MY OWN WORSE CRITIC
My internal dialogue is not the healthiest. The combination of being a naturally insecure person who was raised by a well-meaning, hyper-critical mother and a playful, wise-cracking father is largely the root. I imagine my critic as my prickly British alter ego wearing spectacles, a hair
bun, and a crisp pant suit who is often raising a quizzical brow at my actions and decisions. She is rarely pleased and never content.
There was plenty of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation for me to become a high achiever from very early on in life. The past few years of coming to terms with my lower energy reserves, increasingly smaller repository of self-discipline, and the fact that I can’t actually do it all and do it well have been sobering. I want to operate with excellence 24/7. But when you work a 4 day stretch of 10+ hour swing shifts and need to tie up loose ends after you get home, your attentiveness as wife, mother, and household organizer will wane during the time that remains. When you need 2-3 days to recover physically and mentally from the aforementioned shifts, it becomes impossible to play catch-up with chores, errands, and incidental happenings as quickly as you would like to. When you get bitten by the inspiration bug at unexpected times, then the powerful urge to write until you get it all out on the screen might mean that when u finally do check the time, an hour or two may have flown by and you’re once again racing the clock.
During my stretches off from work, I focus on trying to redeem my domestic roles and my writing rhythm at the same time. Its trickier than I thought it would be. If I were completely dictated by my writing craft, I would be done my book manuscript by now and blogging daily. But it would be at the expense of my other worlds crashing and burning. My wife role gets the short end of the stick far more often than it should. Toddlers and preschoolers demand your time and attention regardless of whether it’s convenient to do so or not. Work time is work time and spills over into home-time more often than I like but far less than it used to. Profound physical fatigue can only be warded off for so long. I have not mastered how to demand portions of this time back for 'me time' as well as for 'me and hubby time.'
My negative self-talk convinces me that I’m not deserving of this time because I’m not managing it effectively in the first place. The one-sided conversation goes something like this: “You haven’t prioritized your health including exercising consistently and eating well over the past few years so now your figure is nearly beyond recognition, your self-confidence is hanging out in the toilet bowl, and your battling multiple chronic illnesses including Fibromyalgia (the world’s most annoying diagnosis of exclusion that’s mainly a pain syndrome of massive inconvenience). You got what you deserve. No wonder you avoid looking in the mirror. Your husband probably can’t stand the sight of you yet alone yearn for you physically. You are a sorry excuse of your former self and you should be deeply ashamed.” This is without exaggeration the way that I talk to myself via this internal critic; in cruel ways that I would never dream of speaking to another person. I’m not sure when I crossed over from the territory of frank self-examination to verbal berating of self but it must have been gradual.
Even spending a few extra minutes of cuddle time in the morning or allowing a compliment that my husband pays me to land well feel like luxuries I haven’t earned. It’s like I’m always doing penance but never granting myself forgiveness. Unfortunately, my husband ends up paying the price just as dearly as I do. Our marriage, at times, feels like a vacant room that both of us is terrified to enter. My inner critic has always been sharp and unrelenting, but it has helped me to put forward my best and exceed my own expectations in many areas of life. But now it’s time to call a spade a spade or, in this case, call a critic destructive and damning. Like all creatives, I cannot produce anything of worth without a fair amount of introspection and revision. What was once my secret weapon for perfecting my work and growing into a better person has become purely an instrument of demolition. I need to rein her in but that would require knowing exactly how she managed to get so out of control in the first place.
Perhaps I’m not really capable of keeping her in her proper place within my own strength. Perhaps the one thing I have needed all of this time is the one thing that I am the worst at recognizing that I need and subsequently asking for: help managing her mouth. My goal is not to silence her altogether because that would extinguish a core part of how I operate. When she is functioning instructively and constructively then she fuels my aspirations, fine tunes my best work, and keeps me humble. What I don’t need is her relentlessly tearing me down and interfering with my ability to maintain healthy dynamics in my marriage. If I’m not careful, she will also manage to wreck my writing career before it even gets off the ground. My therapist has been incredibly helpful with challenging these kinds of thoughts but its not nearly enough. What I need is the accountability of those who know me best and love me most. This is an area of immense struggle for me and my blind spots are huge. I need my husband and close friends to call me out on my negative self-talk and to challenge any destructive language that I use to criticize myself. Until this process is perfected, I think I have no choice but to turn a deaf ear to her dialogue and to presume it all untrustworthy. I’m praying for the wisdom to extend myself some of the grace I try so hard to extend to others. After all, are any of us worth much without the benefit of grace in our lives?