wind out of my confidence, made me question my choices and frequently blamed me for things that were out of my control.  Whether that was a friendship gone astray, a romantic relationship, a disagreement with an individual I respected and cared for.  Pretty much anytime things were anything but perfect, out came my inner critic like a bitch, with her negative inner dialogue.

Things like:

“It’s your fault this relationship went wrong.”

“This fight is all because of you.”

“You aren’t worthy of winning or being happy.”

“There is so much wrong with you.”

“You don’t deserve to succeed.”

“Who do you think you are?”

… trust me the list goes on.   I have muzzled the bitch to be honest with you.  Sometimes she manages a gurgle when I am feeling tired, or sad or reflective about something.  But on a normal day, she gets to sit in a chair in a corner of my mind and shut-up.  Unless she has something constructive to say.

When I share my experience with my inner critic with other creatives, they acknowledge that they have one too.  What is interesting is that the most intelligent and creative people I know have the most fierce inner critics.  The Type A personality can hide in someone who is not successful, or someone who is madly successful; it depends entirely on how able they are to mute that voice and control the self-sabotage that comes with it.  I do know that less intelligent folks do not have the same problem.  I am not mocking that, to be honest part of me is a little jealous of people who live a life without wrestling ambition, self-expectation and a vicious inner critic.  That must be peaceful.

As I have become older, more mature and seasoned in life and relationships, I see things with different eyes.  Learning to be a mother to our twins, perhaps the parts of me that were the most hard and sharpened have been smoothed over.  The kids have changed me and deepened my heart and soul in so many ways; I am my best person when my little family is together.  My little tribe of stubborn, Taurus, manly men who are tough on the outside and sweet and sensitive on the inside.  Not a day goes by when I don’t look up toward heaven and thank Him for bestowing me with the gift of their love, and a place I belong.

Lucas has this guy named Christian who is constantly mean to him.  Much like me, Lucas has this misconception that everyone should like each other, and he is sweet and loyal, hardworking and self-sacrificing.  Basically, munchkin is a really, really good egg, and so it bothers him deeply when someone doesn’t like him.  To the point of obsessing over it almost, because it makes sense when people hate mean people; it’s harder to understand why someone wouldn’t like a generous, down-to-earth, kind soul like him.  I can relate.  I’m a really good egg too, and while I am a big boorish and domineering (I work hard to pull in the reins on that), I am the friend you can count on, the family member who has your back, and the kind of girl that wants to save the world and everyone/everything in it.

 

Me: “Lucas, have you ever done anything wrong to Christian? Did you do something mean to him?”

Lucas: “No, not really. I walked away from him and didn’t speak to him for a long time because I was just tired of him being mean to me.  Everything he said hurt my feelings or made me sad, so I figured it was better to not talk to him.  We didn’t fight though.”

Me: “And now what is happening when you avoid Christian? By the way kid, not fighting is always a better option than fighting.”

Lucas: “He spends a lot of time talking about me to other guys and girls.  And then they start to think I am a bad person, but I try to tell them I didn’t do anything wrong.  Christian was mean to me and if he was nicer, I would still be friends with him.  I am really okay with not being his friend since he is so mean… but I hate how he makes other people think its my fault.”

Wow.  So I sat back in the couch a moment and thought deeply.  Have I had those situations in my life?  Yep.  Did I feel the way Lucas was feeling?  Absolutely!  But somehow the simplicity of the scenario in his own words brought so much clarity to me.  Something I’ve struggled with for years, distilled wisdom in one conversation with my caring nine year old son.

 

Me: “Hey Lucas, what if I told you that sometimes people just need a bad guy?”

Lucas: “I’m not a bad guy.”

Me: “I know. You are a good guy.  But sometimes people can be disappointed, sad or angry with their own life, or things that happened to them.  And they need a target, like a bulls eye to shoot their anger at.  Does Christian say nice things about other people?”

Lucas: “No not really.  He’s got a lot of people that don’t want to talk to him, and he always wants to talk in a mean way about other people.”

Me: “Right.  So the truth is that Christian (for whatever reason) is unhappy.  You didn’t make him unhappy.  The other five kids that stopped being his friend didn’t make him unhappy.  He is just unhappy inside himself, and he can’t figure out how to be happy.  So by saying mean things, he gets to release some of his anger from inside, at a target.  Which is you, and the other five kids.  Do you know what I mean?”

Lucas: “So Christian is really just sad inside his heart and can’t figure out how to fix it?”

Me: “Bingo.   You could be the nicest person in the world, and Christian still needs to be mean to you.  He can’t face who or what he is really angry about, so he needs to be mean to someone (or a lot of people) so that he feels better about himself.  And to be truthful, it takes a strong person to walk away from someone who is mean, especially when you really want to like them, or when you have been close friends.”

Lucas: “So basically, it’s his problem in his head.”

Me: “Ding! Same thing with bullies, and people who say mean things on YouTube like you saw in the comments. Happy people have happy lives (most of the time) and they don’t need to be angry, negative or make other people feel bad.  The unhappy people… need to, even if they don’t understand why.  It just ‘feels’ better when they are being mean to someone, but really, they need compassion and understanding, even if you feel like they don’t deserve it because of the way they act toward others.”

Lucas: “So maybe I should pray for Christian to be happy in his heart and head?”

Me: “That would be a good thing honey.  And remember, it’s not about you.  Some people get along for awhile, and then stop hanging out.  That’s normal in life.  You’ll have many friends throughout your life, and the ones that are really special, they stay forever.  Others come and go as you grow (and they grow).  But the ones that stay angry, and talking bad about others … those are the ones that deserve our sympathy and understanding.  It takes a lot of hurt inside someone, to keep up that effort to be mean and hateful, and it’s not something that really makes them feel good about themselves either.  It’s kind of sad when you think about it.”

 

And in that moment, something shifted in me.  Something heavy came off my shoulders and I sighed peacefully when my little tender heart hugged me.    Why didn’t my parents explain this crap to me?  Sigh.  But when you take a step back and try to understand where the hateful behavior comes from, it’s easy to put it in perspective. You aren’t responsible for how others choose to perceive you.  Be you. Be unapologetic for ignoring toxic behaviors, and always place the source in perspective.  Do they matter?  No?  Awesome.  Neither does a single word they say, or any idiot deluded enough to believe an angry person’s assessment of a stranger.

I have no problem ghosting assholes. Never did. Never will.  And neither will Lucas.  He’ll have the same confidence to shrug it off, because his life is happy.  And so is mine. :)