I’m reading an amazing book by renowned author Martha Beck called Steering by Starlight. It’s about finding the life that’s meant for you and it’s incredibly insightful, I highly recommend it (and all of her books for that matter). In it Martha teaches the most interesting trick to silencing your inner critic and I had to share it with you as I think you might benefit from it as well.
Martha explains the significance of the battle for our brain between the “lizard” and the “wizard”, as she calls them.
The wizard is the part of our brain that sees our endless potential, that knows exactly what our soul wants and is capable of, our purest essence, our childlike enthusiasm and wonder, our wildest unfiltered imagination. Our wizard is our truth, shining brightly as our core, before life came and smacked us around.
The lizard on the other hand is our inner critic. It is the neural structure in our brain that first evolved in reptiles. It literally wraps around our brain stem like a serpent. This part of the brain’s sole function is to trigger survival fears, constantly telling us that we don’t have enough and that we’re in danger.
Back in our caveman days this part of our brain protected us from threats and starvation. But now we use it to control our perspective on so many other areas of life – love, friendship, time, money, occupation, etc.
It’s the voice that constantly tells you to hold on too tight to what little you have, to give up on love because it’s clearly not meant to be for you, to stop looking for supportive friendships because clearly everyone is really just out to hurt you, to not reach for your dreams because you’ll never get them. It causes you to approach life from a starvation, destitute, defensive, attack mode mentality.
We all have this voice screaming over at least one area of our life. It’s the root of all insecurities, jealousies, comparison addictions, love mishaps and career paranoias.
Martha’s technique for taming this beast is to give it a name and identity.
I’ve heard of giving this nagging alter ego a name before but I always brushed it off as somewhat silly. But Martha has shed some serious light on this tactic. She states that you can literally change the structure of your brain by naming your inner critic. In fact, the more clearly you create an image and identity for it the better.
She explains that by calling on your brain to observe this lizard identity you’ve created, “you subtract neural energy from survival fear and move it to a more highly evolved portion of the brain… The neuron pathways that carry lizard fears become weaker the more we observe them. Patients with ‘abnormal’ brains, such as those with obsessive-compulsive disorder, have actually reconfigured their brains to ‘normal’ by using self-observation techniques.”
So if you know you have a battle going on in your brain with the voice that’s constantly telling you you’re not enough, people are out to hurt you, you’ll never be appreciated, you’ll never find love, you’ll never get what you want, etc., stop and identify this voice. Name it, picture it, and observe it.
So many changes have been happening in my life over the last few weeks and I’ve found myself working back in a law firm (I’m an attorney and spent 6 years at a law firm before the economic collapse). It’s a good thing, I hope to write about it more soon. Being back in my power suits I’ve been thinking a lot about the battles I’ve had to win with my own inner critic and I’ve felt such a sense of pride in knowing it didn’t get the best of me.
The battles within often throw the hardest punches.
Learn to love yourself and you will win the war.
I want you to win those battles.
Being that my name is Liz, I’ve decided to just go ahead and call my inner critic, Lizard. I was asked once to write my inner critic a love letter as a healing exercise. I’ve decided to share that with you here. It may seem silly but writing it did prove to be very healing.
I hope my love note helps change the way you speak to yourself when you’re feeling a sense of lack…
My Dearest Lizard,
Thank you. If it weren’t for you, what would I know of inner strength, of perseverance, of overcoming obstacles, of the power of positive thinking and self-love? Would I be able to empathize with others so deeply? Would I long to help others heal so strongly? Would I have truly understood that our greatest battles often lie within and that winning these battles is where true freedom lies?
You’ve played such a prominent role in my self-growth and for too many years I wasted energy hating you, pushing back on you, fighting you, resisting you… which only made you stronger. I see now how exhausting that was for me, for both of us. How unnecessary. My hatred of you merely reflected how much I was listening to your harsh words and how much I was letting you win our inner battle.
You never intended to hurt me, as much as your words did in fact burn. You were simply trying to protect me, from failure, from disappointment, from others, from myself, from life… You were going about it the only way that you knew how; loudly and brashly.
But my dearest critic, you don’t know what I know. You’re buried so deep within that you don’t see anything other than darkness. That’s not your fault. Occupational hazard.
If you could see what I see you would know that there’s so much light and beauty in the world and that in trying to protect me so vigorously, you were actually robbing me of all the world has to offer and of all I have to offer it. And in spending so much time fighting with you and succumbing to your darkness, I was also robbing myself. We were both at fault.
I want you to know that I forgive you and I truly understand why you treated me the way you did for so long. I also want to tell you that I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all the years I spent hating you, resenting you, wishing I could vanish you. Because in hating you I was really only hating myself, which hurt us both.
You are a part of me dearest critic. And to truly love myself, I have to love all of me, the good and the bad, the light and the dark. I don’t get to pick and choose. So, while this has been really hard for me to say, I’m just going to say it, I love you.
I hope you’re not offended that you no longer get quite as much of my attention. I hear you, I really do, but now that I’ve accepted you, your voice is a bit softer, a bit kinder, and a bit less persistent. Were you just looking for a little acceptance all along?
Since deciding to love you, I’ve felt more free, more alive, more bold and more empowered. And you’ve played a big role in that. You seem more comfortable allowing me to shine my unique light. It never occurred to me that all of your yelling and harsh words throughout the years may have just been a cry for help, a longing to be seen, to be loved.
Well, I see you. We don’t need to battle so relentlessly for me to remember that you’re there. You will always be a part of me. I’m just so glad that we’ve learned to respect each other more and set some boundaries. I know we’ll still fight sometimes, but I’ve accepted that too so even our fights don’t seem as overwhelming.
You’ve taught me so many important lessons about myself, about life, about love, about self-worth, and for that I am truly grateful. For in your harsh dealings with me you deepened my soul and gave me insight into the complexity of humanity. In “seeing” you, you’ve truly helped me to see into others. I often wonder if I’d have any of the gifts I have if it weren’t for you.
So hopefully we have no hard feelings and we can go forward together in harmony. Here’s to our future together, one of peace, acceptance, respect and understanding, with the occasional rough and tumble.
Thank you, for everything.
We all have inner critics. They put us down, sabotage us, and block us from achieving our potential, if we let them. But in resisting them too strongly, we often just fuel them on.
So once you give yours an identity instead of fighting with it and hating it (because that really just means you’re hating a part of yourself), I challenge you to make peace with it. Stop focusing on the ways that dark voice inside your head has held you back and instead think of all the ways it has actually helped you to grow as a person.
Identify your inner critic and accept it. In the process you’ll change your brain and change your life.
In what ways has your own inner critic held you back? Can you make peace with it?