Everybody has an inner critic. That voice that will try to minimize every accomplishment, every good memory, every positive feeling that comes to light. It’s up to us how much we listen to and indulge that inner critic.
The more we indulge and validate, without questioning and challenging, that little demeaning voice, the more power we give it. The more power we give it, the stronger it gets over time and the harder it is to overcome later in life.
When we are healing from trauma and digging deep into buried memories from years ago, decades ago, we uncover all sorts of thoughts and emotions. Both good and traumatic.
One of the more difficult things to do while we are in the midst of deep trauma recovery work is being able to rationally sit with the memories. To allow ourselves to see them for what they truly are, in every aspect.
Where our inner critic tries to play a key role is to validate the bad memories while minimizing and invalidating the good ones.
It can be hard to embrace good memories; to remember the fun times in our life. It’s so much easier to embrace the negative memories because they can reinforce how broken we think we are.
For every event that we focus on that brings up negative thoughts and emotions, our inner critic is right there cheering us on.
- That man or woman who sexually abused you…no wonder you can’t trust anyone now in your screwed up life!
- Your parents physically beat you…another reason why your life is so craptastic, and you’re afraid to trust another man or woman!
- Remember back when those kids bullied you, and made you feel this big…oh yes, they beat the hell out of you, no wonder you can’t stand up for yourself right now. You’re so weak!
- You were starved and abandoned as a child…that eating disorder sucks doesn’t it, there’s nothing you can do about it.
All these things that our inner critic is saying; it’s validating us in an unhealthy way. It’s trying to keep us stuck and reinforce the feelings that there is no hope, and that our life is always going to suck. That we are never going to be in a healthy relationship. We are never going to be able to look in the mirror and be proud of who we are and what we’ve done in life.
Picture this in your mind: Have you ever noticed how rain can form crevices in the ground? As the water runs along the same path, time after time; ruts begin to form and they get deeper and deeper. Then the sun comes out and bakes the ground, hardening those ruts.
Over time the negative thoughts from our inner critic form ruts that get deeper in deeper the more we allow them too.
So we now know how this critic in our mind tries to keep us feeling bad, but how does it work when we have good memories?
This where we have to recognize what’s going on and be aware that trying to focus on something good, all the while knowing how many bad things have happened to us, causes an internal struggle. Especially when it comes to good memories of the same people who hurt us.
It feels more natural to heap all of the blame and guilt on those who wronged us, and turn every memory of them into something negative. To cast blame on them, and not allow anything good to be equated to that person(s).
Yet, through healing work, we begin to recall some good times:
- Family outings at a park that were fun.
- Trips to the beach or mountains.
- Going for ice cream after church on Sunday nights.
- Getting that Christmas gift that you begged for.
- Holiday trips.
- Going camping and sitting around the fire making hot dogs and s’mores.
Sitting with good memories means that something just doesn’t add up. That person who hurt us and did terrible things to us, did do some nice things too? How is that possible?
What does that even mean? Do they have a nice side and a mean side? Were they only nice to us when it suited them or in public? Maybe they were supportive most of the time, but there were instances when they minimized us.
Can we just not see them for who they really are?
The answer to all of that is…each situation is different. We need to be able to sit with those memories, and take them all in for what they are. Don’t look at them in one extreme or the other, or dismiss them right away because they are hard to embrace.
Allow your inner child to tell you how he or she felt during those fun times. Listen to him or her as they recall what it was like experiencing each memory, in real life…in real time. Most importantly, keep an open mind.
Allow those good memories to serve the purpose they need to serve; reminding you that you don’t have to feel guilty for the good stuff you experienced, any more than you need to feel permanently stuck and miserable because of all the traumatic things you went through.
Feature image and family image courtesy of Pixabay. Quote credited on image.
Very powerful points here, Matt. Making sense of both the good and the bad has been a key part of my healing. It’s one of the biggest positive effects I received from writing my memoir. I finally had the chance to sit down and truly sink into all the memories – good, bad and otherwise – and place them somewhere in the story that helped me make sense of it. Getting away from that black/white, good/bad thinking is hard, but the truth is: the same father who raped me when I was 9 years old, also taught me to swim when I was 7. And the same father who beat my mother, also brought us on vacations to mountains and beaches. And the same man who leered at me and commented incessantly on my shape and my body, also taught me about how to start and run a successful business. The list goes on and on. He was human. He was also abused by someone and suffered from his own mental and emotional demons. That doesn’t excuse or justify in anyway what he did to me, but reality is he was a fallible human being who didn’t have the courage to face his past, so instead, let it fester and ooze out onto me and the others he was trying to “love”. Fifty percent of me came from him. Learning to embrace the good with the bad in him lets me embrace the good and bad in me. Then I can mindfully keep what I want and let the rest go. Thanks for the thoughtful, honest post. I enjoy reading your stuff.
I truly struggle with this one. So much of what I experienced was tied to so much horrific stuff every day. Even the good memories were filled with abuse and torture and trauma. Humiliation and shame in those moments. It is definitely a challenge to recall the good and put all the other stuff in its place because they both happened simultaneously for me.
For example, we did a lot of camping and boating as a kid. I loved those times out in the woods, under the stars, on the lakes. But in with all of that is the screaming and yelling for every little thing under the sun. Walk here, sit there, no don’t push the boat – yes push the boat, don’t make noise, sit quietly, get this for me – no I told you this item, not that thing – what are you stupid. Then there was the stuff that happened in the campground showers and the soiling myself after that. Walking out from all those around that would laugh at me. It is difficult at best to sort those things apart.
There’s a lot of pain in those memories. Yes, I’ve worked to drop a lot of it, but sometimes I just shudder and shiver in the corner of the room in my world wanting it to all be as if it was a dream that never happened.
I hear you. Its just one area I still struggle hard with, but I keep trying!
My inner critic has been so abusive to my heart and soul. This is such an important area to address.