All too often I find myself listening to some internal voice telling me I’m not good enough, or I don’t do enough, or I didn’t try hard enough, or I’m just not enough. This internal critic has been with me for as long as I can remember. As I write this I think it sounds like the voice of my father and the words it says are definitely a version of the criticism I heard throughout my childhood. A version of those criticisms that seems to get constantly updated and added to as long as I’m alive.
It’s not hard to imagine how I developed such a voice. I grew up in a middle class family, the middle child of five kids, with a larger-than-life, charismatic, opinionated, hyper-critical, alcoholic father and a working mother who was/is very smart, extraordinarily organized and constantly on the edge of overwhelm (usually expressed by screaming, crying, and hitting). Both parents loved me, and both believed that one way to ensure that your children excelled was to regularly remind then that they were going to have to work a lot harder if they expected to amount to anything.
Added to my parents near constant expressions of disappointment in me were my school teachers regular habit of pointing out my shortcomings. This is meant as no disrespect. I think my teachers thought that pointing out children’s shortcomings and recommending ways to overcome those shortcomings was their job. Add in a fairly typical assortment of youthful insecurities about my body, my looks, my attractiveness, etc., and it’s small wonder that I developed an internal critic.
I liken that critical voice to having a radio station in my head. I sometimes imagine that a satellite was launched for me at my birth and now it is constantly overhead, beaming my radio station of unending criticism directly into my brain. I call this station KFUK – All Criticism All The Time.
Over the years I’ve tried a number of techniques to quiet or even silence KFUK. I’ve tried blowing up the satellite (in my imagination, of course). When that failed KFUK got louder (“Can’t even do that right, huh? Loser”) I’ve tried telling it to stop, asserting that I’m in charge, arguing with the messages, and a whole lot more. All to no good effect.
So, one day I started to think about what benefit there is for me in having KFUK. What’s the payoff that has me continue to listen? I began to see that there are times in my life when having an internal critic has, in fact, been useful. Times when KFUK helped me regain my temporarily misplaced humility, or reminded me to proof my work, or helped me decide to seek outside help. Maybe blowing up KFUK isn’t such a great idea.
When I thought about what my critic was trying to achieve it seemed to me that either my critic was trying to hurt me or trying to help me. I’m pretty sure I’m not psychotic so I can’t really embrace the idea that there’s a part of my personality that’s actively trying to hurt another part of my personality. If my critic is trying to help me, to what end? And then it came to me: My critic wants me to be perfect so I’ll be lovable! KFUK is a voice I listen to hoping I can correct my “flaws” and character “defects” so I can be worthy of receiving love.
Consciously, I know that I am already worthy of and deserving of love. I’ve taught this to tens of thousands of participants in my workshops. Everyone deserves love. It’s our birthright. Every child born deserves love. And we were all born.
I figured out that what I must do is launch a second satellite: KLUV – All Love All The Time. When I find myself listening to KFUK and not enjoying it, I can just change the channel. It is just like listening to my car radio, not liking the song that’s on and pushing the button to switch to a different station. I don’t need to destroy the “bad music” station. And I don’t need to listen in suffering silence either.
Given that listening to and internalizing criticism is what created KFUK’s playlist, I decided that telling myself “Chas, I really love you.” would be an excellent way to begin to program KLUV. I said “Chas, I really love you” to me (aloud) every day in a mirror for a month. Later I added in more programming: “I deserve happiness beyond all measure.” “I do enough, I have enough, I give enough, I am enough.” “I am beautiful.” “I’m the best me that ever existed.”
I still listen to KFUK now and then. Mostly out of habit. And its kind of like watching those daytime soap operas. Even if I don’t tune in for months, within minutes of listening I get caught up right away. Ans when I’ve had enough I change the channel.