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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.


“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.


“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.


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.


“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?



A Dog Named Rachel


            Before I was born, my parents had a dog named Rachel. She was a stray they’d picked up along the way, a black dog of unspecific origin. She was old by the time I came around, but there’s a story that when I was six months old, my mom called for “Rachel,” and the dog hobbled over to Mom thinking she was the one being asked for, and I crawled.

            I like my name, it’s a good name. There are a lot of biblical names with negative connotations, but mine is pretty clean and positive. So I should be happy.

            Except, my brother wasn’t named after a family pet.

            My father said the names were a coincidence. I was named after a great grandmother named Rachel, and Rachel dog was maybe named after Rabbi Ralph or one of the rabbits my parents kept in the backyard before I was born.

            There’s a Jewish custom, or superstition, against naming a child after a living relative. I’m sure there’s a long tractate somewhere explaining the reasons, but I remember being told that it was wrong to take a name from someone who was still busy using it. As if you’d steal some of their years along with their name. And Rachel dog was still alive when I stole her name. She didn’t live much longer after that, either.

            I feel like my father was sending me a message by giving me the same name as the family dog. He made a point of not talking about it, just leaving the truth in the background, for me to discover on my own and guess at the significance. It was a message he could hide from the outside world, who would only see the loveliness of the biblical Rachel, and never see the humiliation.

Animal Cops

Sometimes I watch the animal cop shows on Animal Planet. I usually can’t watch a whole episode at once. They intervene in cases of abuse and neglect: a dog left in a yard with a chain embedded in her neck, kittens left under a porch without care, a horse starving in a filed, a duck with a knife wound in its backside.

Watching those shows makes me feel guilty for not wanting to be a veterinarian or animal cop or doggy social worker. And then the guilt expands from neglected and abused dogs to neglected and abused children, until I end up curled in a ball on the floor, feeling useless and awful, and still having no idea what to do.

There used to be a show on TV called Dogtown, about a well funded animal rescue facility in Utah, called Best Friends. They had areas for all kinds of animals, but the show focused on the dogs. They had trainers and groomers and veterinarians on staff, plus volunteers and adoption counselors and caretakers and on and on. It seemed like somewhere I’d want to go myself, to be rewired and retrained and adopted out anew. They also had a policy that any dog who couldn’t find a new home would always have a home with them.

Orphanages would come back into style if they were run half as well and with half as much compassion as Dogtown. And it makes me wonder why we can’t do better for children in foster care, or for dogs across the country who are being put down by well meaning people at understaffed shelters.

It was an aspirational show, but nothing I could imagine living up to myself. After each episode I’d think, maybe I could learn how to train dogs, or join a local rescue operation, or at least foster dogs while they’re waiting for their forever home. But then I’d crumple again, and feel guilty for having only the one dog and not even being able to train HER.

I guess my question is, could the people who create these shows take the next step, the one that allows people like me to step out of the guilt and have a manageable task to do that would actually help. Is there a think tank working on this? How can rescue organizations marshal the millions of pet owners and animal lovers to help, instead of overwhelming us with so much guilt that we can’t think straight or even remain upright?