Maybe it should be no surprise to me by now, but I’m finding out anew what crazy standards my inner critic has, and how it holds me to them.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve finished each working day with a queasy feeling of disappointment. Each day. And when I look closely, it’s apparent to me that it’s because I’m full of judgement about what’s not done, how much more I could have done, and how much more I should have done. I can easily live under the spell of this – the curse of this – convinced that it is the nature of things for me to perpetually fall short.
Perhaps you can imagine – perhaps you know from your own experience – what effect the constant comparison with an unreachable standard does to a person. At most intense it’s crushing, diminishing. But even without such intensity it’s like a gradual greying of life. There is little space for joy, abandon, deep connection or creativity when you’re caught in a vice.
It’s not been easy for me to spot this. It’s the nature of the critic to hide itself, to do whatever it can to present its standards and assessments as a simple feature of the world itself. But they’re not. They’re invented, or inherited, and either way they’re open to question. I’m fortunate enough to have people who care for me enough to ask me to look at the truth of my own capacity rather than pushing all the time. And when do I look at myself this way, I see that the standard and what can be done by me in reality are off by a factor of about two.
In other words, I can do about half of what the standards of the critic demand. Half of what I expect to do. Half of what I take to be the barely acceptable minimum.
And seeing this is a huge liberation.
When I tell the truth – I can do half – I free myself to put down an enormous burden of unkindness, and to actually do what I can do. And, in the truthfulness, my actions are so much less constricted, so much more natural, and so much more responsive to what’s around me.
And though I really can do only half, when I’m doing in order to respond to the world rather than to settle an implacable inner task-master, my goodness how much more appropriate and creative is the doing that I get to do.