This pandemic has caused each of us to feel isolated in a way we could have never imagined. Even those of us who previously lived and worked from home are feeling it. We were caught off guard and ambushed, with no time to organize our lives or hide the clutter. COVID-19 was the intervention for which we never asked. Stripped bare of our comforts and regular distractions, we were left exposed to the world (or so we feel). Humans learn to avoid feelings of vulnerability and helplessness, yet here we are, left hanging out to dry.
Whether it was our commute to work, game night with friends, or drinks and dinner with our partner, our social interactions were cut off or morphed into something unrecognizable. (Zoom Fatigue anyone?) Little did we know that these diversions were serving a greater purpose. They were a much-needed escape from being alone with our thoughts. For many, checking in with yourself is about as comfortable as a dentist’s chair.
Now that the music has stopped, many of us have a record of our own playing, perhaps louder than ever before. I’m talking about the unwelcome storyteller inside us, our inner critic.
This narrator has a penchant for falsehood and usually stays quiet as we go about our lives, until it doesn’t. The feelings elicited by a worldwide pandemic and associated fallout are nothing short of catastrophic. There couldn’t be a more perfect environment for our subconscious to rule the roost. Healthy self-reflection affords us the opportunity to learn and grow from our mistakes, while also staying present and looking to the future. Ruminating thoughts and toxic shame are quite the opposite, they sound something like this:
You’re not good enough. Nobody cares what you have to say. You’ll never achieve success. You always screw up. You’re fat. You’re ugly. You’re weak. You deserved to be treated that way. It was your fault. What makes you special? You won’t change. You can’t change.
Many of us have probably uttered one or more of these self-shaming phrases (and many others) to ourselves throughout our life. We each have a story that we’ve been telling ourselves, many since before we can even remember. Each of our stories is different, but they all share a common thread. The belief that we aren’t enough. We chase things that we think will make us feel enough. When we achieve this milestone, get that promotion, lose the weight, become debt-free, travel the world or provide more for our family, we can silence these thoughts and feelings. Spoiler: the feelings always return.
For some, like me, these lies originated in childhood, crafted by our minds to protect us from harsher realities. They served a purpose. It was too painful to grapple with the feelings associated with betrayal, neglect or abuse by our friends, family or others who were supposed to love and protect us. For others, these thoughts are driven by – among other things – anxiety, depression, trauma or by living in a world of constant comparison and judgement on social media.
Becoming aware of these stories and their origins opens the door to overcoming them. We weren’t responsible for their creation, but we must own our happiness and mental health going forward. Take a second and think about your inner critic. What does it say? What makes it credible or true? What if none of it is true? What if you don’t have to carry around these false narratives? Some find it helpful to name their inner critic, disconnecting it from themselves and taking away the power it holds. Whatever your method, by facing your inner critic, you’ll find that you learn to live with and accept it, instead of fearing it and engaging in its endless (and self-destructive) thought loops. While your inner critic will always be there because it is a part of you, that is okay. Rather than reacting with frustration when you that hear pesky, familiar voice (that you thought you’d put to rest!), be more understanding and empathetic. Accept its presence but reject its comments. This is ultimately an exercise of learning to cultivate self-compassion. Now, I will leave you with this quote by author Toni Morrison, “You wanna fly, you got to give up the sh*t that weighs you down.”
Senior Data Analyst, Marketing, Daniel Beringer is a husband and father of two young boys and one anxious rescue dog. He enjoys discovering new recipes, binge-worthy TV, being physically active, talking about feelings and playing poker in his free time.