Fighting the internal critic


Recently I’ve discovered an insidious creature who lives inside me. Fighting this beastie has now become a daily habit. No, I’m not talking about demon possession or an alien slowly growing in my chest. I’m talking about the internal critic.

The internal critic is that voice in my head that says, “You’ll never be good enough. You’ll never be loved. You’ll always be abandoned. You’ll never succeed. You’re a failure.”

The critic has been with me nearly my whole life. I think I know why, too, although I’ll save that for some future essay. For now, let me just say that the critic goes hand in hand with a variety of types of mental illness, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, both of which I’m dealing with.

Recently my life has taken several turns for the better. I have a job I like. I live in a nice apartment. And I’m in a healthy relationship with someone who loves me very much. I’ve noticed, though, that the critic is shouting louder than ever: in moments of silence; in moments when my partner is away or busy or with other people; in moments when I’m alone in my apartment; and in some moments when I’m with the person I love or doing something I enjoy. The critic has no boundaries and no sense of decorum. It attacks with no provocation and gives no quarter.

Ah, but there’s something not quite right about that last sentence. Because the critic does in fact have provocation. My happiness is what most angers the critic. Joy is its kryptonite, and so it must strike against any sign of contentment.

My friend pointed out recently that it’s when I’m at my happiest that the critic is most fearful. Because if it’s true that someone is in love with me, that my friends care about me, that I’m good at my job, that I have a safe place to live – if those things are true than the critic is wrong.

I’m only just beginning to explore the causes of the critic’s existence. I’ve known about my depression for several years, and I’ve been working on it. But this new wrinkle, PTSD, is still mostly unknown to me. I’m learning, though. Soon I’ll have health insurance and will be back in therapy. And I have a good network of friends and family, and a supportive partner who is not afraid to deal with mental health issues.

So watch out, critic. I’m coming for you.

(But in the meantime, thanks to all of you for reminding me each day that the critic is wrong.)

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