Part 5: The Possibility of Transforming the Inner Critic
- Robyn L. Posin
We weather the storms of grief and rage over giving up the hope that we can ever get – from outside of our selves – the loving for which we’ve hopelessly yearned all our lives. Then, we dedicate our selves to developing and expanding our capacity to consistently and whole-heartedly make space for, connect with, listen to and tenderly practice re-mothering our (till-now) disowned, love-starved little inner selves. We, at long last, are finding the unconditional love we’ve hungered for: we are giving it to our selves. We know in our bones that love is not something one ever needed to earn – it is grace, our birthright just for being alive, and our own loving inner-mother is, albeit belatedly, now bestowing it upon us.
Sometimes along the way, we can even begin to engage with and embrace our inner critic with tenderness and caring. We understand that her mistreatment of us has been her way to keep us safe from abandonment: keeping us believing the myth that it is we who are/were unlovable/unworthy rather than that our damaged mothers were simply incapable of loving us.
As we embrace this misguided internalized mean mother/inner critic, we can help her gradually to let go of this terrible, now outdated role, that she’s had. Treating her with gentleness, we comfort her when she rears her head out of fear that we are endangering our selves by breaking the code of loyalty to our mean mother’s image of us; by seeing our selves as lovable and worthy. We remind her that we no longer have to protect our damaged, broken mothers by crippling our selves in order not to be abandoned. We remind her that we are safe now, that we will never abandon or stop loving our selves, even when we may not be at our most shining.
As we gradually become the fiercely protective, unconditionally loving mothers to our selves that we wish we’d had, we can maybe even grow into feeling compassion for the impaired, emotionally limited mothers we had. We can, perhaps, come to accept that they did the best they could with the consciousness available to them – even though it was far from what we needed.
And, maybe we cannot come to that place. Either way is okay.
Part 4: A Path to Healing the Mean Mother Woundedness
by Robyn L. Posin
The journey of re-mothering our abandoned, neglected, wounded and shamed inner little ones can begin with us carving out some small regular bits of time (as little as five minutes twice a week can be a good start) and some safe, private space for inviting them to come and share their feelings with us. It can be helpful, in whatever way appeals to us, to make that space feel sacred, special for just these meetings.
It may take a while to hear from the little ones, they need to know they can trust we really mean to be there for them if/when they show up. A good way to start each time is by apologizing to our little one(s) for having ignored them and their feelings for so long. Reassuring them that, even though we are feeling quite awkward and uneasy with all this, we are committed to developing a caring connection with them and hearing both how they feel and what they need from us. It can also be helpful to ask them to let us know what they need from us in order to feel safe enough to come out to visit and talk with us.
Sometimes, once they trust we really mean to hear them, they will simply speak in our hearts. Still, having fat colored pens and a blank drawing pad or journal available in which to write or draw using our non-dominant hand can provide a tangible way for the little ones to communicate with us using written words or images.
We may simply use journaling to dialog with these cut-off parts of our selves. We practice speaking to and treating our neglected inner selves with the loving they’ve never received. In this practice, we are developing a loving-inner-mommy/caregiver voice. Often, this loving voice is the one with which we speak to anyone we love and care about when they’re suffering or upset. We already have the voice. What we need now is to find/give our selves the permission to use it with our very own selves.
We need to remember to remind our selves to be patient – it can be very slow going. And, we need to remember to remind our selves to applaud every baby step along the way of our developing relationship with these little inner selves.
Part 3: Beginning the Journey of Healing the Woundedness
It’s sad but true that, if we didn’t get the loving mothering, valuing and acceptance we all need and deserve as children, no amount of it coming from outside can reach through the time warp to our wounded inner little ones. Only when the who we are now has developed a relationship with those little ones and is already giving that love to our selves, can others’ love come in to support our current self in that re-mothering process.
The work of healing from/transforming this terrible legacy begins with accepting that, at this stage of life, we must learn to provide for our selves the loving for which we yearn: it’s an inside job. It requires letting go of the hope that what we craved and continue to crave can ever come from anywhere else. As we work at this incredibly difficult and painful letting go, we simultaneously begin turning inward to listen for and to the love-starved, abandoned and neglected little ones within us.
Letting go of the hope of ever getting it from the outside is one of the hardest things we ever have to do. As we let go, we may feel enormous grief at the finally acknowledged, irretrievable loss. We may feel furious for having been ripped off of our birthright and for having spent so many years fruitlessly contorting our selves, looking outward instead of inward for the love and acceptance we need to thrive. These are the feelings that we have held at bay by our continuing to hope.
Allowing, and providing safe space for these storms of emotion as they arise and pass through us, we begin the process of turning inward, of opening our ears and our hearts to the pain of the inner little ones that we, our selves, have continued neglecting all these years. In this practice of sitting-as-two, our grown-up, functioning adult self becomes available to hear and engage with the little ones’ emotions and needs. This is the gateway to developing our capacity to lovingly re-mother these inner little ones, to developing an inner-good-mommy/caregiver.
Part 2: How the Wounding Happens
We come into this life totally dependent, with (I and others believe) an organismic trust that we will be welcomed and loved (with what these days is called healthy attachment). When we are met with less than that, our infant selves begin adapting to preserve what little might be available. (An example from my own life: my body remembers staying quiet, lying miserably cold and wet in my crib because the one who came when I cried would jerk me about roughly with sharp poking fingernails. When I waited quietly for her to come when she felt like it, I would not be treated as roughly.)
We begin, even before we have words or concepts for it, to believe that it is our failure, our lack that is the cause of our deprivation or mistreatment. We start on the road to trying to be better/gooder girls/more of whatever we think might unlock the loving we are not getting from our mothers.
By believing it is we who are lacking, we can keep holding onto the hope that, should we only find the key, the right way to be, our mothers will finally love us as we yearn to be loved. Were we to understand that the absence of that love has to do rather with the damage in our mothers that leaves them unable to love us, we would lose all hope. To feel our helplessness, the futility of our desperate attempts to be lovable in the face of their lack of the capacity to love is too devastating to tolerate. With a convoluted kind of loyalty, we as children, and later as adults, “take the rap,” finding presumed inadequacies in our selves to account for the unloving behavior from these damaged mothers: e.g., we are too needy, too ugly, too clumsy, too fat, too stupid. Our vicious inner critics keep the myth alive and keep us ever striving and always failing to feel worthy just as we are.
Often we go on to choose partners who treat us as our mothers treated us. This affirms the myth of our unworthiness, keeping us loyal to our mother’s image: “see, no one can love me any better than she did, it must be me that’s the problem.”
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Part 1: The Toxic Legacy of Mean Mothering:
Those of us who were raised by cold, critical, emotionally or physically abusive, unavailable and/or neglectful mothers, almost inevitably find our selves tyrannized by vitriolic inner critics. These viciously undermining voices lead those of us with such histories to treating our selves in the same damaging ways our mothers have treated us.
Despite how we try or what seeming wonders we accomplish in our lives, these undermining voices keep us from ever feeling we are truly worthy or lovable. Their litany can also keep us feeling shamed and diminished by any needs we might have that we cannot deal with on our own. We feel we are never enough or else that we are too much/overwhelming. We keep searching for what magical thing we might do that could finally silence those inner voices that turn everything we do into nothing of value. Yet each such thing, once achieved, becomes valueless; the critical onslaught continues unabated.
Similarly, no matter how many other people value and love us, no matter how many accolades we garner along the way, it does nothing to invalidate the belief in our own ultimate unworthiness. As the famous Groucho Marx once suggested: “Why would I want to join any club that would have me as a member?” – we believe that anyone that treasures our flawed selves is either stupid or deranged or not seeing clearly when they value us or tell us we are lovable. It’s a terrible plight, this toxic legacy of wounding by damaged and damaging mothers that leaves us feeling so unworthy, so undeserving of love.
Those of us with this heritage are legion and, it seems, almost everywhere in the developed world. That so many women who mother are themselves so damaged, speaks volumes about the soul-destroying cultures in which almost all women are raised.
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The Consequences of These Influences
The pressures and prohibitions from the larger culture and from our family of origin get internalized, becoming a less than conscious template for acceptable behavior; an internalization of myriad external voices becomes a chorus drowning out our own authentic inner realities. We lose any sense of our center. When we step out of line, these internalized voices harangue us to make sure we shape up so that we’ll be safe from external retribution. These critical voices, meaning to protect us, are themselves often painfully harsh and punitive.
Freeing our selves from the tyranny of these now-internalized oppressive voices is a process that begins with observing their messages rather than taking them in, believing them and being directed by them. It helps to explore and try to identify the source/lineage of any inner voice that makes us feels diminished or not-okay. Giving each such voice a name (e.g., the hatchet lady, the judge, the slave-driver, the production manager) allows us to see our selves as separate from it.
With journaling, we can enter into dialog with each voice and uncover what purpose it believes it serves, what it fears and from what it is trying to protect us.
In this dialog, we are liberating and connecting more fully with the voice of our own wise, inner-knowing self. From this self, we can begin to address those fears, transform those undermining influences and build loving, gentle support for the truths of our own inner knowing. And, we can begin to find ways to open our hearts to the needy, upset, sad or angry parts of our selves that, till now unattended, live on hidden away inside of us.