It’s a little embarrassing to admit the connection I just made about my struggle with perfectionism and being hard on myself. I’ve been praying the past few days for God to help me understand why I struggle to embrace self-compassion. I asked him these questions: How does self-compassion relate to trying to do the right thing? Why does striving to be good often result in being stuck in my head, counting my accomplishments? Why does being hard on myself cause me to be disconnected from my emotions?
It finally occurred to me that it’s my harsh inner critic that doesn’t allow me to express compassion and grace to myself.
My harsh inner critic is sneaky and relentless in its quest to push me beyond reasonable limits. When I’m able to step back and rest in God’s grace, I then see where I’ve arbitrarily bought into the idea that I have to accomplish certain things to… ( I don’t even know what!) – Earn love? Be good? Prove myself?
Last Thursday, I got up ungodly early to fit in a long run before it got too hot. I tried to be present and prayerful on the run, but I was physically exhausted after seven miles. A still, small voice encouraged me to listen to my body and stop running. Probably the Holy Spirit looking out for me. Did I listen? Nope. I pushed myself to run/walk the next three miles because I’d decided somewhere along the way that 10 miles was the minimum for a “long run” and I’d only get up at 4:30 a.m. for a long run.
My harsh inner critic is also a very good rule maker.
The next day was our 16th wedding anniversary! Dennis and I headed out to Los Peñasquitos Canyon for a hike to the waterfall. As I processed this need to push myself to exhaustion and how hard I can be on myself, Dennis wisely commented: “Yeah, like the need to get 10,000 steps in per day.” I sighed and agreed, as I glanced at my watch to see that we’d nearly hit 10,000 steps already, which made 49 days in a row. This streak had been making demands on my time and my family for the past few weeks. Why had I allowed this focus on accomplishment to dictate my behavior?
My harsh inner critic is good at controlling my thoughts and actions.
A cozy, rainy Saturday followed our anniversary. I’d been praying about these insights and decided not to track anything that day. No getting in steps, no tracking my water intake on my watch, none of it. Activities that I enjoy, for their own sake, like running and walking, suddenly become tasks I have to check off my list or things to accomplish in order to feel “good” for the day. Much like posting my long runs on a weekly basis (or even thinking I need to fit in a long run every week!), I miss out on the feeling the experience directly, once I track and quantify my activities.
My harsh inner critic loves to track and measure things.
Through The Happiness Trap, learning the process of defusion was utterly transformative for me. Defusion simply means that you see thoughts as just words in your mind, but not as directives that you have to follow. I’ve been prayerfully practicing defusion the past few days. It’s the only thing that quiets the inner critic because it allows me to see its demands and accusations as something separate from myself. It allows me to get out of my head, because I’m no longer listening to the inner critic’s monologue of shoulds and coulds and ought tos.
My inner critic is good at lots of things, most of which cause me to rely more and more on myself and less and less on Christ. This is the spiritual struggle that Paul refers to in Romans when he says: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2
The renewal of our minds is the process of aligning our minds to God’s will, rather than our own. Quieting my inner critic at least gives me a fighting chance at discerning the will of God.