I had so many responses about the last HAVEN Newsletter which mused on The Inner Critic with the wonderful therapist and writer Stephanie Baffone, that I asked her to write a follow up blog post. People wanted specifics. And while I have worked hard to become aware of my own inner critic, name her, send her packing or in some cases, love her as the scared child that she is…I’m not a therapist. I remind myself constantly that I created her. So I can teach her to be nice. I like nice people in the real world. Why must I pollute my interior world then? I don’t have to. Maybe it’s as simple as that.
In the following post, Stephanie gives some concrete methods which I hope help. yrs. Laura
From the therapist, Stephanie Baffone
My guest column last week about our inner critics struck such a chord that Laura suggested I follow up to provide some additional hints about how to manage these challenging parts of our personalities.
Laura makes a valid point when she says she is “teaching her [inner critic] heart language.”
In my work as a therapist, I find the most common denominator in those that seek therapy is the longing people have to feel heard. Our inner critics are no exception.
Take a message and other techniques
One exercise I suggest to my clients is to keep a notebook, pad of paper or even smart phone handy. Each time that cranky voice starts yammering, take a message. Remember those pink message pads? Tell your inner critic their input has been noted. As a counterpoint, jot down something that makes you beam with pride. Up against even a modicum of success, the most recalcitrant critical voice slinks away in shame.
Another exercise I used personally and that is now a part of my therapeutic repertoire, comes out of Gestalt Therapy.
Eleven years ago, I was nearing the end of my graduate work and the time came to take the comprehensive exams. In order to graduate, I had to pass, and that spring, my “Debbie Downer,” considered this demanding period open season on doubt. Whenever I cracked open my books to study, she sauntered into the room and pulled up a chair.
One evening while reviewing material with a classmate and friend, it became apparent that any further attempts to study productively would be thwarted by Debbie if I didn’t assuage her.
My girlfriend guided me through the process of describing in detail what Debbie looked like, sounded like and even smelled like. We explored ways to silence her for the coming weeks, so I could study without her intrusive and destructive influences.
On closer examination, it was apparent Debbie and I could not co-exist. I needed to exorcise her. I brought her to life on paper then grabbed her by the scruff of her neck, and tossed her into a brown paper bag that my girlfriend dragged home.
The ritual of physically ridding myself of my inner critic was constructive. I breezed through my studies and aced the comprehensive exams.
Joining others in doubt.
Every now and again, when Debbie lurks in the corners of my psyche, I sit her down and say, “Debbie, do you want to go back to that paper bag?”
When she gets mouthy and responds, “I don’t care,” I use a practice I adopted from Mary Piper, therapist and author of the breakout book “Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls.” In her memoir, “Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World,” Mary writes about her practice of offering up a prayer for all those who might be feeling the same self-doubt or anxiety she is rather than engage in emotional self-mutilation:
“Prayer is vastly superior to worry. With worry, we are helpless, with prayer, we are interceding. When I am troubled I will say a prayer that asks for relief for myself and for all those who suffer as I do. ‘I pray for all other people who feel anxious and edgy at this moment’….May they be happy and free of suffering.’”
Regardless of which techniques you find helpful in combating your inner critic, the best approach is to be proactive. Be prepared. Put a plan in place. In the meantime, I’m offering a one-way, no-cost exclusive group rate for cantankerous inner critics to a desolate island with no vegetation. Takers?