It can be very hard to be kind to yourself.
If you do beat yourself up, you are not alone. We all have a peanut gallery of inner critics residing in our minds.
I remember so clearly one young woman I worked with. I’ll call her Marissa. She was a graduate student and really ran herself into the ground. She was shy and studious, and harbored a pretty loud inner critical voice that she could do better and be better.
Be a Witness to Your Life
She didn’t do the usual things that grad students might do to ease the burden of academics, like go out for coffee or dinner, maybe take a trip to a museum or sports game from time to time, or even take a walk or go for a run. If a gathering didn’t involve studying, then she wouldn’t attend. Marissa didn’t even realize the voice was there until I invited her to journal about her thoughts and feelings, like a witness or observer standing on the outside and looking in.
What words or stories were running through her mind?
When she came to the next session she sat quietly with a journal on her lap, hardly able to say a word and she never looked directly at me. But after a few minutes Marissa mustered up some emotional courage and began to speak softly. “The inner voice is pretty mean,” she said.
“How so?” I wondered.
Marissa said that the voice tells her that every waking minute needs to be spent on her studies and experiments. Otherwise, she will fall behind and never make up the time. The voice reminded her that she was lucky that she got into grad school, that it was probably a mistake, and that she had to prove herself if she had a prayer of a chance for success.
Wow. Can you imagine the pressure?
Naming the Critical Voice
I invited Marissa to practice taking a pause in her day, calling it a brain break, by breathing in place. I invited her to keep staying curious about this part of her, not be afraid or ashamed, and definitely to refrain from judging her experience. And, I added, if she could come up with a name for this inner critical voice, to write that in her journal, too.
She came back a few weeks later. Again, quiet and shy, with her winter parka on and a backpack on her lap as if she were barricading herself.
“I came up with a name,” she whispered.
She is quite the good student, I thought to myself! Yet, for the first time I saw a smile or almost a smirk. Could Marissa be having some fun with this? She wasn’t barricading herself after all. It was more that she was sharing her burden with me so I could see it, too.
Looked at me for the first time. “Mooch,” she said.
Mooch? I hadn’t heard that one before. I couldn’t help smiling in recognition. “Yes,” Marissa explained. “I realized that Mooch is robbing me of any fun I could be having.”
Gosh, she was dead-on. She had in inner joy thief. Mooch was a perfect name for the part of her that was working so hard to outperform life and to protect her from failure. Now her task was to practice compassion for Mooch, who was on the job 24-7, with no time for rest or play. She was practicing being her own best friend.
Just like a bird needs two wings to fly, the two wings of compassion began to unfurl: wisdom and love.
You may know someone like Marissa. You may recognize a similar inner voice in yourself (see quiz). And when you do (as we all have such voices) see what arises.
Waking up to loving awareness is one of the kindest things you can do for yourself and for others. It begins by taking a sacred pause to simply notice what’s before you, now. The very last time I saw Marissa was just after she graduated. She was wearing a stylish peacoat and scarf. She was off to the ballet with her friends. Her life was taking off.
Perhaps you can see how kindfulness is a communion of the qualities of mindfulness and kindness, awareness and love. It helps you to connect your head with your heart so that you don’t miss out on your life. You can transform fear into faith. When you approach life with kindfulness, you are fully present to everything: gritty and graceful, painful and joyful, effortful and effortless. It’s all there and it all belongs.
Kindfulness removes the veil of separation between you and others so that you can hold your own humanity with loving-awareness.
Be kind to yourself.
You can take a fun little quiz I created on KindMinds.co to identify your inner critic: Please, Perform, Perfect: Are you ready to meet your inner critic?
If you are plagued with perfectionism, check out my audio course: Overcome Perfectionism Through Self-Compassion
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