Birth of the inner critic

You have that inner voice which tells you how useless you are. Most people have. I know mine comes from my mother, and possibly this is how.

In counselling, the inner critic said “How can you be so fucking useless?” and I knew that was my mother. My mother would not have said “fucking” but it came from her- probably pre-lingual, that is my adult vocalisation of the interaction. I know it comes from my mother like I know my own name-

yes, that’s me protesting, I know it and I don’t think anyone will believe me-

and at the same time it does not feel right. I have felt my own rage, as a baby, in a pram under a tree watching the light through the leaves, a recovered memory, a reconstructed clarity of how I felt at the time-

it does not feel right because my mother was so completely dutiful and controlled, as well as controlling. She would never have expressed rage like that. Rather,

she felt that rage.

Her rage, like mine, was always directed internally against herself. She could not get me to stop crying, or I did not like what she fed me, or there was some inability to communicate, and she was angry- with herself, not me, but I sensed it, and felt it was with me. I feared it. So comes my raging sense of inadequacy, whipping myself until I can go no further.

Research shows that the sins of the parents are visited on the children. We know how patterns are created, maintained and passed on, says my friend who should know. This fits, for me: how the pattern could be passed on. Two human beings want to be happy, together, and fail- and each rages against herself.

I told her that I do not trust my “Inner light”. I am not sure I have one. I can discern different voices or characters within myself, but not an inner light. Of course, that may just mean that I do not understand it: I have a false view that it should be particularly moral, or it should seek my flourishing in a particular way, or even that it should fit me into wider society in a particular way. One barrier to spiritual growth is a false conception of what that growth might look like.

She found this hard to understand, and asked, “What sustains you?” I don’t know how to answer that question. “Test the spirits,” said St Paul, and Licia Kuenning’s local Quaker meeting easily discerned that the voice she thought was that of Jesus leading her to prophesy was a damaging fantasy.

I have been crushed. I did not know my feelings, and when I found them I felt them as anger, frustration, resentment and fear, later refined to rage and terror. Does this mean that my inner light is crushed, feeling rage and terror? It would be easier if I were a theist, believing the Light is from God, but the Light is part of my humanity.

How weak, that I would want to hide away as I do, would not use my talents but just bury them? I despise myself. I have wanted to die, wanted to kill myself. I have found how I want to survive. These are two strong voices inside me. My mother was very controlling, and that came from fear. Everything has to be accounted for. I have taken on that controlling pattern. Possibly, the idea of a “Light” is getting in the way of perceiving how I am.

And yet- I like the idea of an inner light. Many people testify to its existence. I want to know it.

There is that one thing that I feel I could do, that would be worthwhile. And my Friend wanted to warn me of the dangers of it, especially for a trans woman. I cannot be sure it is a leading. I might test that leading, even if my Friend thinks it unwise.

12 thoughts on “Birth of the inner critic

  1. At the end of our exchange in the comments yesterday you asked where my shame came from. It’s serendipitous that you wrote today about your mother as I’m quite confident that that is where I learned mine. I’ll try to be brief.

    To begin, a quick definition. According to Brene Brown (whom I adore), guilt = “I did something bad”, shame = “I am bad.” I suppose I’ve felt guilt but my overwhelming emotion has always been shame. From my earliest memories, in preschool at a neighbor boy’s birthday party dancing to music as I imagined myself to be a ballerina, to kindergarten where I only wanted to play with the girls, to every night at bedtime fantasizing to the wishes and dreams and what it would feel like to be a girl. Throughout then and the following decades I was confident that my feelings were “all so wrong” and I was bad because not only could I not shake them but that I’d be immediately rejected by all if anyone became aware. I rejected myself.

    I believe I learned this shame from my mother. It’s decades to late to ask but given what I’ve learned about myself and trans children, it’s common (albeit not universal) for kids to express their gender dysphoria as toddlers, gradually insisting that the adults take them seriously and help them. My mother did tell me that she often spanked me and once even broke a vein in her hand. She thus acquired a paddle. I never knew what transgressions I did to cause her to do this but I believe it was because she simply couldn’t live with my telling her that, in fact, I was a girl. Essentially, she beat the shame into me.

    Since I can’t ask her (or my father or anyone else, as they’re all passed) I’ve wondered if my mother is a handy scapegoat. But, I ask myself: if I had my gender feelings from my earliest memories, and consistently felt that my feelings were “wrong,” where else could I have possibly learned these lessons? I was an only child and my world as a toddler and pre-schooler was limited to my mother and father. My dad worked seven days a week and very long hours in the space program, and I’ll never know if they even talked about what I’d expressed. Their marriage was like a detente.

    To highlight the level of shame I feel/felt, I spend decades in therapist’s offices, trying to work out my depression and anxiety. Even there I could not tell them about my gender dysphoria, my cross dressing, my fantasies. It was all too shameful and I rationalized that we could treat my depression while keeping my other feelings compartmentalized. Unsurprisingly now, it didn’t work.

    Like you, Clare, I have a lot of fear in my life. It’s a constant battle between curling up in a warm blanket and nursing myself, and wishing for the joy I feel when enjoying experiences with friends who appreciate me and my authenticity. I suspect I’ll never be rid of shame and fear. According to my therapist(s) our goal isn’t to rid ourselves of any feelings. Our feelings are all valid. Rather, the goal is to understand, nurture, and perhaps reframe our thoughts of our feelings and learn to love ourselves for the delightful people that we truly are.

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  2. My mother used to say to me, with regularity, “You are such an intelligent, talented, good-looking young man. Why can’t you….get better grades, be more extroverted, be more popular…?” After she’d discovered that I had been wearing her clothes, the backhand was often, “Why can’t you stop wasting your time and energy trying to do something that will never come to fruition?” Of course, she had a totally different perspective than did I.

    When I was thirteen-years-old, I started sneaking my mother’s car out of the garage, fully dressed in her clothes and wig. I got away with this for a year, until I clipped a mailbox and put a dent in the car. Apparently, one of her friends had mentioned to her that she’d seen her driving one night months before my accident, and my mother quickly put two and two together. She was so much more embarrassed by the thought of someone mistaking me for her, driving around in the middle of the night, than she was upset about the fact that I, underage and without permission, drove and put a dent in her car. She had to punish me, and, in my shame, I volunteered to carve a stick into proper switch with which she could administer that punishment. That switch was used a few more times after that incident, and it was – I believed – applied with the intent of beating the woman out of me.

    I’ve often wondered, had my mother accepted that I was a feminine being, if she would have said: You are such an intelligent, talented, good-looking young WOMAN… I suspect she would have gone on with the backhand, anyway. I also wonder, though, if I would have lived up to her standards had I been her daughter, and not her son.

    I am, partially, the result of the misplacement of cause and effect.


  3. You guys have GOT to be kidding! If not, then you really are completely beyond repair.
    “You have that inner voice which tells you how useless you are. Most people have. I know mine comes from my mother, and possibly this is how.”
    Actually most people do not. I understand how you want to believe that, but sadly if you do, you are seriously deluded.
    Just because you are psychologically damaged due to a poor or mismanaged upbringing does not necessarily mandate or even imply that some all inclusive “you” had that same dad experience.


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