Finding Compassion for the Inner Critic
“…We move toward gaining authenticity and coherence between our world view and how we live. We begin to see connections among all of the aspects of our lives and move toward integrity.”
~Bobbi Harro, The Cycle of Liberation
Over the past year, I’ve gained some weight. Big deal. But I notice I’m feeling less sociable. I alternate between making plans and hibernating, doing a lot of busy work around my house to justify hiding from the world. I avoid meeting with friends, go days without showering, or I brush my teeth while I sit on the bed so that I don’t have to stand in front of the bathroom mirror. Most disturbing, I continue to eat even more, throwing caution to the wind. I daily indulge gummy candy cravings and ignore the veggies in the produce bin.
What the hell, right? Some cosmic scale tips back and forth; as my body image declines, my weight increases.
The waistband of my jeans feels tight and this triggers an uncomfortable tightness in my heart and solar plexus as I compare myself to my mother. Slender and always carefully groomed, her lips forming the word “fat,” one of the worst judgements of my conditioned mind: fallen from grace. That dependable, critical inner voice is an insistent and superior saboteur vigilantly keeping track.
In therapy sessions, I endeavored to do heavy, deep, and real excavations of my personal narratives, to dive deep and resolve painful self-judgements. “Hah! Now I see you! Good riddance!”
Despite obvious growth and insights, the inner critics remain. I’ve learned to navigate the inevitable mix, notice the sharp poke in the gut, dull heaviness in the chest, the tight, dry throat. And savor the gentle grounding of deep breaths and sublime inner stillness.
I tell myself I should always choose my reactions, but is that true? If experiences are interwoven of individual and collective conscious and unconscious beliefs, then how do we completely opt out of being influenced by others? This collective influence is part of belonging, being human, being in. Our thoughts just are.
Psychologists say weight gain is a form of emotional protection. Eating comforts us. So simple and innocent.
In her book Bad Feminist, author Roxane Gay says, “Fat people wear their shit on the outside.” The “shit” is common human vulnerability, a natural need for self-acceptance and reassurance.
Humans agree to generate and ingest a constant stream of messages and images. Iconic fashion, diets, sculpted TV and movie stars, fat jokes, fat farms, plastic surgery, gender and race performance, social norms, family expectations, national ideals, all shape idealized body images. This manifesto is repeated and reinforced; tacit confirmation of acceptability or unacceptability. An immutable cultural playlist on repeat.
How does this serve us?
The dichotomy of loss and gain perpetuates a belief system that enforces arbitrary “ideal” standards. Who is more and who is less? Are you in here with us, or out there? Out of bounds! Over the edge?
What goes around comes around as we compare and judge.
What it would be like if we could not imagine one person’s appearance is better than another’s?
What if every weight and appearance were always perfect for now?
If we think we should be something other than what we are, we’re back in the painful confusion of projected ideals. The current weight is perfect because that’s what the scale says. This allows us to question the inner critic and see that bodies can be happy and healthy or not, at many weight levels.
At any given weight, the sky is still a stunning azure blue, the juice of a sweet apple dribbles down the chin, the heart swells gazing into the eyes of loved ones. Maybe, in this clear state of mind, which doesn’t resist reality, we feel what we really prefer.
Then we might easily have the energy to go for a walk, find ourselves preparing a healthy meal or just enjoy another bite of rich chocolate.