The Power of Self-Forgiveness
Taming your inner critic is a process. It’s helpful to identity when, where, and why you started internalizing self defeating thoughts like “I’m not smart enough, not good enough,” and the like. As I excavated my past, what I discovered was that many of the negative messages I replay in my head came from my childhood and my teenager years.
The feeling of not being good enough started when I was seven years old. I went to a Catholic school and I was terrified that they were going to kick me out because I couldn’t read very well. I didn’t know back then, but I have dyslexia. It runs in my family. That said, school was really hard for me. Think about it; kids go to school to learn to read so they can read to learn. It sounds simple right, but not if you have a reading disability like dyslexia.
I was an anxious mess. Imagine going to work every day and your boss demands that you do something that you just can’t do very well. Now imagine getting up in front of your peers and doing that task that is so difficult that you are embarrassed to attempt it in front of others. Trust me you would be completely stressed out.
My self-concept took a beating. I thought I was stupid because I couldn’t read like everyone else. I became the class-clown hoping to distract people from noticing my feelings of inferiority. Deep down to my core, I thought there was something wrong with me. Although there was a lot of love in my family, I endured constant criticism and my emotional life felt confusing and chaotic. When I made mistakes my dad would frequently scream “Michele WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?” And there you have it; my fears were confirmed in that moment. There is something wrong with me, which validated why I didn’t feel good enough, because I’m not.
I share my story to give an example, of when, where, how, and why we can internalize damaging messages that create all sorts of problems in our lives. The great news is that we can reprogram our mind just like uploading a new app. Taming our inner critic might not be as instantaneous as uploading an app but changing our self talk is totally possible. I have worked hard with various helping professionals to dismantle my own damaging tapes.
Recently, I was working with my coach regarding some inner critic issues and she had me do a homework assignment that was really powerful. She asked me to write a forgiveness letter to my thirteen-year-old self. That is the year I started drinking alcohol--when I started detaching from my true self. My goal was to acknowledge and validate what I experienced as a teenager and to tell her what I wished someone would have loving said to me when I needed the guidance and reassurance but didn’t get it. After I wrote my letter, I shared it with my coach. It was a powerful self-forgiveness process that helped quiet my inner critic just that much more.
Here is my letter:
I know you feel like you are not good enough. I realize you are confused, scared, and unsure of where you fit in the world. Drinking and smoking pot makes you feel like you are part of the cool crowd in the moment, but I know how uncomfortable you still feel as you take that hit and/or sip waiting for the effect to kick in. When you are loaded, you forget how uncomfortable you feel in your skin, but when the high wears off, you are left of an even greater feeling of not being enough because you know escaping through drugs is only hurting you and pulling you away from your talents and true potential. You do things when you’re loaded to get attention in hopes that you will be liked and popular. Fitting in is a lonely and empty existence because you are always at the mercy of what other people think. I see how exhausted you are trying to be what everyone wants as you get farther away from knowing and honoring your own needs.
I know that Dad infuriates you when he yells, criticizes and calls you names. You act tough, scream back, and return equally damaging verbal attacks. Please know you are worthy of redemption and trust that you were doing the best you can with the resources you have at thirteen.
I know you struggle with confidence and self esteem. You are amazing and beautiful the way you are. Stop comparing yourself to other girls. Everyone is unique and your job is to embrace you, who you are, and to share the gifts that you have, not to be consumed with others’ appearances and achievements.
You are a warrior Shelly but it is important to take off your armor, and get in touch with what is really going on inside. It is true that you are vulnerable without your armor, but it is worth it to be exposed to the truth that is inside you, which can only be revealed when we put down the sword, lay down the shield and stop fighting long enough to get real, feel and heal. Now it’s time for you to forgive yourself. Forgiveness is a necessary step to healing the past and an imperative part of integrating all that you are and all that you have experienced. Forgiveness leads to self-compassion and self-love.
I love you very much Shelly. You are worthy of love and forgiveness and remember you are more than enough—always have been, always will be.
What does your inner critic tell you? What forgiveness letters might you write? What results do you hope will come from writing your letter of forgiveness?
For more information about how personal development coaching can help tame your inner critic visit my website www.michelewaterman.com.