Tag Archives: inner critic

Haven Newsletter April 2011- The River

People ask me what it has been like this last year touring the country, talking so intimately about a rough time in my life. While I find it odd, after all these years holed up in Montana writing fiction, to be the main character in a book and to be “professional” sharing something so personal, I also love how people meet me with their own intimacy, as if in the act of my sharing in honesty and compassion, they feel permission to do the same. It has been a great gift. Ultimately, it’s between the book and the reader, but if I can be there as a messenger, then I am honored.

This month’s HAVEN is a blog piece I posted a while ago which got a deep and profound response. Some of the responses were so personal, that people wanted them to be kept private. I have chosen to reproduce that post here, in hopes that it will inspire dialogue between you all about our inner critic and what it tells us. I read recently that we have something like 60,000 thoughts a day and 80% of them are negative. I don’t know where those numbers came from and if that test actually occured, but I believe it’s true. Why is it that we choose such negative self-talk, rather than self-love and perservation? We talk in ways to ourselves that we would never think to speak to a family member or friend. It is my hope for us all that we can learn how to be kind to ourselves. On Facebook recently, I challenged my “friends” with this exercise: before you get out of bed in the morning, think of three things you love about yourself. You may be surprised just how hard this can be. I give you that challenge and hope you find new ways to see how spectacular you are. yrs. Laura

The River by Laura Munson

Originally in Author Magazine

As many of you may know from reading my book, I am keenly aware of my inner critic. I didn’t used to be, but through years of feeling really bad about myself for not having career success and the subsequent pain and suffering from that way of relating with myself and the world…and then a few solid years in therapy and in other fields of self-work, I learned how to hear that inner critic, and I learned how to deal with her.

First, I named her. I called her Sheila, and I don’t know why. That’s just the name I chose. And then I opened my ears and listened for her. Sheila was LOUD. And I realized that she was running my life, megaphone to my brain. I heard her every time I looked into the mirror. I heard her in most every one of my in-between times—driving to pick up the kids from school, lying in bed in the early morning, trying to get to sleep at night, working out, walking the dogs. She was remarkably quiet, however, when I was in the act of creation. When I was cooking, for instance, or gardening, or writing, or playing the guitar, or playing with my kids. That was a place no one could touch, not even Sheila. That was my sacred space.

I started to think about the power of the created moment, and I started to work with the idea that all our moments are created. It’s not about just being occupied—lost in the pressures and obligations of the day. It’s about being aware of the energy which drives us in the first place, deep within us, that must begin in self-love. And it’s about powerfully choosing our thoughts and emotions rather than living into the lie that they control us. We create them, after all.

For a while I wanted to exile Sheila. Nail her into a pine box and send her off to Timbuktu never to be seen again. If she died a violent death by shark, I didn’t care. Good riddance. But that didn’t work. Not at all. Because I had created her. Sheila is me. In wanting to exile her, I was declaring war against myself. So I started to let her talk, the way you do a scared little girl. And I realized she wasn’t even all that mean. I had misunderstood her. Kinda of the way people misjudge a shy girl in high school for a mean girl. I like to think that I was someone who knew the difference, then and now, and behaved accordingly. So I gave Sheila that same gift of understanding. I started to love her with maternal comfort. And she got quiet. I guess in a way, I loved her into submission.

Lately, she’s come back and she’s loud and she’s mean—doesn’t seem so shy, after all and she doesn’t seem to want a hug. She wants blood this time. It’s confusing and blind-siding. She’s telling me all sorts of things that have to do with how wrong it is to have written a memoir and to be so vulnerable in public, and that I need to be on “my game” as if I’m playing a game in the first place. Even now, she’s screaming at me to leave this to a journal entry, and not to post it on my blog. Sheila is hollering: chest your cards. You need to be appropriate. You need to not embarrass yourself. Or anyone else for that matter. And maybe she’s right. Who do I think I am?

A new friend sent me this today:
“Many of us feel uncomfortable revealing to others–and even to ourselves–what lies beneath the surface of our day-to-day consciousness. We get out of bed in the morning and begin again where we left off yesterday, attacking life as if we were waging a campaign of control and survival. All the while, deep within us, flows an endless river of pure energy. It sings a low and rich song that hints of joy and liberation and peace. Up on top, as we make our way through life, we may sense the presence of the river. We may feel a subtle longing to connect with it. But we are usually moving too fast, or we are distracted, or we fear disturbing the status quo of our surface thoughts and feelings. It can be unsettling to dip below the familiar and descend into the more mysterious realms of the soul.”
Elizabeth Lesser—Broken Open

I was so thankful to read this, because it reminded me: I have always known about that river. I have created space for it in my life since I was a little girl and it especially fuels my writing. I went to it and drank even when it looked strange to others. Along the way, I learned that society does not want to consider the river. It lies to us and tells us that the real river is experienced in occupying our minds with things we can control. I have never had any tolerance for that, and I suppose it is no surprise that I have spent the last 17 years in Montana—a place which is all river. Even when I try to deny the river, it pulls me to its side and asks me to drink. To sit beside it. To swim in it. To swim in it on a horse and lift off its back, holding on to mane, riding it all.

I have been quiet for a long time in those waters. Alone and yes, sometimes lonely.

And then one day a year or so ago, I took what I created in that sacred space of writing, and went out into the world with it. It has been disorienting. And it has been beautiful. I have been afraid of what the world of a different river would have to say about my honesty. Family. Friends. Institutions I’ve left. And what I’ve found is that the human heart is hungry for truth. It wants to being fed. It wants to swim in its true river. It needs to be reminded, wants to be reminded about the river. But being a messenger of that is confusing and scary and full of Sheila telling me that I have no business doing this. At all. That I’m an imposter. Or in it for the wrong reasons. Or that I will fail in all my trying.

This morning, I woke to a new early spring-spun light. 5:00. I couldn’t go back to sleep. My heart was racing. I am about to go back out on the road to promote my paperback, and speak to many people about what I have learned from a time of crisis, how I have become aware of Sheila, how I have committed to the river. And this, from a woman who has been writing fiction for all these years, not memoir. Not life according to me. My characters have full rights to speak, and to speak wisely. But not me as the main character (so sayeth Sheila). I have been pooling my personal power for so long, learning what it feels like in quiet creation. Now to share it…is fraught.

But this quote reminds me of the mysteries of soul. I have always loved mystery. I find it holy. I love reading the work of mystics from different religions because they are in the river finding love, not fear. Maybe my problem is in trying. Maybe the answer that Sheila needs is simply this: get out of the way and let the river flow.

Crosslinked with Author Magazine

My schedule is as follows, and can also be found on my website:

April 6, 2011 4pm
Denison University
Herrick Hall
100 W. College St
Granville OH
Beck Lecture Series

April 7th, 2011 7pm
Joseph-Beth Booksellers
2692 Madison Road
Rookwood Pavilion
Cincinnati, OH
Discussion, Signing, Q&A

April 8, 2011 7pm
Books & Company
4453 Walnut St
The Greene
Dayton, OH
Reading, Discussion, Signing

April 9, 2011 1pm
Penguin Bookshop
420 Beaver Street
Sewickly, PA
Reading, Signing

April 12, 2011 7pm
Bronxville Public Library
201 Pondfield Road
Bronxville, NY
Reading, Discussion, Signing

April 13, 2011 7pm
Harvard Coop
1400 Massachusetts Ave
Harvard Square
Cambridge, MA
Discussion, Signing, Q&A

April 14, 2011 4-7pm
Matsu
264 Newbury St
Boston, MA
Cocktail Hour Discussion
Please RSVP (617) 266-9707

April 16th, 2011 2-4pm
chill general store for hip people
presents Laura Munson
Westwood High Amphitheater
200 Nahatan Street
Westwood, MA
For more information email Wendy Hill
222chill@gmail.com

April 20, 2011 6pm
*Address Change*
The Greenwich YWCA and Greenwich Library
present Laura Munson
Greenwich Library
The Meeting Room
101 West Putnam Avenue
Greenwich, CT
06830-5387
Reading and signing
Admission Free
Please pre-register

May 12, 2011 10:30am
The Metropolitan Club presents Laura Munson
640 Sutter Street
San Francisco, CA
Coffee, Lecture, and Luncheon
Event cost $55, includes a signed 1st edition hardcopy
For reservations please email Amy@McNamara.net

May 17, 2011 7pm
Annie Bloom’s Books
7834 S.W. Capitol Hwy
Portland, OR
Discussion, Signing, Q&A

May 19, 2011 7pm
Pacific NW Writers Association
University Bookstore
4326 University Way NE
Seattle, WA

May 21, 2011 5pm
Vroman’s Bookstore
695 E Colorado Blvd
Pasadena, CA
Discussion, Signing, Q&A

May 23, 2011 11am
MORE Magazine Reinvention Convention
Los Angeles Convention Center
Concourse Hall
1201 S. Figueroa St
Los Angeles, CA
“Relationship Reinvention” with Laura Munson and Mel Robbins; Moderated by Judy Coyne

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Following Up: Techniques for Combating the Inner Critic

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?

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