Compassion for our inner bitch isn’t always easy.
Inner bitch? We all have one. It’s that negative voice in our heads, the inner critic, the one that says you’re not good enough, or skinny enough, or you’ll always be broke or you’re never going to reach your dreams. Our inner critic is a broken record of self-criticisms, a feedback loop where we speak to ourselves in a way that we would probably never speak to others.
That inner critic, however, believes it has an important job – to protect us. The intention behind our inner critic is not to be cruel or harsh, but to keep us safe. Our ego thinks that if we know our limitations, if we don’t push too far or try too hard, or if we re-think every mistake we have made at 2 o’clock in the morning, that maybe we’ll be okay – maybe we will find that magical way to be liked by everyone or we will motivate ourselves to make the changes that we know deep down we need.
Our culture encourages this, whether it intends to or not, by perpetually feeding the voice of inadequacy with ad campaigns that tell us that we will be happier when we have the bag, the shoes, the house, the car, the next vacation. All this does is feed our inner bitch – the “I’m never going to be enough; I’m an idiot; I thought I’d be more successful by now; Oh God I’m still single and 30, what if no-one want me?” voice.
Despite its best intentions, this survival tactic – this inner voice which aims to keep us safe – usually does the opposite. At its best it holds us back, safe within our perceived limitations; never rocking the boat, never stretching, never choosing what we really want. At its worst it becomes the cornerstone of depression, we listen to the voice so much we forget that it and us are separate. That we are not our thoughts, but rather the awareness of them; that we are more motivated by love and positive reinforcement than by fear and negative thinking.
The inner bitch territory can be hard to navigate, a rabbit-hole of dead-ends and circle-backs in a land of not-enoughness. It can be tempting to go down the one-way streets of negative thinking, getting lost in the dodgy neighbourhoods that litter the corners of our mind. Compassion, particularly in those rough parts of town, can seem unlikely.
In the past, I tried everything to combat this inner critic. Starving it through meditation and thought monitoring (highly recommended), beating it through more self-criticism and judgement (not recommended), and by acting tougher, more confident, more self-assured – most of which were band-aids for a wound that needed surgery.
In the words of Kristin Neff, “when you’re in the trenches, do you want an enemy or an ally?”. Sometimes we need to learn to practice compassion for our inner bitch.
The foundations of self-compassion are understanding that we are not our thoughts, that we can choose whether we believe what our inner critic says, and the acknowledgement that at its essence, our inner critic wants our highest good.
Self-compassion is often misunderstood. It isn’t weakness. It isn’t settling or holding back. It doesn’t mean we are not accountable to ourselves or that we lose our drive or ambition. And it is not the same as self-esteem, self-confidence or even self-love.
True self-compassion, rather, is the ability to see ourselves as human. It is rooted in kindness, providing a cushion on which to fall as we stretch our known boundaries. It is an expression of inner strength. It embodies a gentleness towards ourselves, an acknowledgement not of failure but of persistence. It allows us to rest, to push forward, and to re-write the script of our inner bitch.
Self-compassion allows us to not be perfect. To be silly, but never stupid. It allows us to change our negative thoughts – the “I am never enoughs”, the “I’ll be happy when’s” – to guideposts of what we truly desire, rather than stop signs along the way. Without the need to be perfect or live up to unrealistic expectations, we give ourselves a chance to listen to feedback, to grow, to improve – to be human.
Compassion for our inner bitch doesn’t look the same for everyone. For some, it is an internal journey – a shift in our thoughts, perceptions and the way we speak to ourselves. For others, it might mean pausing, shifting, changing life direction. It might mean speaking up and standing out, knowing that whatever the outcome, you’ll treat yourself as you would a close friend. After all, self-compassion is sitting with what is; acknowledging our suffering and our fears, without running away.
Sometimes the most self-compassionate thing we can do is to make friends with our inner bitch, know that she is scared, and ignore her terrible advice.
How can you practice self-compassion? How can you be kind to your inner bitch today?
Launching February 2018 is Courageous Conversations, a 5 week online masterclass in having brave, real and honest conversations. Learn to say no, to express your true feelings, and to ask for what you really want. Want more info as it launches? Send a note with the subject “Courageous Conversations” to stay updated: firstname.lastname@example.org