Last winter I decided to plant some winter aconites to brighten up the front garden in late January and early February. This year I eagerly anticipated their blossoming, but sadly they have not appeared. Something has clearly got in the way of their flourishing. When giving a talk to the Mothers Union last month I spoke about some of the things that can get in the way of us flourishing as human beings. In my work as a counsellor one of the factors that I find often holds people back is the inner critic.
The ‘inner critic’ is a term in popular psychology to personify the negative thoughts we have about ourselves. Most of us have an inner critic: a part of our psyche that likes to bring us down, criticise our best efforts, and even bully us into believing we’re not good enough. It carries out a running commentary on our lives, putting a negative spin on our achievements and our aspirations. Its impact can leave us feeling hurt, demeaned and powerless.
When I am working with those who are depressed or anxious it can involve helping them identify, become more conscious of and move away from this type of inner voice.
Getting to know the inner critic is normally the starting point. It is often more like an App running in the background at a fairly unconscious level than a loud radio broadcast, so learning to ‘tune-in’ to its messages is a necessary first step. After that it can be very helpful to externalize it. By drawing an image of your inner critic or writing down its messages you are allowing yourself to see the inner critic as something separate from you that you don’t have to be ruled by. It can then be helpful to try and depict an alternative contrasting figure; a compassionate, kind other that will encourage you rather than criticize you.
I believe that strength grows through tenderness and courage through encouragement. Developing a warmer and more encouraging inner voice requires some perseverance and practice but it provides better conditions for flourishing.
Shadows and Shelter
In his shadow I feel scared I might have transgressed and will be punished.
Under the shelter of your wings I find forgiveness and a fresh start.
In his shadow I feel dread and fear; uncertain if he is pleased with me and I am getting it right.
Under the shelter of your wings I find comfort and reassurance that I am known and welcomed.
In his shadow I always need to be busy and active; he doesn’t approve of rest.
Under the shelter of your wings I find rest and restoration when I am weary and heavy laden.
In his shadow I must prove my value and earn his approval.
Under the shelter of your wings I feel sure that I am loved and can stop striving.
In his shadow I doubt myself and my ability.
Under the shelter of your wings I have confidence in your ability and strength.
In his shadow I am afraid of living and dying.
Under the shelter of your wings I find security that gives me courage to live and die.