Learning to develop a less critical inner voice is a revealing process. The more mindful I become about speaking kindly to myself, the more I realise how for most of my life I’ve been on autopilot, ruthlessly criticising and also anxiously second guessing myself for everything.
For example, while getting ready for work this morning, I was thinking about a conversation I’d had with someone last night and I remembered an opinion that I’d given them about a personal artistic preference that I had. Completely harmless, nothing really but this morning, I suddenly worried that maybe I’d somehow offended them and my chest and shoulders started to get tight. I went still, frantically running the conversation over in my head.
“Whoa” I caught myself “There you go again. It’s ok, you didn’t say anything wrong, nobody is upset with you. It’s ok.” I took a big, mindful breath, taking air down into my belly and helping my body to relax and soften. I was able to come back to the present and out of the giant part of my mind that is always worrying about what other people are thinking and feeling, as if I have some sort of control over everyone else.
There is such a somatic element to anxiety. Constantly worrying about every decision that I make, every word that I say, it means my body is held tight and my breath gets held too. When I am too anxious for too long, my pain condition flares up. My anxiety did not *cause* my pain condition – the structural issues that required surgery did – but it’s amazing how much learning to take deep breathes and gently reassure myself is helping me to relax my body more often, more quickly. Anxiety definitely exacerbates my pain and then when I’m in pain, my anxiety is more likely to increase.
We can’t control our thoughts but we can notice them and gently work with them, gently guide them. We can also notice how our body’s affected by our thoughts and how it can be the creator of our thoughts. How many days, months, years, did I go around with a tight body, holding my breath, fixating on every little thing I did wrong… and how did that effect my emotional well-being? How many horrible, hypercritical thoughts was I having about myself every single day that simply felt like truth?
The critic isn’t gone. The critic is still very much there but observing it, breathing and speaking to myself with a growing practice of kindness and warmth is definitely making a difference, I’m getting more done in my days and feeling the desire to hide in bed less frequently. All of this is course also due to the fact that the environmental aspects of my life are currently better – if you’re stuck in a country that’s still locked down due to the ravages of this pandemic, if you’re sick, having to work too hard to support a family or for whatever reason, there’s only so far a positive attitude can take you when life is being a shitburger. But it’s definitely easier to get by when we’re allies to ourselves instead of enemies.