Anyone can find the dirt in someone. Be the one that finds the gold. — Proverbs 11:27
I found it pretty natural while raising my kids to look for and encourage their strengths, whether it was our daughter’s talents in art and music or our son’s track abilities and love of history. Sometimes the challenge was to help them to see something about themselves that they couldn’t see on their own.
I remember when the kids would occasionally talk negatively about themselves, it hurt my heart to hear it. “Don’t talk about my kid like that,” I’d say in a stern voice, which was usually enough to garner a smile and redirect the negative self-talk into something more positive. When I told my therapist this recently, she asked why I didn’t say that to myself when my own inner critic started in on me.
“Well, I’m a grown woman and it would sound a little crazy,” I replied.
Try it anyway, she encouraged.
I’ve worked with my therapist as I’ve tried to sort through my husband’s death and what this new life without him will look like moving forward. When I come up to the surface from the deep end of grief, she’s there with her reassuring, positive voice asking the questions, “So what do you want to do now with the rest of your life? Can you picture what life will look like?”
On good days, I can catch a glimpse of this life—days where I balance well memories of my past while still moving toward the future, a supportive, healthy mother to grown children, travel, develop my writing, serve in my community and church and possibly to love again. But it doesn’t take much of that glimpse before the inner critic invites herself in, kicks off her shoes and makes a pot of coffee. She breezes in spouting off the same kind of negative talk I’d wince at when I heard it come from my kids’ mouths.
How can you imagine a new life without your husband? What kind of wife and mother are you anyway? Travel? You need to play it safe. You can’t do that on your own. Writer? When’s the last time you actually wrote an article; no one will want to read your stuff. Your life is too sad now. What do you have to share anyway?
Like the person you never want to get stuck in a corner with at a cocktail party, she blathers on and on about everything and nothing at all until finally I remember my own words: “Don’t talk about my kid like that.” And just like that Ms. Inner Critic puts down her cup, grabs her shoes and scoots out the door. “Until next time,” I imagine her saying.
It feels good to be an advocate for myself, like a strong parent, like a good Fairy Godmother. Standing up to the nonsense of Ms. Inner Critic has helped me to put action steps in place to rebuild my life. Friends and family have encouraged me as I’ve made some strong, positive changes —steps that have seemed so scary and monumental while doing them. I put my house up for sale, moved and started a new job. I’ve also created this blog to help others reimagine their new paths, and I signed up to attend a writer’s retreat this spring after my son graduates from college.
Even though I went into the decisions with a lot of fear, feeling shaky, small and unsure of myself, I’ve come out with my confidence boosted even during periods of heavy grief. Who knew all of those feelings can go on simultaneously?
There is a saying: Your mind is a garden. Your thoughts are the seeds. You can grow flowers or you can grow weeds. If Ms. Inner Critic wants to hang out, she’s going to be put to work pulling weeds.