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My Inner Critics

 

I have a lot of internal critics, and they are loud. Some of the internal noise is just me disagreeing with myself about what I should be doing at any given time, but the critics are distinct and somewhat separate from “the real me.” The three most obvious voices are the snake, the crow, and the mouse.

The snake tells me that I am evil, and the cause of all evil, and that everything I do is suspect, and nothing I do is on the level or even passably okay. The snake isn’t some common garden snake, or even an eight-foot python or a boa constrictor. This snake is more like the Basilisk in Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets. It is huge, and deadly, and I can’t get rid of it.

Basilisk face

(not my picture)

The crow, on the other hand, is more like an obnoxious teenager. He tells me that I am a drama queen, and always exaggerating and being melodramatic. The crow minimizes my pain and my achievements, and tells me that I’m annoying and overbearing, and mostly tells me to get over myself, the way my brother used to do. This voice is almost impossible to argue against, because it sounds so true to me, which leaves me feeling hopeless and helpless and unimportant.

Then there’s the mouse. She isn’t so much a critic as a misguided ally. The mouse tells me to make myself small, and to hide, because that’s the only way to be safe. She tells me that I shouldn’t be so open or so loud or so visible, not because I’m doing something wrong but because it will bring danger to both of us. The mouse also doubts my chances for success or support out in the world, because she doesn’t trust the world to be a safe place.

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“You don’t mean me, right? ‘Cause, I’m not a mouse.”

There’s a theory in mental health circles that even your introjects (the critics, “old tapes,” or voices of your earliest relationships that live on in your mind) always have your best interests at heart, at least from their own points of view. And the crow and the mouse fit within that description; they both think they are right about how the world will treat me if I act in certain ways, and they mean well. They are, really, giving me their version of the best possible advice.

067

“I always give you the best advice, and you never take it.”

But the snake is different. The snake has no interest in what’s best for me. The snake is only interested in the snake, and in creating pain and destruction. So maybe what the mental health community is forgetting is that if you have been abused as a child, by someone very close to you who actively meant you harm, then you will have an introject that means to abuse you continually. For some reason, despite the presence of evil in so many people’s lives, the mental health community prefers to believe that most people don’t experience evil. I don’t know why they believe something that is so patently untrue.

The snake is my version of “fake news,” and its message is broadcast at me twenty-four hours a day. I make the best possible arguments against the fake news, collecting my facts and logic and arguing fiercely, but it’s exhausting. And sometimes, after the crow and the mouse have worn me out with their warnings of danger, I don’t have the energy to fight off the fake news, and the snake takes that moment to shoot venom through my entire body and mind.

I wonder what Ellie would think if she could hear what the snake says to me every day. She’d probably cover her ears with her paws and hide in her bed. Cricket would growl and bark and threaten bodily harm. Which is why I’m grateful that the snake stays inside my head, and not outside. If I can’t protect myself, at least I can protect my puppies.

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I keep trying to create safe containers for each of the introjected critics; to gently remind them that they are relics of the past and not needed in the present moment. But they keep coming back, louder, more articulate, and more convinced of their own beliefs. That’s not what I was told to expect. I was told that therapy would help me to at least mute the critics. I was told that I could, over time, rewire my brain to work around the old messages. Instead, I’ve found that while I can add more than I ever thought possible to my brain: new information, new pathways, new connections, I can’t remove anything. I don’t have a knife sharp enough to accomplish that task. Or a medication either.

Cricket is my most consistent external critic. She lets me know, right away, when my behavior is not up to her standards: when I’ve slept too late, spent too much time at the computer, eaten too much of my own dinner, etc. But it’s easier to recognize her self-interest when she criticizes me, than to recognize it in the introjected critics, because Cricket is physically separate and not inside my head (though she’d really like to have the technology to make that possible). There’s something about hearing messages about all of your flaws and mistakes broadcast in your own voice, inside of your own head, that makes them harder to push away.

030

“You make me sound awesome!!!!”

But every once in a while, I remember the Wizard of Oz, and how the Great Oz was really a little, ordinary man behind a curtain. And I think, maybe that snake is just an illusion; powerful and effective, but an illusion just the same.

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

 

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

108 responses »

  1. I’m so sorry the snake is at you 24 hours a day.

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  2. I loved this. If we’re honest most if not all of us have these voices in some form.

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  3. Sometimes you have to channel your inner Tom Cruise and just say: “What the f**k.” Let that snake know who’s the boss, Rachel. Cricket will back you up, I am sure.

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  4. I connected with this part, Rachel.
    “old tapes,” or voices of your earliest relationships that live on in your mind) always have your best interests at heart, at least from their own points of view.’
    I get that all the time, and I think they are telling me to never make the same mistakes again.

    As for Ollie, he doesn’t criticise me at all. He thinks I’m his entire world.

    Best wishes, Pete.

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  5. Beautifully written and honest words of inner workings of the mind. Thank you Rachel. Blessings.

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  6. Sending wishes that you can banish that snake, once and for all….

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  7. What if when the snake shows up you do something different? Visualize a mongoose who loves you and is loyal to you. Watch as the mongoose acts as your defender and chases off the snake. I know it sounds silly, but it interrupts the process that leads to the self-defeating thoughts. Here’s a nice mongoose. https://www.wormsandgermsblog.com/files/2017/01/Yellow-mongoose.jpg

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  8. I was listening to Linda Rondstat singing Silver Threads and Golden Needles cannot mend this heart of mine when I read your post just now. Strangely appropriate, I thought.
    A friend of mine went to see Oprah in Charlotte, NC a couple of weeks ago. She participated in one of Oprah’s workshops. Oprah had some advice for her attendees that I’ve tried to mull over: Try to remember that whatever bad happened to you took place in 1802 – so no longer relevant. I’ve taken that advice out for a test drive in one of my life’s most difficult memories.
    I would grade it a B+ so far.

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  9. I’m sending you a mongoose to tackle the snake. Stay strong.

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  10. If only we could banish the snakes in our lives. I have heard SARK speak about sending our inner critics on a job across the state or the planet to do a job that will take them a very long time giving us some respite. Good luck banishing the snake.

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  11. Interesting the snake is it, crow is he and mouse is she. They are as powerful or as insignificant as you choose to allow. It’s true. Whose head is it, after all? Don’t let them live there. Easy to say I guess. Throw Bible verses at them. They especially hate Psalms and Proverbs.

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  12. Fascinating and moving description.

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  13. I’m married so I have an external critic. Hahaha that could really get me in trouble. Actually. I have lots of external critics. Too bad they are all wrong. 🤪

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  14. I hesitate to give any advice, because, for one reason, what do I know, but have you ever done any cognitive therapy? It involves talking back to these internal critics, because what they tell you always involves distortions. For example, “you are evil” well, what do you mean by evil? Something that will actually hurt someone else or just against some rule you set up? There are better examples than that. I like that you have separated and characterized your voices, but I hope you will eventually be able to stop listenin8ng to them.

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  15. Oh yes. I know exactly what you’re talking about.

    In 2017 I had about 30 Neurofeedback treatments for my PTSD. The NFT has made a huge difference in my inner life, as well as in my ability to function. If you decide to try it, make sure you get someone who is licensed and experienced, and check their reputation and credentials.

    My daughter is a therapist and has recently become licensed in Neurofeedback, and also in EMDR. But she lives in Washington state. She had Neurofeedback done on herself first, and it helped her a lot, too.

    Dogs are great therapy, too. 😀

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  16. I am constantly hearing my own zoo in my head. And there are days when I want to BE a mouse and scurry away to a dark place but then I am my own dark place. You know? Thank you for writing this. It made a connection.

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  17. One of the most poignant descriptions of dealing with one’s inner voices I’ve read in a long time. I wish we could simply say, “Blah, blah, blah…” and be done with them. If not, though, then I like the idea of following Cricket’s example: bark and growl at them to make them go away!

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  18. I try to live the way dogs live – “if it isn’t happening right now, it isn’t happening.” I’m sorry this happened to you. I want to throttle the person who hurt you so badly.
    I’ve read your book, and it’s amazing. Do you think you could make the snake a character in a novel and defeat it that way?

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  19. I relate to this post on so many levels!! You are definitely not alone.

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  20. I agree with what suziecreamcheese said. Make the snake a character in a novel and defeat it. #Banish the snake.

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  21. Your inner critics should sit down w/ mine sometime (LOL). By the way, I hope your book is doing well. ❤

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  22. I hope you find a way to defeat that snake Rachel. You are strong.

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  23. I love your thoughts Rachel 🙂

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  24. Well written and thought provoking. We therapists out here try very hard in different ways to help banish those snakes especially. New therapy called Advanced Resolution Therapy is supposed to be a “cure all” for trauma. I find that age has stopped some of my inner critics. May god bless you and give you peace and comfort. Enjoy your puppies!

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  25. ALL of your posts make me think. I don’t comment often, but I’m always glad I stumbled across your blog. Thank you for opening yourself to your readers.

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  26. Such an interesting read and a very meaningful description of what it’s like to live with these different voices. I agree with you that the snake is evil and has no interest in what’s good for you. And how insightful to describe his judgments and accusations as fake news 🙂

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  27. Dealing with those inner critics is a lifelong process. I do feel that the older I get, the more I am able to let go of those voices. However, every once in awhile they come back to haunt me and make me work on finding myself once again. :). Thank you for your thoughtful post. 🙂

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  28. I am truly sorry that ‘they’ (the mental health professionals) haven’t been able to give you the proper tools to mute that negative self talk (the snake). What a very powerful image btw…

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  29. As Melanie says, powerful images.
    Encourage the crow to turn on the snake and warn him off Rachel.
    Your furbabies love you and will defend you.

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  30. I think we all have our snakes. Learning how to cut off their heads is the trick.

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  31. I never thought that the old critics left when we made new pathways. I just hoped, and it seems to often be true,that they are quieter. May your snake shrivel and shrink.

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  32. Wow what a raw account of your internal struggles. Rachel I sincerely wish you some joy and happy mental health.

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  33. Wonderful read, Rachel. And I love the comments.

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  34. Hmmm. When it’s just internal criticism and not guilt for an actual wrongdoing, I’m inclined to suspect the Adversary, the Accuser. He is real — and he lies. Blessings, Rachel!

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  35. Rachel, your words touch me in a way that is hard to explain, except that we understand each other in a way that–hopefully–few people can. After all, this is not a state of being that I would wish on anyone.
    I have told my psychiatrist many times that the medication gives me control, but it cannot change the truth. The truth of my inadequacies, my flaws, my deficiencies–and the voice of the demon who comes to remind me of them whenever I dare to feel good about myself.
    But I do not want to leave so negative a thought with you, so let me offer this. Cricket and Ellie love you, and the value their affection cannot be minimized. Trust that they are a much better judge of your character than you are yourself.
    Best, Beth

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    • Thank you! I wish the psychiatrists and psychologists and social workers could hear and accept the complicated truths about trauma recovery. Just because the insurance industry prefers short term, simplistic answers doesn’t mean those answers are adequate.

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  36. Continue to love your work, Rachel. And thank you for loving mine.

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  37. Your dogs are so cute, Rachel. I just found your blog after all this time!

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  38. I do believe we all have inner critics that can taunt us endlessly. But I also believe that filling your life and mind with the voice of truth and people who love and support you can gradually tone down the voices….like a dimmer switch; until you eventually are able to sort truth from lies. There’s an old saying, “You can’t keep the birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” The bible says it like this: Take every thought captive. Your dogs love and trust you you so that means you are lovely and trustworthy. Blessings.

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  39. An amazing text as always Rachel, those little babies make my day as well!

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  40. Oh, Rachel, you say things so well!

    I think you are absolutely right about the mental health community and the experience of evil. I have an analogue to your snake; I call him the Judge, and he’s only satisfied when I’m terrified. For many years now I have cataloged the inhabitants of my psyche, which I visualize as a rickety school bus. If I let The Judge drive the bus, he will terrorize everyone, especially the Kid, who is my earliest, purest self.

    I have someone I think of as the Index Card Lady, who organizes everything and tries to contain the Judge by controlling as many variables in life as possible. If I keep her busy with good work, then she is actually quite helpful, but if she gets over-excited, then suddenly I wind up with a schedule for vacuuming the attic (true story) and I drive everyone around me crazy with my compulsive behavior. The trick seems to give her specific tasks that keep her from improvising.

    I met Ms. Justice (who is the Judge’s great enemy) in a dream. She also wears a black robe but she stands for justice and she defends the weak (aka, the Kid.) She is tall and beautiful and has red curly hair. I’ve had to grow her, over the years, and it’s been a long slow process.

    When the Judge starts in on the Kid, I imagine Ms. Justice tossing him off the bus. Ms. Justice does not tolerate the Judge’s evil doings, and makes no excuses for him; she throws him out into the dirt, and we all watch him roll and bounce into the ditch by the road. Eventually he comes back – I can’t seem to get entirely clear of him – but the visualization helps me remember that he is not omnipotent.

    I recently went off antidepressants and have been battling these battles much more fiercely than in a long time. Thank you for the validation that for some of us, the Evil never entirely recedes, but has to be fought anew every day. At least we aren’t alone.

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  41. Good read. Thanks for passing by.

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  42. Hearing these inner critics as distinct voices with personalities feels so new to me. Mine talks, undermines my resolve, makes me feel bad … But I kind of know it’s me talking to myself. I wonder whether inner critics that are evil could be combatted by inner voices that are good and supportive and kind. You have really made me think more about my own situation by sharing yours. Maybe that’s a little solipsistic but … Thank you! Your little companions are a blessing and a comfort. Such sweet faces would cheer anyone up.

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  43. Another fascinating read which hits close to home – especially those pesky inner critics! Interestingly the snake is also associated with healing, that’s why it’s a symbol of the medical profession. Could your evil snake have a hidden agenda?

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  44. Love the puppies’ input!

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  45. This post certainly resonated with me!
    Like you, on top of my own, useful, internal monologue, I have other ‘voices’ which are critical and discouraging.
    I’ve never tried – or even thought of trying – to distinguish between the different voices. I think sorting the messages into Crow, Mouse and Snake will be very useful to me.
    So glad I read this post!

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  46. Such powerful analogies! I hope you can vanquish the snake’s messages. I certainly identify with voices from crows and mice. You are a gifted writer, Rachel!

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  47. These voices, these damn voices. Know what I started doing this year and am still doing it is when the voices start I visualise them as an object and shut down the internal conversation before it can even get started. I close a door in their face with a stern ‘not today thank you’ or imagine them as a cricket ball which I knock out the stadium for a 6 or as a piece of rubbish which I thrown in the bin and say ‘this year I’m just not going there’ and see the litter drop in the bin with all the other garbage and see myself walking away leaving the bin far behind. Not always easy but I will NOT let them get to me this year. I absolutely refuse, I would rather make mistakes and learn from them than be too scared to say yes to opportunities because I thought I would fail. Visualise the dogs making a wee on your animals, they look pretty scary woofers who would protect you matter what. Good luck – now go smash that snake for a 6.

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    • Ha! That’s awesome! I had a tennis coach when I was a teenager who told us to picture an enemy’s face on the ball and then smack the hell out of it. I ruined my shoulder but I really hit that ball!

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  48. Brilliantly written. Having been repeatedly raped by my father and him having made me pregnant and forced me into having two abortions, I relate to this and to your voices. The snake is both real and not real, but you have the power to slay it. I can’t tell you how to shut all your critics in the past and leave them there, I can only tell you that I did it through the power of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit coming to live inside me and be my voice. The Bible calls satan the father of lies; he came to heal, steal, and destroy. Jesus won the victory over him on the cross when he rose from the dead and defeated death and the power of the devil. It’s the enemy’s voice trying to drag you back into the past. He is both illusion and real, but you can have power over him. Good for Cricket! She is remarkable and loves you unconditionally. Everyone should have a Cricket in their lives. I’m so glad you do. God bless you.

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  49. Rachel: Continue your moving work with the same conviction you’ve shown above. Thanks for your continuing interest in Elm Drive Images.

    Reply

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