Who is on Your Inner Nurturing Committee?
Contempt is the most destructive negative behavior in relationships. In Dr. John Gottman’s four decades of research, he has found it to be the number one predictor of divorce.
The voice of our own inner critic can be downright mean and nasty! Contemptuous. No wonder we’re estranged from ourselves! Our adult self needs back up to help us stay grounded and steady, to see clearly and to calm the inner critic.
I interviewed Dr Rick Hanson last week for the upcoming 2020 Radical Recovery Summit. A neuropsychologist, he is always full of practical suggestions based on science and wisdom. I asked him about the inner critic. One of his suggestions is to form an inner nurturing committee and that inspired me to go deeper.
Who can you invite to be on your side? To support and encourage you? To provide unconditional love and encouragement? It is helpful to have the support of other people, animals and nature. Right now though, let’s look at forming our inner nurturing committee.
Who would you invite? It’s up to you.
- Wise elders, like a grandparent, teacher or friend who loved and encouraged you when you were a child
- Your own older wise self — Gratitude from Your Older Self
- A spiritual guide: Jesus, a guardian angel, the Buddha, your meditation teacher
- A therapist or dear friend who knows you, is honest and unconditionally loves you
- A historical figure with whom you resonate: Viktor Frankl, Teresa of Avila, a patron saint, the Dalai Lama
- A animal who loves you: your dog or horse
Where will you meet? You might visualize meeting in a meadow near a sparkling lake, in a clearing in an old growth forest filled with bird song, in your heart center, or any place you feel nourished and safe.
The first time, call a meeting of your whole nurturing committee. In future meetings, you might call on only one or two. Visualize them in a semi circle around you. Take a few minutes to be fully present using all of your senses: visual, sound, touch, aromas. Breathe slowly as you soften your belly. Take your time and keep checking in with your body and breath so you can soften and relax during the meeting. Maintain awareness that they are with you. They are here supporting you.
Now invite the inner critic into the circle. The inner critic is part of you. Although they are causing harm through their tactics, their motives might not be as nasty as their words.
Invite them into conversation by saying something like this: I am happy to listen to you. You don’t get to shame me. I know you think this is the best way to protect me from danger. Mean and nasty words do not work. It shuts me down. I can’t act in my own best interest when you’re using that contemptuous tone of voice. Stop now. You are part of the circle. We are listening to your concerns.
Let’s use this as an example of the process:
You are worried about a challenge at work and just had the thought “You’re a fraud. You’ll never get this right.”
What is your evidence for this accusation?
The answer might come in words. “Remember when you got that job bartending? You didn’t actually know how to make all those drinks and had to keep looking them up. You don’t actually know what you’re doing at work. You’ll never be able to figure it out. Might as well leave now before you are discovered and fired.”
Notice energy in your body. It might be a tight clench in your gut or jaw, a heaviness pressing on your chest or any number of other sensations. Take a moment to tune in to your body and breath. Notice the sensations and the space around them. Get up and shake it out if you like. Take a few deep breaths. Look around at the members of your committee. They are here to help.
Is the accusation true? There could be some truth in the first statement. If you lied to get the job, acknowledge that. It wasn’t your best moment. You were out of alignment with your values.
Or: It might be that your inner critic is using perfection as a weapon. You had basic skills and knew what would generally be expected of a new bartender. You are holding yourself to an unrealistic standard. If so, acknowledge that as a possibility.
Perfectionism is a skewed response and is common with people who have been judged and traumatized, especially as children. We might justify driving ourselves as necessary for success but it is a form of shaming and actually is counter productive.
Now let’s look at the logic between the first statement — you exaggerated to get a job — and the second — you don’t have the skills for your current job. That leap is an error in logic. Is the statement about your current job skills true? If it is not true, there is no benefit in entertaining the thought. It is not true.
If you don’t have the skills you need, are you lying and misrepresenting yourself? Are you afraid you will be found out and fired? Is this assessment reasonable or is it perfectionism? Are you out of alignment? If so, how could you bring yourself back into alignment?
Stay with your body and breath. Ask your committee to help you see clearly. How would a loving and honest elder see it? Do you need to improve your skills, come clean, ask for help or apply for a different job? What would they advise?
The motivation behind the inner critic attack is fear of being discovered as inadequate, unworthy and not good enough. All of us have experienced this in some form. Being shamed and rejected is so painful we are highly motivated to prevent it. A lot of inner critic attacks are a clumsy but well-meaning attempt to protect us from rejection.
To work more skillfully with the inner critic, we need to understand how it works and why it is here.
Notice when you are under attack. Be alert for a contemptuous tone of voice, mean judgmental words, and contracted energy in your body.
Take steps like those above to look into the truth of the criticism. Let the inner critic know that you are not cool with being shamed. They need to find other ways to communicate. You are listening.
If you are out of alignment or facing a probable threat, what steps could you take?
Stay present with yourself. Ask your inner nurturing committee to stay with you for support and clarity. If you have trusted friends, talk about your concerns and ask for their perspective. They often see what we can’t.
When we are bullied by our inner critic, we need to find ways to stand up for ourselves. Form an inner nurturing committee and call on them for help. See and feel their love and support. In the past, you felt alone and developed these strategies to cope and prevent future pain.
It is safe now to let them go.