Tag Archives: self-critical

Latest Wow: Goodbye to Insane Guilt

I remember when Vanessa wowed me with this one:

“I’ve spent 30 years hating myself, and I’m tired of it. I need to learn how to love myself.”

Self-loathing wasn’t something Vanessa was born with.  It was learned.

When we were babies, we had no innate sense of disgust with ourselves. If our rattle fell to the ground, we didn’t berate or despise ourselves. We didn’t suffer shame over it—shame isn’t even a reality to babies. So the incident didn’t become an indictment against our character and we weren’t left with the sense of being a bad baby . . . or bad person.

Clearly, we have a lot to learn from babies! 

Yet as adults, many of us lug around a truck-load of accumulated guilt and shame—the irrational kind. It’s overkill. Yes, self-scrutiny can be a good thing, and sometimes guilt is warranted, like the guilt for being nasty to a store clerk, or breaking something we borrowed. But we shouldn’t agonize over those things.

Guilt’s function is to awaken us so that we do some healthy soul-searching, correct our behavior and make amends. But guilt shouldn’t be a weapon we use against ourselves.

When I began working with Vanessa, shaming herself was a constant occurrence. The house was never clean enough, she didn’t exercise or diet enough, she wasn’t a good enough wife, and she didn’t give Carson—her baby—enough of her time.

To make matters worse, her “internal shamer” followed her wherever she went. After hanging out with friends, heckling thoughts like,  Maybe I wasn’t nice enough, or Maybe I talked too much, would torment her for hours.

Vanessa was convinced she was bad to the core. But I believed otherwise. In one of our sessions, she showed me a photo she had taken of Carson gazing at her with loving, happy eyes. That told me volumes. I couldn’t resist commenting, “Well, you’re certainly doing something right!”

Bad to the core? Hmmm. Vanessa’s negative self-appraisal just wasn’t adding up. She was just too warm-hearted, too caring, too sensitive to be a member of that club. She clearly didn’t meet the criteria.

So where did the self-loathing and irrational guilt originate? Her childhood. A steady diet of severe punishments, along with a constant barrage of critical and condemning messages took a toll. Feeling guilty and bad about herself became her normal.

In therapy, Vanessa came to see that she had been needlessly suffering all those years due to a burdensome, oppressive mental habit.

That realization is the crucial first step to freedom!

Motivation is another important factor, and Vanessa had plenty of that because of Carson. Her strong desire to raise him to feel good about himself was what nudged her into therapy in the first place.

The crux of Vanessa’s problem was her conditioning—and buying into it.  She bought into a lie. The good news: if she could buy into a lie, she could buy into the truth.

The truth was found by removing the obstacles that blocked her from loving herself and by disbelieving the internal shamer.

Vanessa got there and in the process she realized that Carson’s perception of her was the simple, beautiful truth!

Love and irrational guilt cannot coexist. One cancels out the other. When we’re in a space of loving ourselves, such guilt cannot get a foothold.

 

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2017 Salee Reese

 

 

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Listen to Your Grumpy Self

grumpy-bird

“I was grumpy when I got up and then I took it out on my kids,” Lori said. “I was just lazy and didn’t want to get up.”

Lori had a good reason for wanting to stay in bed a little bit longer. She had worked late the night before. She needed the rest.

But something tells Lori she “ought to” spring out of bed full of sunshine and butterflies every morning, regardless of what else might be happening in her life.

Sacrificing herself for others is a common theme for Lori in every arena of her life. Saying no—or saying yes to herself—seems selfish to her.  “I can’t let people down,” she says. That mindset leads to exhaustion, and exhaustion is a recipe for guess what? Grumpiness.

Guilt’s the enemy here. It’s the driving force behind Lori’s failure to set boundaries and it’s the basis for her exhaustion and eventual grumpiness. She’s caught in a vicious cycle. Her grumpiness leads to guilt, which leads to overextending herself, which leads to exhaustion, which leads to grumpiness.

Lori needs to learn the language of grumpiness and kick guilt out of the driver’s seat.

Rather than being critical with herself, she needs to listen to what her body is telling her. It’s an unparalleled tool for communicating what we need. Young children don’t seem to have a problem with this. When they’re tired, they take a nap. When they need to play, they play. When they need time by themselves, they take it.

And interestingly, when they’re grumpy, they don’t judge themselves. That comes later . . . after the programming phase of their life is launched. That’s when they’re trained on how they “should” be and what they “should” feel guilty about.

Yes . . . we should be responsive to the needs of others, and oftentimes sacrifice is called for. But wisdom should be the driving force—not guilt. With wisdom at the helm, we take into account the whole picture including what’s best for our well-being. Balance is the key.

I think this quote from the Buddha sums it up perfectly:

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2016

 

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Your Inner Judge Is a Liar

image-self-love

“Talk to yourself the way you talk to someone you love.”  

Brené Brown

Self-criticism is learned—we don’t come out of the womb with that tendency. I’m talking about the self-esteem-destroying self-talk that buzzes around in one’s head endlessly. Like a virus that invades the brain, it constantly judges and condemns its host.

Infection takes hold early in childhood after repeated exposure to pathogens like belittling comments, looks of contempt, and ridicule. In time, we start to believe what the virus is saying. It tells us we’re bad for messing up, selfish for wanting something, cowardly for being cautious, mean for speaking up, weak for crying, and a loser for our failures.

What’s really sad is we give the virus more credibility than the nicer treatment and messages we receive from kind-hearted people. Their messages are seen as inaccurate.

The good news is that the virus can be annihilated. We can unlearn self-criticism.

Sophia—a client in her 20’s—is a good example. She began the process of unlearning by becoming aware of the constant babble of negative self-talk occurring in her head. Before that, she accepted it as a valid part of herself—it seemed to belong.

That’s all changed. Acting as her own ever-vigilant investigator, she became determined to root out and destroy any belittling self-talk that deflates her self-esteem and joy. How are they destroyed? By questioning the validity of all thoughts that tell her she’s defective, guilty, bad or inferior in any way. Increasingly, she—not her conditioned brain—is the master of her opinions about herself.

I’m proud of her!

(c) 2016 Salee Reese

Names used in this post are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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The Wiser, True You

A photo of an owl

 

“The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not your mind—the thinker. The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated.”

— Eckart Tolle, The Power of Now

I was walking—no, sleepwalking—in the mall one day when I became aware that I was doing a whole lot of judging. I judged people on how they looked, how they walked, how they treated their children . . . the list is infinite.

In the past, I would have been critical with myself for that sort of thing.  Ironically, self-criticism is an act of judgement, too. How is that okay?

I would have become guilt’s hostage for the duration of my walk.

Not anymore. I’ve come to understand that judging is a natural function of the brain.

In truth, it wasn’t me doing the judging, it was my brain. As long as we have a brain, we’ll be inclined to judge. Why? Our brains are wired to compare, evaluate and critique. So the tendency to judge is hardwired—innate. It’s an activity our brains do constantly and automatically. We compare yesterday’s weather with today’s, we decide if it’s a good idea to cross an intersection. We determine whether it’s safe to approach a stranger standing on the corner, or a  barking dog. Should I eat that purple-ish food or not?

The judging function of our brains is connected to our survival instinct. Without it, we would be handicapped in our ability to navigate the world we live in.

So with all that said, the goal isn’t to stop judging. We can’t. Believing we can, merely sets us up for lots of self-punishment. The realistic goal is to commandeer it. Take over. It’s akin to tending to a small child. We monitor where she is going and what she is doing. When she’s headed in the wrong direction we say “There, there now. We’re not going that way.” She doesn’t need to be punished, only redirected.

In other words, we need to disidentify with the brain. Our true self is the one observing the mental voice.

With that in mind, let’s rewind, shall we . . . ?

I was walking in the mall one day when I noticed that my brain was doing a whole lot of judging. It commented on how people looked, how they walked and how they behaved. I chalked it up to a brain operating in default-mode.  This objective observation allowed me to redirect that brain: a higher level of consciousness was activated and those judgments — toward others and myself— were immediately replaced with acceptance and compassion. Nice, huh?

This post was actually inspired by someone who wrote about her own discoveries about judging.  You can find her here. And by the way, you’ll find that she has a very attractive spirit. 🙂

 

(c) Salee Reese 2016

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You Have a Choice: Walnuts or Apples

apples and walnuts

 

Once upon a time, a walnut tree decided to start producing apples instead of walnuts. He was shunned by some and admired by others for his raw courage.

He had defied his programming.

No question, if this had actually happened, the news of this free-thinking walnut tree would have received world-wide attention in a matter of seconds.

In truth, we all know that it’s impossible for walnut trees to grow apples. They’re genetically programmed to produce only one thing … walnuts. And just like walnut trees, we humans are genetically programmed. Take our physical appearance. It’s directly influenced by genes passed down from our ancestors.

But unlike walnut trees, we also undergo parental programming that shapes our behavior, our thoughts and attitudes. That we can change! And if we choose to do so, we will be shunned by some and admired by others. 🙂

For example, Cheryl has been programmed to put her mother’s needs before her own. If her mother requests something or manipulates Cheryl through guilt tactics, Cheryl drops everything and caters to her wish. Even if it’s hugely inconvenient. Even if her own family suffers.

I’m happy to say that’s all changing. Lately, when Cheryl has the impulse to drop everything and do her mother’s bidding, she stops and asks herself: What do I think is the best use of my time right now? How do I best take care of me and my family?

In other words, what do I choose to do?

Then there’s James. He gave countless examples of his father yelling at him when he was a boy and telling him how worthless he was.

“In his eyes, I sucked at everything . . . I couldn’t do anything right.”

For 40 years, James bought into that piece of damage. He even picked up where his father left off. As an adult he would mutilate his own self-esteem with the same messages he got from his dad.

Not long ago, he chose to see himself in a new light.

Katie was programmed to tough it out. Instead of comforting her when she got hurt—either physically or emotionally—her parents would sternly say: “You’re alright.”

Her programming failed to prepare her for understanding and working through her emotions. So she was at a loss—to the point of panic—when her dog died, when her car broke down on a busy highway, when her boyfriend cheated on her, and when she became the target of cyberbullying.

By the time I met her, she was inches away from suicide.

Today, she’s choosing to embrace her feelings. By doing so, she’s on the road to learning how to manage them.

Each of these individuals chose to defy their programming. They’re to be admired.

Walnuts or apples? To break the spell of programming, make it apples. 🙂

 

(c) Salee Reese 2016

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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Leaving Your Cage

flying+bird+out+of+its+cage+the+best+for+the+post

A cage is anything that confines, reduces, inhibits or limits us. This includes our distorted ideas about ourselves.

In  Meet Your True Self,  my previous post, Brad woke up to the fact that his inner roommate, also known as an inner critic, was a liar. In that mere flash of an instant, Brad freed himself from a cage.

Brad didn’t stop with that single insight. In fact, on that day, he was on a roll and I wasn’t about to stop him. I just sat back with a big grin on my face.

He said he realizes that his inner roommate is a product of his conditioning and that it operates automatically “just like breathing . . . most of the time we’re not even aware of it.”

Nor are we aware of the constant stream of dialogue swirling around in our head. “My brain just keeps playing the same tape over and over,” Brad said. “What I have to do now is reprogram myself.”

Brad also had a good idea about how to do that: “Since we get programmed through repetition, we can also get re-programmed through repetition.”

In other words, instead of telling himself over and over again how worthless he is, his plan is to start telling himself the truth about himself . . . over and over again. In effect, he’ll be arguing with his inner roommate . . . and winning.

Unfortunately, inner roommates don’t simply go “poof” and disappear when we get wise to them. Conditioning, by definition, sticks. Brad calls it a “default setting”—something our brain automatically goes back to. Inner roommates may fade through disuse and neglect, but in all likelihood they will reactivate when life throws us some curve balls or when we hit a low point. So patience is called for.

I told Brad to expect setbacks, but to view them as temporary. Serious backsliding is impossible at this point because he’s too aware to stay lost. He has taken a huge step with his epiphany about his inner roommate being a liar. That’s a game changer. It’s like trying to unripple the pond—it can’t happen. Like returning to a cage after getting a taste of freedom—it won’t happen.

Clear-eyed reflection—seeing something for what it is—makes it impossible to return to our delusions on a permanent basis.

I’d like your comments. Do you agree with that last statement? And what are your insights on reprogramming and cages? Thanks!

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2014 Salee Reese

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Meet Your True Self

bird reflection

 

 

When you’re harassed by guilt and self-judgment, you’re vacating your true self . . . and you’re vacating truth. Period.

In my last post, Escape your Jungle, I defined the true self and how it can easily become overshadowed by a bogus self-concept—based on erroneous beliefs about ourselves.

Donna was my example. Her negative conclusions about herself created a strangling thicket which played a significant role in her depression and life dissatisfaction.  Her pathway back to her true self entailed disbelieving those conclusions.

Like Donna, Brad needed to get reacquainted with his true self and identify the lies about himself that he was hanging on to.  I’ve mentioned him before on this blog.

Long ago, when Brad was a child, an inner critic started to sprout. It criticized and shamed him the way his father would. And it picked on him exactly the way his siblings did. In time, Brad grew up and left home but his inner critic went with him. That’s too bad. It meant he would continue to experience internal assaults and guilt on a constant basis.

Another term for “inner critic” is “inner roommate.” I happened upon that term while reading Michael Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul. Learn more about the inner roommate here.

This nasty brute hangs out in our head, taunting, judging, scolding, bossing, and finding fault with everything we wear, think, eat and do. (And the list doesn’t end there.) 😉

Those internalized messages obscure our true self. I remember Brad once telling me, “My true self is foreign to me, so I don’t feel it’s attainable.” Like so many of us, he had fallen into the habit of giving his inner roommate more reality than his true self.

“How do I figure out what my true self is?” he asked.

“We don’t figure out who we are,” I said, “we experience it.”

I had Brad close his eyes and imagine a time when he felt free from guilt. With barely a moment’s hesitation, he said: “Being out in nature.” His voice cracked with emotion as he talked about finding refuge in a woods near his house. He played near a creek, climbed on logs and built a few forts over time. Nothing disturbed his peace. His siblings weren’t there to pick on him and his father wasn’t there to shame or judge him. He felt peaceful and self-confident. He didn’t need his father’s acceptance out there—he was experiencing self-acceptance.

I urged Brad to tuck that memory away and pull it out whenever he feels a guilt-attack coming on. It’ll key him into the truth about himself.

Another client recounts similar feelings while playing a piano . . . when she gets to a space where the music is “effortlessly flowing through my fingers, and the whole world shrinks to nothing—there is only that moment.”

As for me, my earliest true-self memory goes back to the age of five. It was one of those sunny, deep-blue-sky days, and I was outside on my bicycle. Not a soul was in sight . . . just me, the birds and the serene day.

The inner roommate is relentless and doesn’t go away without an entire arsenal being deployed against it. The inner roommate doesn’t use logic. It can’t use logic, but we can and must. We shouldn’t blindly buy into what our inner roommate says about us. How did it get a monopoly on truth anyway? Questioning the validity of the roommate’s accusations involves logic.

In our sessions, whenever Brad said something negative about himself, I questioned it. I demanded evidence to support the allegations. I got ruthless at times! 🙂 Finally, after enough exposure to this, he began questioning his negative self-talk on his own. That was the idea.

I get excited—call it a eureka moment—whenever clients see their inner roommate for what it is and cease to pay homage to it. Such a moment presented itself not long ago when Brad leaned forward in his chair and uttered these words:

“You know what? My roommate’s a liar!”

We high-fived that one! That moment of clarity, by the way, came straight from his true self.

What are some of your true-self experiences? I’d love to hear them!

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2014 Salee Reese

 

 

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