I recently read a fabulous book I wanted to share with you called, Make Peace With Your Mind: How Mindfulness and Compassion Can Free You from Your Inner Critic by Mark Coleman, a meditation teacher and therapist. It is easy and fast to read, and gives some wonderful, straightforward tools and practises that anyone can use to quiet the relentless stream of negative self-talk we all indulge in on a daily basis, and ultimately, to learn to be kinder and more compassionate towards ourselves.
The reason I loved this book so much is that the author focuses exclusively on the “inner critic” which we all have inside of us which is constantly telling us one or all of the following:
“I’m not _________enough”
The blank- from my experience as a therapist hearing these day in and day out could be anything from the following list:
During the first session with a client, I often write down what their own inner critic is accusing them of so that we can challenge it during our work together and metaphorically, tie duct tape around its mouth for good. This is no easy task as that nasty little voice in our head has been yammering away at us for most of our lives and we’ve come to believe that what it constantly shouts at us is true.
I know that for myself, it has taken decades to quiet that voice. My inner critic accused me of multiple shortcomings and personality flaws and I have worked tirelessly to challenge them and rewire my brain to say nicer and more compassionate things about myselftomyself. But even after decades of this on-going work, if I’m tired, burned out, sick, or having a rough time in general, those nasty little digs come right back and I have to swat them away like annoying little mosquitoes, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But the point is to strive for being kind to ourselves MOST OF THE TIME and accept that as human beings, there are times when we’re down and it seems that all of the positive self-talk is for naught.
But this is not true- it’s what we do 80% of the time that counts and if we can say kind and compassionate things to ourselves that much, we will live happier, more peaceful lives.
Applying the Four Questions from Byron Katie
One of the exercises the author presents comes from Byron Katie, the famous creator of “The Work”. In her teachings, she focuses on answering the following 4 questions which apply to what our own inner critic is trying to convince us is true about ourselves:
Question #1: Is this thought or belief true?
Question #2: (How) can I know this thought or belief is REALLY true?
Question #3: How do I react when I believe this thought or belief OR Can I think of one good reason for holding onto this thought or belief?
Question #4: Who or how would I be without this thought or belief?
Because I strongly believe I can’t teach what I don’t practise myself, I did this exercise and ended up writing for two hours straight! I discovered that I have multiple false beliefs about myself and hold myself to ridiculously unattainable standards compared to what I expect of others. And when it came to question #4, I clearly saw that if I could give up these false beliefs, I would be more relaxed about everything in my life and kinder and more compassionate towards myself and my life would get easier to manage as a result. I strongly suggest you try this exercise for yourself.
I also combined it with another exercise from Tara Brach: Exploring feelings under beliefs. I like the way she describes the false beliefs our inner critic is telling us:
REAL BUT NOT TRUE- THIS IS JUST A THOUGHT
Her exercise involves noticing each belief you are holding which is causing suffering and naming the feeling under each belief. For example, someone with an eating disorder may believe:
I am weak because I struggle with an eating disorder.
The feeling underneath that could be:
Helplessness and hopelessness
Then the rest of the exercise asks us to do the following:
When these beliefs/thoughts come up, sit with them, and consciously lean into the feeling underneath each one. Then feel it. Let it be there. Let it come up and out and release it. Rinse and repeat every time this thought arises and see what shifts.
What if I Am Not My Fault?
While I enjoyed the entire book, there was one line that left me absolutely dumbfounded and hit me right in the gut:
I AM NOT MY FAULT
This incredible concept is in the chapter entitled: You Are Not Your Fault: Not Taking Your Thoughts Personally
Here is an excerpt in the author’s own words which describes it perfectly:
“There are a few times in life when a certain word or phrase, catches you off guard and resonates with you so much that it penetrates into the inner recesses of your being. That was what happened when I heard the statement “You are not your fault” from my friend and fellow meditation teacher Wes Nisker.
Somehow, when I heard that, a whole layer of burden melted, as though I were taking off a backpack filled with heavy stones. I suddenly realised I no longer needed to drag around the dead weight of believing that who or how I was, was all my fault.
“I am not my fault- what a concept,” I mused. “What a different way to see myself.” I, like most people, had been carrying around the notion that I was my fault. That I was the person to blame for being disorganized, being sensitive, and having low energy, and for all the other things that, according to the (inner) critic, were wrong with me.
I wondered what it would be like to not take all of that so personally. Not to put the blame or responsibility on myself. That, of course, didn’t mean abdicating personal responsibility for how I behave or act now. It just meant not blaming myself for all of my idiosyncrasies, deficiencies and foibles. It meant letting myself off the hook for the cultural, social, biological, and familial conditioning that was instilled at an early age and has had a huge impact on who I am now.
Write a journal entry outlining the specific reasons and circumstances that lead you to conclude that you are not your fault.