Perched on Yavapai tribal land we’re up top Prescott, Arizona. Don and I are hostages to a winter storm. Not in a teepee, in a resort. It could be much worse. Yavapai means “people of the sun.” The tribe boasts the first female chief in North America. Viola Jimulla was Chief of the Prescott tribe for more than twenty years. Viola’s journey reminds me it takes courage to challenge beliefs and see a new way.
Weather and our own inner longings for rest say “slow down.” So we do. Don and I read, eat, nap, sit by the fire, exercise, float in a saltwater pool, and in my case write. Mountain views surround us as we surrender to silence on this snowy morning.
In my thirties, mornings were full of family sounds: Doug and Deb playing or squabbling while cartoons blared from the TV and were punctuated by a continually ringing phone. Yet, the loudest noise of all was the voice in my head.
Back then my inner critic had a megaphone. Blasting disapproving messages and bossy demands that led to flashcards of self-worth. Handwritten affirmations on 3×5 index cards stayed tucked in my purse and came out when self-doubt paralyzed me. Maybe my therapist suggested I make them. I’m not sure. I don’t even know what has happened to the dozen or so cards.
Wouldn’t it be meaningful if I’d burned them in a ritual of release as the words upon them were no longer distant but a part of me? Rather my children will likely find them while sorting through boxes of saved photos, cards and letters. Held together with a green rubber band, that handful of cards was my link to saner self-talk.
Discovering I didn’t need to believe this loud disapproving inner authority was a relief. Don’s love along with therapy, lots of therapy, released me from its debilitating grip. Slowly I began to question this ongoing barrage of critiques. Maybe what I’d been listening to wasn’t the truth but a twisted view of me.
Awareness like that opens possibilities.
I’ve never met a person who didn’t have an inner critic. They come in varying strengths. Clients I saw as a psychotherapist usually had a muscular one. As did I. Over time, self-confidence erodes when we listen to a tedious recital of shortcomings. I had traveled that road and knew the demands awaiting clients. I also knew the relief that could be theirs.
Our inner critic picks up messages from others; parents, teachers, partners, siblings, and bullies. Then it weaves them into an inner dialogue. Often this chatter goes unexamined. We start to believe what we hear. We don’t make a distinction between our thoughts and who we actually are. Careful investigation can dethrone a critic. Topple they must if we are to discover our true self.
Discernment is the first step to subduing self-doubt. When these messages enter in childhood, and most do, we’re ill equipped to distinguish between a shaming comment and the truth of who we are. Children have a limited ability for self-reflection and believe what parents and caretakers tell them. As introspection grows, we can challenge these thoughts. “Is what I think about me really true?”
Words have power. Especially the words we use to define ourselves. My inner critic is still with me. Usually I see it for what it is; a warped opinion that doesn’t reflect who I am. Disconnecting old messages takes work. When our inner chatter becomes affirming we grow stronger? The critic weakens.
Many wait for others to affirm them. My index cards taught me that this is a gift we can give ourselves. The words I wanted to hear were exactly what I wrote on my flash cards. I wish I could read them now. I am sure one of them said, “You are brave.” Another likely said, “You are smart.” Both were unknown to me in my thirties. Repeating the messages I longed to hear helped me a great deal.
This makes me wonder…
Are there words you’ve been waiting to hear?
It’s Snowing on the Superstitions
Dave Morgan-Creative Commons
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- 2023 Women Writing to Unfold (Taos, NM)
- 21 Aug 23