A Love Letter to My Inner Critic
My Dearest Inner Critic,
I really love you. I know that might not sound so healthy considering all the mean ways you talk to me, but hear me out.
At first I didn’t love you.
I hated you. And I was afraid of you.
From the beginning you shamed me and scolded me and belittled me. It seemed you enjoyed pointing out what I did wrong and examining every little moment over and over. And it wasn’t a childlike teasing kind of thing. You knew all my insecurities and you went after them. You had a few favorite topics but it seemed like anything about me could be a target given the right mood. Listening to you, I felt so small and stupid.
I tried to live up to your impossible standards in the hope that you’d stop yelling at me, but you never did. You just got more demanding with every new achievement. You always wanted more. Even if I did well at something, you’d point out the flaws and insist that I do better next time.
At times I’d fight back and refuse to do what you demanded of me. Then my life would fall apart and I’d start to feel guilty. So I’d pick up the pieces while you strode around me with that haughty look on your face, grumbling about my poor choices.
I got so tired of you. I tried to avoid you but… well… you’re inside my head so it’s impossible. I tried to blot you out with TV, sex, alcohol… the relief was always temporary. As soon as I returned to regular life you’d be there. Only now you had even more ammunition. You’d question whether or not I had the strength to stop checking out. You challenged my willpower. You kept harping that I’d never achieve what I want if I kept that up. I had to agree and I felt even weaker.
I know you know this but I have to say it: A couple of times you really got to me. I believed that all the things you said about me were the most true things in the world and I felt worthless. Worse than that. I felt hopeless. That’s why I damaged my body and thought about getting rid of it altogether. When I did that you got really quiet. I thought for sure I’d finally found a way to shut you up and so I continued injuring myself. I’m not sure you knew why I was doing it. That physical pain was so much easier to take than your scorn. I thought it was a contest and I had won.
But that wasn’t the reason for your silence back then, was it? You didn’t feel defeated. You realized you’d gone too far. I agree, but I’m surprised that you knew it. I’m not shocked that you crossed the line – I’m caught off guard realizing that you actually had a line, that there was a “too far” for you to go.
For so many years I thought you couldn’t stand me, that you hated me. I was sure you thought I’d never be of value in this world. But it was never your intention for me to feel worthless, was it? All that time you were trying to help me. I can see that you were pushing me because you wanted the best for me, not because you wanted to tear me down. You knew I wanted certain things and all that yelling was your version of coaching me. You thought you were being supportive.
I feel like I’m opening my eyes and seeing you for the first time. You had faith in me. You believed in me and that’s why you pushed me to try harder. You knew I felt bad when I broke a resolve so you scolded me to try to get me to keep it.
You were afraid for me. You had dreams for me. You loved me and wanted others to love me. You even tried to keep me from doing the things that I fear will push people away.
You’re sweet. Clumsy and heavy-handed, but sweet.
I have so much gratitude for all that you’ve tried to do for me through all these years. You’ve never left my side and I know you’ve seen me at my worst! It’s a little overwhelming to think about how much faith you have in me. You have really high hopes for me. You’re doing all this because you think I’m worth it. I do love you for that and I’ve been trying to take it in since I realized it.
One thing, though. Can I make a request? I have to tell you that it’s really hard for me if — when you’re trying to encourage me — you are cruel, or belittle me, or poke at where I feel shame. I appreciate you pushing me (I know I need it sometimes) but I can’t accept you tearing me down any more. Can you find a way to talk to me that feels supportive? It might take a while to figure out what that means, but we can work on it together.
I promise to keep in mind the understanding that you’re trying to help me, and I’m going to guess that I’ll find it easier to listen if you still get mean in the future. It’s probably not going to hurt me so much, but know that I’m going to push back if I feel like you’re tearing me down. At a minimum, I’m going to ask you to wait until I’m ready for it.
I recognize that there’s value in what you’re saying, that you are good at finding things I can improve in the future. I also know that you’re very focused on making sure I don’t fall behind on my plans. It’s true sometimes I need a little extra motivation. When you start slinging mud I’m going to keep trying to pick out the gems buried in it.
I also promise to pay particular attention when your voice starts getting really urgent and shrill. I understand now that it’s a signal that you’re afraid of something and I’ll take a closer look. If it’s real, I’m going to be so grateful to you for pointing it out. Sometimes, though, you still get triggered by a fear of something that hurt me a long time ago. I know you don’t want me to get hurt again but you need to trust that I’ve learned a lot and that I’m not the same person I was all those years ago. I’m stronger now and I can handle it. More importantly, I ask you to accept that it’s inevitable that I’m going to get hurt sometimes. I can’t live life avoiding things out of fear of failing. I need to try new things, meet new people, learn new skills. I’m not always going to get it right and I’m going to screw things up and I’m going to get hurt. That’s life. I’m not going to get reckless, but I am going to be alive and I’d rather have you along with me than attempt to push you away again.
We’re probably going to get into bumpy patches in the future. Every relationship does. We’ll have the old struggles, and I’ll get frustrated and down on myself. We’ll both get exhausted with each other. But I’m going to try to remember to thank you, to try to remember that you’re attempting to help. I’m going to work on not getting so down that I can’t pick myself back up again.
I know that underneath everything, you’re trying to push me towards things I already want for myself. You’re part of me and so the only desires you have are my own. It means that your fears and insecurities are mine, too, including that overwhelming feeling that I need to do certain things to be worthy of love. I’m trying on the idea that I’m worthy just as I am. And that means you, too, are already worthy just as you are.
It’s really nice to feel how much you want for me. If I ever needed proof that I can be loved by someone who knows all my flaws intimately, I need look no farther than at you. Which means I just need to look in the mirror. I’m grateful for that. That’s why I’ll always love you, Inner Critic. Thank you.