The Critic Inside Me (or, How My Life Changed In a Day)

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You already know what a sucker I am for Twitter. These past couple of weeks I’ve been pretty plugged in to the hivemind. Not sure why–it’s just one of those seasons. Riding that wave of uncomplicated, virtual friendship and instant gratification feeds something inside me. Not always, but often. Perhaps it has something to  do with the fact that I spend hours and hours alone each day, my own thoughts echoing inside my head. Perhaps it’s that so many people I’ve come to admire–both in person and online–are there. So many of them make me laugh. Or think. I end up feeling less…alone.

My online self goes for the laugh much more often than the in-person me. I’m bolder, and much less reserved. Borderline professional, but I’m in a business where it’s okay to push boundaries. I feel safe–like I’m on one end of a telephone, with thousands of miles between me and the listener.

So, I had this idea. I was high on it for a whole day. (I know I’m serious about an idea if I can contemplate it for more than half a day–it’s the ADHD thing. If I make it more than three days, it’s probably a novel.)

I’ve always wanted to do an anonymous blog or Twitter account. I considered doing one for the often-bizarre things Bengal (11) says. Or one for the cat. Or 140 character book reviews–maybe even 7-word book reviews. I did a Twitter account for Wardrobe by Sam. I think it’s even still out there. But I gave it up after a few posts because I found it nearly impossible to figure out who might eventually follow it.

But @thecriticinsideme would be different.

Every one of us has a the voice of a critic inside us. (If you don’t, you’re probably one of these and have a whole other kind of voice in your head.) I don’t just mean us as in writers, who have internal editors, either. We all have that nasty little voice inside that goes way beyond conscience. Beyond that which keeps us from violating the Social Contract left and right. I mean the voice that’s made up of dozens, if not hundreds of voices: A critical parent or grandparent, a cruel sibling, a know-it-all aunt or uncle, a teacher who told you you would never amount to anything, the pastor’s wife who told you that you wore too much makeup, the jerk on the school bus who made fun of your eyeglasses every day. Voices that touched the vulnerable parts of you–the parts you weren’t able to protect. Voices that made you feel undeserving, and certainly not treasured.

Or maybe it’s just me?

Despite years of hearing people–including therapists–tell me to shut down that collective voice and to not listen to it, I’ve held onto mine. Not so tightly as I used to, but tightly enough. It’s with me every day. And I figured that I might as well make use of it. It’s just there. Waiting.

How witty that voice could be! Not so much in a bon mots over cocktails sort of way, but in a let’s-be-mean-to-the-dork way. If you tweet, you’ve probably noticed how incredibly mean some people are. It’s always open season on pundits, journalists, celebrities. Even dumb criminals. Many, many people find sport in throwing barbs from a distance. And if they don’t engage in it, they’ll often stand by, paying an embarrassed sort of attention.

I envisioned myself mocking the ten pounds I’ve put on over the last year-and-a-half. Muffin tops are always good for a laugh. So are wrinkles. Wrinkles are such horrible things that people who have them often endure painful chemical peels to make them seem to disappear for a couple of weeks. And my pathetic organizational skills? My general inability to arrive anywhere on time is legendary in certain circles. There’s perimenopause–I can feel myself gravitating toward purple caftans like a moth to flames. Also, I need to comment on my writing habits, my lack of self-discipline, my tendency to over write and obsessively edit. There’s no end to the material.

Hey! Want some butter for those muffin tops? #fatass

6:30. You think dinner’s going to make itself? #carryoutagain #worstmotherever

You let the boy watch television for 8 freaking hours?! #theregoesharvard #couchpotato

Doesn’t that sound like fun? I’d probably get some followers just because it’s a novel idea. If I got really personal, I’d get even more. People love a train wreck. I love the rush of immediate interaction and affirmation that social media offers. It’s the same kind of rush whether the interaction is positive or negative.

Then, after a single, seemingly-unrelated conversation with a friend who is a victim of domestic abuse, I dropped the idea. Forever.

For decades, my friend has been living with a man who may or may not be a clinical sociopath. She had no idea that the twisted image of herself that he reflected back to her didn’t reflect any sort of reality. He eroded her sense of self worth with agonizing slowness, until she completely lost sight of herself. She was good at hiding his abuse from others. She was no wilting flower. She has always exuded an air of extreme competence and laser-brilliant intelligence. But when she took the first steps to get away from him, and told me how he’d made her feel inside, I was stunned–not just at the entire situation, but at the enormous power of his lies.

He had told her, repeatedly, that she was foolish, forgetful, irresponsible, careless, stupid, unattractive, and clumsy. I’m sure there was plenty more, but you get the gist. He tore her down at every possible opportunity. He made a thorough job of it, too.

I think that when I told her that this man was–literally–the only person on the planet who saw her that way, it really shocked her. He had planted a world of self-doubt inside her. In fact, he had created a world in which he could seem to prove that these things were true. But none of it was real.

She’s an amazing, brilliant, lovely, competent, loving, generous, creative person. She always has been. She is in a horribly dangerous situation, but she’s handling it very, very well. Prayers are in order, if you’re a praying sort. She would like that.

What does real-life, life-and-death situation have to do with my vain little twitter project?

It was a combination of my understanding that he had created an entirely false reality for her with his criticism, and her reaction to some random, self-denigrating complaint I made about myself.

One thing about women friends: they can really be there for a girl. Good ones will call bullshit on self-deception–sometimes in a kind way, but almost always in an honest way. They are excellent cheerleaders. Not because they’re Pollyannas, but because they genuinely want their friends to do well, be safe, and be happy.  So, when she heard me dissing me, she told me to shut it down. She said the nice things that I should’ve been saying to myself.

Why is it that the negative voices have such power over us, but the positive voices so often languish, unappreciated?

I suddenly saw the negative voices in my head as though they belonged to someone who wanted me to fail, wanted me to stumble, wanted me to look foolish, wanted me to think I was dumb.

I had to finally look at myself and say, “Hey. The empirical evidence–on the balance–says otherwise.”

The way I feel about myself and my life has been radically changed for the better. And it seemed to happen in a day. (I’ll probably start a series of mysteries involving chipmunks and a catering service. No one will die–just mysteries about cute little critters!)

Why in the world would I want to give voice to something that treats me like–for want of a more appropriate word–shit? I was about to lay out my insecurities for others’ entertainment. Now, that actually would be a dumb thing to do. That voice doesn’t speak the truth any more than the man who tortured my friend did.

I’m excited about the future. (And I was kidding about the chipmunks. I promise.)

We’re not kids, but I think this list of–what? axioms?–is something that grown ups should keep in mind for themselves and the people around them, too:

 

Children Learn What They Live

If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn . . .
If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight . . .
If a child lives with fear, he learns to be apprehensive . . .
If a child lives with pity, he learns to feel sorry for himself . . .
If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy . . .
If a child lives with jealousy, he learns to feel guilt . . .

BUT

If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient . . .
If a child lives with encouragement, he learns to be confident . . .
If a child lives with praise, he learns to be appreciative . . .
If a child lives with acceptance, he learns to love . .
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves..
If a child lives with honesty, he learns what truth is . . .
If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice . . .
If children live with recognition, they learn to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn to be generous.
If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith in himself and those about him . . .
If a child lives with friendliness, he learns the world is a nice place in which to live . . .

2 thoughts on “The Critic Inside Me (or, How My Life Changed In a Day)”

  1. Hey beautiful,

    This is such a fantastic post! Very lovely and oh so true. It’s difficult to silence that inner evil voice, but man, such a relief when you can and do. From a spiritual point of view, I think it’s one of Satan’s greatest tools for keeping people stuck and miserable and preoccupied. Once I came to that conclusion, it became easier to silence. Not always, but I try. Love the title of this post — great Jim Thompson homage, you brilliant beauty, you! xo

  2. Hi, pretty–You are one of the gorgeous strong women who give me so much hope. I love how you are always, always your fabulous self.

    Ah, Thompson. So troubled. So absurdly cool, even in death. xoxo

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