My Critical & Compassionate Inner Voices

I have two voices, two forces, inside my head.

One is harsh, critical, shaming, and angry. Yells at me when I can’t get my words right in social situations or when I don’t speak up for myself.

Calls me stupid, inadequate, weak, pathetic, ridiculous.

Tells me I’m both too much and not enough. Tells me what I want doesn’t matter.

Says I’m a burden and inconvenience. Tells me I’m too emotional and get worked up over stupid shit and tells me I talk too much about nothing.

Chastises me for worrying so much. Tells me I think too much but also wonders why I don’t think things through sometimes and I make an ass of myself.

Says I ask the dumbest goddamn questions about shit I could’ve figured out for myself if I’d just use my brain.

Calls me lazy and childish.

Glares at my body where it’s lumpy and droopy and directs my hands to scoop up the extra skin on my belly and thighs and dares me to come up with a reason my husband could actually find me attractive and sexy.

Yells at me for still not being thin, for not learning how to wear makeup and dress better.

Sends my eyes rolling when I think about how I’m nearly 35 and don’t really feel like I know what I’m doing with my life and college degree.

Declares I can’t trust anyone, that my words and feelings will eventually be used against me, but it’s not like anyone really wants to listen to me anyway because I’m so boring and my life is so uninteresting.

Often talks me out of doing anything that would make my life more interesting with a litany of tired excuses.

Criticizes my writing skills and singing voice and tells me both are mediocre and no one needs to see or hear either and won’t let me just enjoy doing both for the sheer love of them.

Is insanely overprotective, like no one can bully me but me. It reminds me of how I once beat up a boy who bullied my brother Adam when we were kids but I also bullied Adam. Like no one’s going to push my little brother around but me.

Calls me egocentric, narcissistic, self-absorbed, selfish, and a sensitive little bitch.

This voice is a blend of both my Mama and Daddy. It’s funny. Each tells me I’m like the other but as much as they’d hate to hear it, they’re a lot alike and that’s why they should’ve never been married or at least not as long as they were.

The other voice/force in my head is tender. Coddles me. Says, “Oh well” and “Whatever,” and my shoulders respond with a shrug. Makes jokes to blunt the pain caused by the more critical voice.

Is more hopeful and compassionate. Tells me we’ll do better tomorrow.

Acknowledges that the critical voice is present because it was once so necessary even if it hasn’t always protected me in the most functional, healthy way.

Tells me it’s okay I didn’t exercise today and I can eat ice cream or a cookie just this one time (though it assuages my craving again the next day or an hour later).

It is also protective of me. Supports and encourages my ideas. Helps me build my case when I need to defend myself and others.

Helps me see the good in my struggles. Is empathetic and also sharply funny.

Reminds me that I have been through a lot of shit and I’m one tough bitch.

This voice belongs to my maternal grandmother June whom I bonded with immediately and who was more my mother for the first 23 years of my life than my mother was capable of being. She was my #1 fan, best friend, and fiercest defender.

She was so often my shelter in the storm of everything going on with my parents. With her, I felt loved, adored, wanted, and seen. She was sharp, smart, and tough. She carried so much hurt and sadness that she wouldn’t let me see past the surface of, but she did everything she could to show me she was there for me.

I was often so mean to her when I was a teenager, and in my early twenties, not long before she died, I told her I was so sorry for the way I talked to her and disregarded her. She said, “It never bothered me. I knew you were hurting and angry and didn’t mean it.”

The critical voice hasn’t been all bad for me. I’ve needed it in a lot of ways. It’s like how anger has a purpose and the emotion itself isn’t wrong; it’s how we respond to it and utilize it. Same thing with the critical messages I receive.

It’s made me acutely, painfully self-aware, yes, but also introspective, empathetic, and has held me accountable for my actions.

It has pushed me to be brave and take risks even though I hate not knowing what’s ahead.

It reminds me of the person I don’t know want to be and the life I don’t want to live. It shows me how I don’t expect to be treated by others.

No one is allowed to be as cruel to me as I can often be to myself.

And damn, the critical voice can make some dark but hilarious jokes. John loves when I take a shitty situation and make one sarcastic joke after another about it.

That voice has helped me write a plethora of poems and song lyrics and has made my characters way more realistic in the short stories and the 5 or so unfinished novels I’ve started in the past decade.

It’s given me a great instinct and taught me to easily read most people and determine whether I can open up to them and to what extent.

It makes me brutally honest but also demands I apologize when I go too far in anger towards someone I love. Like John joked once, “You’re not a horrible person but you’re also not someone I’d recommend to talk someone off a ledge.”

It remembers fucking everything, which is both a blessing and a curse.

Like my parents, it loves me and wants me to be successful and happy but it doesn’t always know the best and healthiest way to express this.

The more compassionate voice means well and wants me to relax and take care of myself, but it also often coddles and enables me. Leads me to procrastinate.

How many times have I said, “I’ll start eating better and exercising on Monday?” then convinced myself it’s okay to binge on sweets and barely get off the couch all weekend?

How often have I allowed it to victimize me?

To feel sorry for myself and waddle in my sorrows?

It has thrown me one pity party after another throughout my life and told me it’s okay to buy stuff I can’t really afford and don’t need because I need the comfort of whatever it is and ’cause, YOLO.

It’s like my senior summer semester in college when June told me if I’d go to class and get my GPA back up to at least a 3.0, she’d take me to Destin, Florida, our favorite beach town, as a reward.

I failed my Tuesday/Thursday aerobics class while passing my Monday/Wednesday/Friday one (or vice versa, I don’t remember) because I didn’t go to class and my GPA was probably around 2.5; June took me to the beach anyway because she said I needed it.

The critical voice wants me to have a meaningful life and be a meaningful person but has a difficult way of showing it.

The compassionate voice wants me to have an easy, indulgent life.

Both tell me I need to fucking relax but they are at odds as to how I should do this and for how long.

I have two sides to the story of my own life.

A side that wants to be angry, critical, mean, and afraid to ever be satisfied and see everything through the inadequacy lenses and a side that wants to be told what to do so I don’t have to figure it out for myself.

Both desperately want affirmation, validation, affection, and to be fiercely loved and aren’t sure exactly how to make this happen or how to accept it when it does.

Part of me wants to write out my stories as a victim of my circumstances and another part wants to skim through them and wrap them up with some sort of lesson I’ve learned and to ride off into this happy sunset with them.

I think it’s okay to admit I have been a victim. There is a lot of life that has happened to me that I did not ask for and that deeply wounded me.

But it’s also okay to look for the lessons and show what has also happened for me.

It’s all about balance. Digging through the shit and finding the gold. Listening to both voices but being mindful of what I hear and where it is coming from.

There’s no “you vs. me” here. It’s a collaboration, not a competition. Oh fuck, here I go trying to put a pretty bow on and end this rambling post on a hopeful note, haha.

Welcome to the inside of my head.

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