Inner critics are noisy buggers that don’t know how to let up, but are crazy-good at learning. Any time anyone says anything critical of you or someone you consider to be similar to yourself, your inner critic is listening in and building up their artillery. The more artillery we let our inner critics hold on to, the less art we tend to make.
Our experiences are huge in influencing who we are, how we stand in the world, and what we say to ourselves. Think back to being a kid and how — sometimes — not being able to color inside the lines made you feel like the biggest jerk in the world. You weren’t really, but childhood makes everything bigger like that.
Still, there are some legitimately big things that happen in childhood — and that repeat throughout our lives — that we try to downplay without really thinking them through because we think we’re blowing them out of proportion. Things like feeling we were told that we are less than, that we need to tone it down, or that we don’t know what we’re doing. Things like thinking that we always shy away from taking risks, that we depend on certain people to keep us balanced, or that every mistake is a colossal failure and the world is going to end.
You Have Value
As human beings we are social creatures, deeply concerned with whether we fit in. As children this starts with our parents, our first teachers who provide the baseline barometer for our self-worth. As we grow up we self-correct the baseline, provided we know that we have the power to do so.
If it seems like your parents or teachers or siblings or classmates are constantly putting you down, it’s unlikely you’ll think “Hey, maybe these people are wrong.” Because we are social creatures, our need to belong can be so strong that we will convince ourselves that they are right and that we fit their definition of us. But, what about the times that some people are raising us up and others are tearing us down and the tearing feels like it’s winning?
The fear part of our brain, The Shivers, is an on/off switch that doesn’t know the difference between a starved mountain lion and being picked last to join a game of kickball. Any time anything threatens our fitting-in, The Shivers take note and file the information away under Survival Skills because that’s where they store everything. Fear is a hoarder, and a greedy one at that, who can’t seem to wrap their brain around the fact that every individual on the planet adds value to the planet.
You Have Room to Breathe
In our life-long quest to find where we fit, we tend to make a lot of early mistakes which we tell ourselves are compromises. This is dangerous because everyone makes compromises everyday, engaging in little opportunity costs in order to maximize the joy of the collective like a loving couple meeting each other halfway after fighting for three and a half hours over something stupid, like tea towels. The things we give up in the mis-used name of Compromise are like the lacings of a corset.
The Queen tried to take out SnowWhite by putting her in a corset and lacing it too tight. We try to fit in with expectations and standards and social groups by minimizing how much room we take up. We do this without paying attention to whether pulling the laces tighter and tighter causes our organs to shift into unnatural positions, our ribcages to bend in and restrict how much air can fill our lungs, and our heart to beat too fast as it struggles to pump the lowered levels of oxygen throughout the whole of our body.
What this means, on the not-so-physiological level, is that the more we try to fit in to a place where we aren’t meant to fit, the more of those things that make us us are cut away until we ourselves are nowhere to be found. So, what do we do? We accept deep down that we as individuals have value and then commit to taking up as much room as we need to be ourselves.
You Can Do This
Are they here yet? Have The Shivers shown up scared I’ll call them stupid? They shouldn’t be, they’re problem is that they’re indiscriminate and it takes a lot of effort getting into the habit of saying “Go away” whenever fear just isn’t needed.
It’s going to take a lot of conscious effort on your part, because The Shivers are just way too good/automatic at stuffing information they don’t need into their filing cabinet. In school, you’d get a question wrong on a test and you would lose a point and enough points lost meant a lower grade and the lower the grade the badder the grade (shush, Fear, I’ll use fake words if I darn-well please). As tests and homework build an association between being wrong and being bad, how long will it take The Shivers to decide you shouldn’t raise your hand to answer any questions and potentially out yourself as bad to the entire classroom?
Getting a question wrong should be a positive learning experience with the related lesson being reviewed, instead you screw up and that’s that; make-up tests are for kids who were absent that day. Well, something was absent from each of us when we picked up that little habit, the wisdom of our future experience. Now that we’ve lived a little, we can go back and review every bad habit, every vote of “no confidence,” and we can create learning opportunities for ourselves based on what we now know to be true about ourselves.
Make Your Own Rules
How many rules did you break — growing up — as soon as your parents left the house? How many rules did you change or adjust for dorm- or apartment-mates? Have you ever thrown the whole dang thing out the window (and then maybe started a morning ritual of dancing naked next to said window)?
No two people can live by the exact same rules in every aspect of life. Scientists have discovered neurological evidence of gender identities of all kinds and clues supporting the theory of ego depletion and proof of bio-individuality. None of us view the world from the same pair of eyes, become tired at precisely the same rate for the same reasons, or require an identical balance of nutrients in our diets.
Science has proven that we are each of us as unique as the sequence of curving lines we call fingerprints, as the wondrously-colored irises of our eyes. Each of us have the right to respect our individuality. Each of us possess the agency to act in the best interest of that individuality, creating our own individual standards for fairy tale living.
Stand on Your Own
It can be tempting to follow 100% in the footsteps of someone who has gone before you, having already charted their own path to perfect independence. It’s natural to seek leaders who provide guides and examples. It’s why life coaches and yoga instructors and all the rest exist.
What’s really essential, though, is being able to look at these people as training wheels. Training wheels help minimize bruising and critical mistakes as we learn to keep ourselves balanced, but we’ve got to take ‘em off if we expect to do any fancy tricks. Without training wheels you can take a turn so fast your shoulder just grazes the ground, but that same turn with the little guys and you’re tumbling into a gutter.
We all need people in our corner from time to time, if only because as human beings we’re social creatures. But at some point we have to take responsibility for ourselves. We have to stand up and say “I am awesome.”
Give Yourself a Break
We don’t always feel awesome. For some of us, we feel downright panicked most of the time. That’s okay.
Maybe we can learn to change our own thought patterns to reduce panic. Maybe we need to go to a professional for reinforcements. Mostly, we need to remember to take care of ourselves first.
We have room to breathe and make our own rules and stand on our own, but that doesn’t mean we have to get it all right all the time. Part of the reason we’re social creatures is so — should one of us slip and fall and need a shoulder to cry on — there’s someone there to shoulder the load and someone to offer a shoulder to cry on. We’re built to reach for each other, and to help each other.