Confronting the Critic: Taking Back My Thoughts

The Critic is the voice in my head that criticizes me. It goes beyond pointing out legitimate mistakes and tears me apart emotionally, often over very minor missteps or decisions I make that are completely neutral.

I’ve actually been hearing less from the Critic since I started taking Zoloft, but it’s still there. It has been hiding in the form of expectations of harsh criticisms from other people. It wants me to believe that I can hear their thoughts, that they are the ones who think whatever I’m doing is stupid, or wrong, or ugly, or dangerous, or gluttonous, or whatever. They are the ones who question my logic, my motives, my abilities.

It is irrelevant whether the people around me actually think what the Critic is telling me they’re thinking. It is up to them to think it, and to express it – preferably to my face – and then I can respond. I keep telling myself this, but it isn’t easy.

I’ve also been trying to reclaim the Critic as a part of my own mind, while simultaneously confronting it and reducing its power over me. As painful as it is to admit this, the Critic’s denunciations are my own thoughts.

I am the one second-guessing myself, finding flaws in my thought processes, thinking that I could have made a better or healthier choice, wishing I had prepared better, doubting my abilities, etc. etc. etc. When I accept the Critic’s words as MY thoughts, then I have a say in how they’re worded and thus the impact they have on me. I can think through them, learn from my mistakes, and make decisions about how to move forward. I don’t have to be the victim of verbal abuse from my own brain.

I can be a person who thinks through multiple aspects of and perspectives on a situation, including the ones that contradict. I can acknowledge the difficulties I face living as an imperfect being in an imperfect world, making decisions and facing obstacles as best I can and sometimes – often – making mistakes. I can be frustrated when, despite my best efforts, things don’t go the way I’d planned. I can admit to not having all the answers.

Maybe I can even admit that I don’t have control over every aspect of my life. Sometimes, it’s not something I could or should have done better. It’s not a matter of being worthy or unworthy. It just is.

I also need to admit that I feel insecure and worry about what people think of me. I wish I could be above such concerns, not care what people think, be unshakably confident. But the bottom line is, I’m not. I want people to like me, or at least accept me as I am, and on some level I’m constantly worrying that I’m going to do or say the wrong thing. I’m afraid I’ll either hurt someone, or get them angry enough to hurt me. I’m walking on eggshells. I don’t want to be abandoned again.

The Critic lets me externalize these concerns. That’s not me, it’s society being stupid. That’s not me, it’s that person being judgmental.

That’s not me, it’s the mental illness.

I can let the Critic live in my brain for as long as it likes – and keep suffering its abuses.

Or, I can OWN my self-criticisms, doubts, and insecurities.

I can admit that it’s very hard to live in a world where unattainable images of “perfection” are everywhere. No matter how much we try to make ourselves believe we don’t care about attaining them, the message does seep through and become internalized. Several of the thoughts I have in the form of the Critic’s abuses are expressions of my own internalized perfectionism, and of anger at myself for not conforming to it. Maybe now that I’ve acknowledged this truth, I can start to let some of these thoughts go.

I can let go of the pride that dictates that I can – and therefore must – be perfect. Pride lies. The truth is that I cannot be perfect, and therefore I need not strive for it. This is not a personal failing. It is a universal reality.

I can also make a commitment to myself: to work through and overcome my fear of abandonment, to accept myself, and to allow others to accept me as I am.

Daily Prompt: My Favorite – Life Without My Twin

Daily Prompt: My Favorite | The Daily Post.

Today The Daily Post asks:
“What’s the most time you’ve ever spent apart from your favorite person? Tell us about it.”

In June 2011, Banji had been my best friend for nearly 12 years. We lived about 30 minutes apart and spent huge amounts of time together, often at her house. We enjoyed home-cooked meals, musical duets, study parties that often turned into all-nighters, playing games with family and friends, learning crafts from her mom, watching the same movies over and over and over again, etc.

But that month, she moved 14 hours away to take a job that was way too good to pass up. It was hard for both of us. She has come home for the past 2 Holiday Seasons, and we got to spend a week together in summer 2012 when we both attended a mutual friend’s wedding. So, we’ve had about 6 months between visits for the past year and a half.

It’s been devastating. I’ve withdrawn from a lot of the things I loved, especially music. We participated in orchestras together, but without Banji, I just could not bring myself to continue. I don’t even attend as many concerts. I stopped composing music, riding my bike, reading books for the fun of it, doing arts and crafts. I’ve withdrawn socially, too, spending less time with friends and not really making any effort to make new ones. Where I once considered Banji’s parents a second family, I stopped communicating with them entirely except for when she is present, too.

There are other factors involved in all this: moving to an area that isn’t really right for me, other friends & classmates moving away and living their own lives, focusing much of my time and energy on my relationship with Fox, being a graduate commuter at a commuter school where most of the social opportunities are more geared toward undergraduates. I don’t always make the best choices, and that has made it harder live a fulfilling life. Maybe I would have made better choices or had an easier time coping if we’d been able to see each other more often, or at least made more of an effort to keep in touch between visits. (I’m not very good at keeping in touch.)

However the different factors truly work out, the point is that I miss Banji terribly. That plays a significant role in my depression. When she moved, I lost a huge part of my social support system. It reminded me of previous losses and raised old, painful feelings of abandonment and helplessness. It shattered my self-esteem, especially when I hit obstacles in pursuing my own career goals. Not only was she moving away, she was moving into a new stage of life without me.

We’re hopeful because she is moving again in February to take a new job that is only 4 hours away! It’s not as good as what we once had, but at least we’ll be able to spend weekends together without huge expense and months of planning. I’m also moving back into an area and location that is better for me.