She had been at it for years. Criticizing me. Telling me I wasn’t good enough. Doubting me. I didn’t really notice how harmful it was. I thought it was just normal. It had been happening for so long.
And then one day, I saw what was happening so clearly. It was during one of those hot yoga classes where people are crammed in with not much space between the mats. Nearly naked bodies drenched in sweat. I was working so hard, pulling on my poor tight hamstrings to try to force my crooked body straight. She made me go to that yoga class and a hundred others before it. She said if I just worked hard enough, I could get my body to be the way it is supposed to. Not all twisted, uneven and in pain from Parkinson’s disease.
I never could do enough to please her. She was never happy. She kept pushing and pushing. And my poor body felt worse and worse. Maybe it was because of the silence, the intimate nature of the class or the stillness of mind that yoga practice can bring, but I finally realized what she was: A Big Mean Bully.
She is the worst kind of bully. Because she lives in my own head. The Big Mean Bully is me. What I now know as the “inner critic.” The voice in my head that is constantly putting me down. She questions everything I say. She tells me that people probably don’t like me. She tells me it’s my fault that I’m sick. She insists I was doing something wrong and better find out how to fix it. I thought this voice was me and I believed her.
Once I caught her, I realized all the damage that listening to her had done. I had isolated myself because she told me I acted weird. I had lacked courage to do things that would bring me joy for fear of not being good enough. I pushed my body really hard in yoga classes, causing more tension and strain. I couldn’t stop looking for answers, even though I already had them, because to her nothing was ever good enough. She doubted everything which kept me looking and looking for something that she finally wouldn’t criticize and doubt. I could never relax because she told me I had to keep working to make myself acceptable.
In her own way, she was trying to help me be better, but was using an ineffective method. The good thing is that I do not have to believe my own thoughts. The inner critic is a pattern, a habit. I can change it.
I became more aware of her and how she subtly influenced my day. I also started to question her more. When she would pipe in with her endless unasked for negative opinions about everything I am doing, I would say out loud, “I am doing just fine.” I started to think more positively about myself. Tell myself that I am great, awesome, magnificent. This may sound pompous but it really feels a lot better and leads to better outcomes than berating myself with criticism all day. I feel better about myself. I have moved forward with some creative activities I had alway wanted to do. I eased off on my yoga and exercise a bit. I recognized the more I push and strain, the more tension will be created in my body and the more my body will resist the relaxation and ease it really needs.
I think this inner bullying is the worst kind because it is so subtle. For so long, when I didn’t really recognize her, I couldn’t figure out why I felt so bad about myself all the time. I was often grumpy, short, judgmental and sometimes downright mean. Bullies act out of their own inner pain. They bully other people to try to make themselves feel better. If we all made great efforts to counteract our own inner bullies and be kinder to ourselves, we won’t take out our pain on others. Then we would be kinder to each other. We might just feel a little better.