Ah, the "obnoxious roommate." This is the term Arianna Huffington uses in Thrive to identify her internal critic, but she's known by plenty of other names as well. "Negative self-talk," "self-loathing," "self-criticism." One of my friends calls hers "Judge Judy." In her writings on women and wealth, Barbara Stanny calls her "Blanche." Regardless of what we call her, we're all familiar with her and her work -- she's the thought pattern that offers up negativity, discouragement, and judgment to counter balance any positive thoughts, feelings or ideas we may be having. Her favorite pastime is criticism and fear is her best friend.
For most of my life, my inner mean girl was "obnoxious" only on her good days. She could more accurately be called "hateful," "nasty," "sadistic" and "cruel." Even as a little girl of 5 or 6 years old, I recall hearing her tell me I was ugly, stupid, totally unlovable. Obviously, only someone really sick and evil would try to convince a little girl of this. But for many years, this inner bitch dominated my thoughts and my life became a constant struggle to please her. As a teenager, I tried to get skinny enough to shut her up, and as a result developed a nasty eating disorder and exercise obsession. But even at my most dangerously skinny, she never relented in her insistence that I was inadequate. I also tried to achieve her into silence, but regardless of any of my accomplishments, I was still "dumb" and "a bore." For years, I suffered from debilitating social anxiety and depression. Eventually, I found drugs and alcohol and through them, temporary reprieves from my obsessive self-loathing. Unfortunately, though, this was not a great solution, as I eventually became hopelessly addicted, which only added to the reasons for me to hate myself.
Now, I was not abused as a child either verbally or physically. My family did not plant these thoughts in my head, though depression, anxiety and addiction are rampant among my relatives, so it's possible I was predisposed to these types of thought patterns. Fortunately, my father has many years of sobriety and introduced me early on to the potential for recovery from addiction. So, I did find my way into recovery and kick the substances, but the mean girl stayed with me. For more than a decade in sobriety, I prayed, meditated, yoga'd, self-helped, went to therapy and medicated in hopes that the inner bitch would either learn to be nice or shut up. And while these efforts certainly changed the way my life looked on the outside, and did repair most of the damage I had done with my addiction, none of it really gave me ultimate relief from the inner critic.
And then one day a couple of years ago, during a yoga class led by the beautiful and brilliant Camila Figueroa of Dharma Yoga in Austin, Texas, the miracle happened. The mean girl and I became friends. During my favorite pose, shavasana -- or corpse pose -- Camila, who not only practices Buddhism but has studied it deeply, invited us to practice nekkhama or detachment, by regarding ourselves with lightness and humor. She asked us to examine the aspects of ourselves that may be harsh, judgmental, nasty or cruel, and see them from a perspective of detached humor. Somehow, that suggestion triggered the "Ah-ha!" I had been looking for. My obnoxious roommate needed a hug.
In that moment I realized that all my life I had been trying to silence the inner critic, or evict it, or dismiss it, or ignore it. In that moment, it occurred to me that I owed it my sincere attention, love, and gratitude, as this voice is as much -- or perhaps even more -- responsible for making me who I am as is my intellect, my ambition, or my background. I realized that I don't have to agree at all with the things it tells me, but that I absolutely must listen attentively to it and offer it my sincere gratitude for helping me become who I am. I must love my inner critic because she is part of me. In that moment, I embraced the monster. And that was the day my inner critic stopped making me miserable.