I was talking with a therapist friend today about our personal relationships with authority. We were sharing that, as therapists, we have a particular authority that we as non-therapists might also rail against. As therapists, we have authority in the room. Whether we like it or not, there is often a power differential in the clinical hour. But that authority does not have to be a toxic one, and in fact, can become the very container in which to support profound transformation and growth. Here’s how I think that can happen.Read More
Courage and fear are awkward teenagers at a school dance. When fear steps on courage's toes, courage tends to banish fear to the sidelines with the wallflower, declaring that just messes everything up and should just be ignored and pushed aside.
That might work for a while, until fear takes on a Carrie-type rage, setting fire to prom night.
Fear is a powerful emotion, sometimes more powerful than courage. Embracing your fears can help you step into the most frightening aspects of your life, especially as you get to know yourself on a deeper level. Here's a piece I wrote recently for Psyched in San Francisco, riffing off the Georgia O'Keeffe quotation: “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life, and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”Read More
If you are one of the tens of millions of people who experience clinical depression or bipolar disorder, you probably know what it’s like to feel shitty about yourself, irritable about interactions with others, afraid of what people might think about you, and hopeless about being able to do anything about it. You might also feel angry and frustrated – maybe even a sense of being trapped inside your feelings, with no way out. Suddenly, what was pleasurable feels prickly, and people you may have felt connected to feel distant and irritating, like they “just don’t get you.” Maybe this leads to you wanting to retreat, to isolate, to push people away.
These are extremely hard feelings to bear alone, and yet that’s what depression encourages from you: to break healing connection because you feel, on some level, already disconnected and overwhelmed.
If you take pause in your feelings, either while they’re happening or soon thereafter, you may find you’ve been feeling this way for much of your life—perhaps not in any way you could name, exactly, and maybe you feel this way intermittently—but it’s as familiar to you as it is unfamiliar to people who do not have bipolar disorder or clinical depression. There’s no such thing as “normal,” but there are ways you can manage your depression and negotiate its “hooks” in you. Although the feeling is pervasive and often overwhelming, and it colors the way you see yourself and the world around you, it is possible to get to know it, and give yourself and these feelings the attention you both need.
Go into the feeling, and find where it resonates in your body. Spend some time with this exercise when you feel the irritability and sadness coming on:
1. Lie on your back in a quiet spot, and allow your breathing to settle however it wants to. Find the places your breath settles in your body; notice your chest rise, notice your shoulders, notice the muscles in your face and neck. Just notice, don’t try to change. 2. Allow your breath to explore your body, and notice what it finds. Breathe into different parts of your body: Your chest, your shoulders, your belly, your arms and fingertips, your hips, your back, and with each breath allow an exploration of tightness and resistance to happen. 3. When you find places that feel tight, achey, itchy, or uncomfortable, allow your breath to reach in and touch the tightness; on the out-breath, allow your body to let go. We’re not trying to “get rid” of the tightness or pain, just trying to make room to connect to it. You may spend a few breaths on the tighter parts of your body. 4. When you find these tight or resistant areas, in between your in-breath and out-breath, ask them: What do you need right now? 5. Then ask, How can I help you? 6. It may take some time, and quite a few breaths, to sit with the spots you discover and ask these questions. Just allow your breath to move, notice your pain and tightness, and ask for permission to know it. 7. When you are ready, slowly allow some movement back into your body and allow yourself to come back into the room.
When your awareness and attention have come back into the room, I encourage you to write down any sensation and any feelings you may have. Don’t worry about censoring yourself, just write.
This can be a very evocative exercise for people, and you may find a range of feelings. You may also find that nothing happens, which can also be evocative for some of us. If that’s the case, I encourage you to meditate on the “nothing,” because there is information there, too. Sometimes, “nothing” is a way to protect you from a deep sadness or trauma. Processing this experience in therapy can sometimes feel safer than doing it on your own, so I encourage you to bring your feelings about this exercise to your therapist, who can help you sit with things that might feel uncomfortable to do on your own.
For more information about depression or bipolar disorder, and to find community who shares these or similar experiences, take a look at The Neurodiversity Paradigm and The Icarus Project. This post is not meant to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease. To begin therapy with a licensed professional with expertise in many types of mood disorders, give me a call at 510-594-4035 for a free phone consultation. I can point you toward resources that can be helpful to you in this process. It may take at least 24 hours for me to respond to your call, so if you or your loved one are suicidal or in crisis, take it seriously and call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room immediately. If you or your loved one are contemplating suicide, go to http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with someone 24 hours a day.
I provide therapy in Berkeley, CA to individuals looking to delve into old patterns, explore overwhelming emotions, and find room for self-love and self-care amidst a harsh and unforgiving inner critic.
To cite this page: Merson, M. (2014) Getting to Know the Harder Feelings of Depression and Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved month/day/year from http://mollymerson.com/2014/07/26/getting-to-know-the-harder-feelings/
When Your Protection Becomes Your Prison: Understanding Your Inner Critic You know those harsh, penetrating thoughts you have-- the ones that haunt you, even when you do something you love? The thoughts that tell you you’re not good enough, that you should “shut up” and “stop thinking you’re all that”, that try to beat you into submission? Yeah, those thoughts. The ones that hurt.
What if I told you those thoughts were actually there to help you?
Let’s consider for a moment that you are a child, and you’re doing something that feels fun. You’re feeling safe, so you play. You’re in “the flow.” Suddenly, someone shouts at you: “Stop doing that!” and takes away the rusty nail you’re about to put down your gullet.
Now, that voice is in you, reminding you: "Don’t eat the rusty nail!" That’s good, right? But it feels scary to be shocked out of that "flow". Let’s say you didn’t have someone there to tell you that you’re going to be ok. We could even go so far as to say, what if the person chided you, or shamed you for wanting to explore the world around you?
Now, that voice has a chance to grow bigger. It grows louder. It makes you wonder: Well, when I was feeling safe and playing, I learned I was bad. Maybe I shouldn’t let my guard down like that.
That harsh inner critic used to be a voice outside of you, but now it's lodged itself inside of you. It's your armor and your guard, after all.
And then, sometime, when you’re feeling safe, and feeling in “the flow”, and you start to let your guard down, the voice that's now deep inside you says, “DON’T!” And you are brought right back in to an anxious, guarded, vigilant place. You might even start feeling really badly about yourself.
You might start to feel like everything you’re curious about is actually bad for you.
But even though your inner critic might be really loud sometimes, you do have inner resources that can help you. Those resources are intertwined with understanding, and offering kindness and relaxation to, that the harsh, overprotective, and now harmful voice. We can find ways to lessen the harshness and add kindness by getting to know what feels scary, overwhelming, and challenging to you.
We all need validation of the parts of us that soar, and because the harsh critical voice often feels like the “true” voice, it can be easier to find yourself in situations where the criticisms are echoed in the people around you. It can also feel very difficult to accept the warm, kind voices, since they can actually have the opposite effect and make the inner critic louder.
What ways have you found to still the inner critic, for even just a moment?
Sometimes, that critic can feel so powerful that the only thing we can do is distract from it. Watching TV, cleaning the bathroom, going for a run, taking a nap—these are all ways we can distract ourselves from perseverating on the harsh inner landscape. Try to notice this process of distracting yourself from the fearful feelings so that you can make it to the other side. If you can spend just a few seconds identifying that that’s what you’re doing, then you’ve begun to offer some space to breathe and begin to allow yourself the option to feel just a little bit differently.
These moments you offer yourself are an important reminder that what you do best is survive. Sometimes, your survival skills can become restrictive and unhelpful, which can perpetrate more criticism and despondency. It is crucial at these times that you remind yourself, however you need to-- post it notes, a loved one, a video of yourself, or a snap of a rubberband on the wrist-- that there is more to your life than just this feeling, and that this feeling thinks it’s doing its job by protecting you. This feeling doesn’t quite get, yet, that it’s hurting you more than it is doing good for you.
But maybe it can learn, with kindness and time, to trust itself again. And, instead of protecting you, maybe together you both will learn that you deserve to explore, to discover what’s thrilling to you, to try on new things, and to take risks in places that could be healing and delicious for you.
Maybe, paying attention to this harsh, critical part of you will be just the thing to help you unlock what is healing, soothing, and reparative for you. Paying attention to the painful stuff may just be the way to open up new possibilities for you of how you relate to yourself and your world.
For more on letting go and noticing your patterns, I recommend listening to any of Pema Chödrön’s talks, which can be found on the Shambhala Press website. If you are interested in contacting your difficult feelings and attending to your inner critic, I encourage you to call me at 510-594-4035 to talk about how therapy with me could help you understand and work with some of the harshness of your protective self. I provide depth psychotherapy in Berkeley, CA. This piece is not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure any disease, and is not intended to provide psychotherapeutic treatment to anyone who reads or interacts with it.
To cite this page: Merson, M. (2014) When Your Protection Becomes Your Prison: Understanding Your Inner Critic. Retrieved month/day/year from http://mollymerson.com/2014/04/23/understanding-your-inner-critic/