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trouble in paradise

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It’s taken me almost three days to recover from a visit of the Inner Critic — a voice that wants to tell us how we should think, feel, act, look, etc. Sometimes it is heard as a quiet inner voice, and sometimes it comes across loud and demanding. In this instance, it terrified me in its meanness as it scared me into believing that I was incompetent and a fraud.  

monsterFor me it’s an old voice. It came into being during my childhood years when key adults imprinted my psyche with their views of my unworthiness: some old-country notions of dilligence and subservience. Over time, through therapy and gradual awakening of my True Self, this voice has lost some of its strength. Only occasionally does it roar back with an overwhelming stench of disempowerment. 

It’s been a while since I’ve felt its heave hand on my psyche. It was after a conference at which I presented a workshop and acted as co-chair. At the end of the day someone made a critical comment—which, by itself was quite harmless—which landed like a steel hammer in the middle of my chest. All of a sudden, I assumed responsibility for the entire day’s success, for all the speakers and facilitators, for the caterer, the book display, the light and heat, and the missing egg salad sandwich. It was all my doing … and I had done it poorly! I’d let everyone down. What would my coworkers think of me now? Afterwards, each time someone asked “how was the conference,” I’d cringe and mumble something about not being sure. I was pretty much convinced that I was an imposter, that I had overstepped my competence, and that I’d better hide under a big rock for a long time.  

Fortunately I had work at hospice to bring me back into the real world. At first I hesitated about returning (being the incompetent one I was being told), then I remembered about “practicing against the grain,” about facing fear head-on. I went on the floor and opened myself to what needed to be done. I left my bruised ego in the locker and opened my heart to the suffering of others. Five hours went by without a thought of incompetence as I spent time with people near death and degrees of shock, disbelief, and sadness. By offering quiet presence, listening ears, embracing arms, and pots of tea my attention was diverted from my small woes to the larger issues before me.  

I’m reminded that the critical voice is just that: a voice. One among many that help us navigate the course of life. It’s data base tends to be biased and outdated, since it comes from core beliefs that were established by a young child. What amazes me is that I still listen to it (at some times more than others). Once more I’m invited to be vigilant and present.

For more on the psychology of the Inner Critic, click here for an article by Hal and Sidra Stone.

5 responses »

  1. What a great piece, Peter. Thanks for sharing that vulnerable spot. I heard a similar story from a friend yesterday about her feeling incompetent and how it threw her for a complete loop. It is interesting how certain things will trigger such strong reactions in us. They are understandable when we look directly at them but it’s like they come out of left field and leave us reeling. And such a good reminder of what to do with them. Go back to life. …. And the truth of impermanence and the strength of our willingness to let go will wash them away. Such a wonderful reminder. Makes me think about karma.

    bows to you, Carole

  2. … and a bow of thanks, Carole. your mention of impermanence hits home: today everything looks and feels different. once more a sense of wellbeing and wholeness. rising and falling, coming and going:” a bubble in a stream.” peter

  3. when in doubt, look back at just how far you have come.

  4. This piece has made me think about fragility and vulnerability, and the beauty that can be seen in being open about those states of mind.

  5. todd slobogean

    From your detailed description, Peter, i’m certain we share the same Inner Critic. I recognize its m.o.; how it sneaks up, how skilllful it is at making me feel incompetent and a fraud. “Practicing against the grain” will dispell it!. Reading your blog is another antidote!
    I admire your courage and openness…continued blessings!


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