“The older you get, the more you understand how your conscience works. The biggest and only critic lives in your perception of people’s perception of you rather than people’s perception of you.” ― Criss Jami, Killosophy
A man and his son were once going with their donkey to market. As they were walking along self-consciously the man began to wonder that others might think “You fools, what is a donkey for but to ride upon?” So the man stopped and put the boy on the donkey, and they went on their way.
Later they passed a group of men, and the man began to worry that these guys might be thinking that “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides. So sheepishly the man responded to his inner conflict by ordering his boy to get off, and he got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women. Now he feared that one would say to the other “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”
Well, the man was perplexed with frustration and did not know what to do. Finally, he took his boy up before him on the donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and he was convinced people were staring at them as they rode their little donkey. He became overwhelmed with shame wondering if the men were thinking “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours — you and your hulking son?”
So the man and boy got off the donkey. To address his shameful thoughts he decided to cut down a pole, tied the donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders. While they walked along with their donkey tied in this position, the man was convinced that others were scoffing and laughing at him. When they came to a bridge, the donkey getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle, the donkey fell over the bridge, and his forefeet being tied together, he was drowned.
When you worry so much about what others think you can tie yourself in knots with your own critical voice which pulls you away from doing logical and next right steps. Addicts struggle with their own critical voice all the time. This struggle is likely the greatest hindrance that sabotages long-term sobriety.
Taming the inner critical voice is a challenge for everyone, addict and non-addict alike. Long-term sobriety requires it. Many try to eliminate the critical voice. Realistically, at best we learn to manage the voice and not dispose of it. To do so we have to come to terms with its voice and give it direction so that it does not dominate our behaviors.
Your critical voice is always delivered with the toxicity of shame. You did or said it wrong. You are never enough. Others do it right but you don’t. You just blew up proving that you will never get it right! When will you ever get it, stupid? These and an endless collection of other judgments and criticisms can be levied at you in rapid machine gun fire within your mind. Often this can occur without anyone saying anything to you. Most people have certain life experiences of failure that make them vulnerable to experiencing the wrath of their own shameful critical voice. For me, it’s when I commit to doing something like meeting for coffee someplace with a friend or colleague and I totally space it out, not just being a few minutes late but as in I don’t think of it until the next day. My mind can go nuts inside. My critical voice has been known to scream and yell at me until it becomes hoarse! It is all motivated by shame. Most people have these failures in life that trigger terrific lectures from your critical voice. How do you address your critical voice when it goes on a nonstop rant?
Here are some suggestions for thought.
1. In the midst of a critical voice rant, take attention away from the thought. You can do this by directing your thoughts toward your body and focusing your attention on feeling the energy in your hands. You can take a walk and concentrate for a few minutes on the conversation of birds chirping and singing in the trees. There are a number of possibilities for distraction. When you take a deep breath, your critical voice will slow down when it no longer has your entire attention. For this to occur you will need to concentrate on establishing an anchor for being present that you return to when the negative rumination runs rampant in your head.
2. Identify that there is negative self-talk going on in your head—that it is not who you are: There may be experiences of negative onslaught that barrage your thoughts and drag you along whereby you conclude that you are your thoughts. It is necessary to distinguish that you are not your thoughts. You must be able to separate and observe that you have negative thoughts that come crashing in so that you don’t conclude that the negative criticism is who you are. Some people fuse their negative narrative with their identity. They conclude that their addiction is who they are and therefore they must act out. They create a storyline of victimization that underscores victimhood as an identity and defend their right to be a victim. If challenged about their negative narrative they will utilize their anger with “How dare you question my identity with all that has happened to me”. Sometimes when people complain enough they get the attention they never got when they remained quiet. So they discover that their negative narrative has a payoff that is worthwhile. Negative attention is better than no attention at all. So they continue to act out with addiction to support their negative belief that will provide the attention that had previously been missing. Being an identified patient is better than being invisible. However, you never learn to give up the storyline of negative self-talk as long as you see the negative narrative as who you are.
3. Understand the source of where the negative self-talk comes from: Once you identify the negative message it is important to recognize the voice of negativity. Usually, that voice comes from your family of origin or significant caretaker. It could come from another significant mentor. It is important to then give back the message and its power over you and take back your own self-empowerment. You may simply declare that they are not welcome to the conversation and that you will ignore the negative message.
4. Practice being present in the moment of discomfort: Being present in the moment is difficult when everything feels shitty. Yet it is important to bring yourself to inner alignment with the present moment you experience. It is about accepting where you are right now, not forever. It is important to learn to lean into the present moment. Everything can be going wrong. You might be sore with remorse, financial reversal, extreme loneliness, or other intense emotional or physical pain. As hard as it seems you must come to terms with the immediate moment you are in. It’s not going to change instantly. However, you can change gradually. You must learn to practice total acceptance about where you are and what you are facing. You do this by practicing thanksgiving. In the midst of painful experience, you learn to challenge and change your negative narrative by leaning into what is and making something meaningful rather than waiting for the next big break in life.
5. Rely upon your affirmations: The secret power of affirmative thought can never be overemphasized. Addicts with long-term sobriety and transformation have long since learned the value of practicing the power of affirmation. There is no lobotomy that works. There is no substitute. Regularly bathing yourself with an affirmative belief that you have hammered into your awareness requires ongoing conditioning and training. It becomes a galvanized shield against the criticism of others and tempers your own self-judgment. It is what I have found to be the secret to taming your critical voice.