What happens when we receive negativity from others and our self-critical inner voice doubles down?
One of the women on “Journey to the Deep” this year helpfully pointed out that in these situations of hearing criticism from others, our inner voices can get very punishing. I don't know the exact mechanism happening here, but I suggested that as our thoughts are so linked to our emotion-regulation system, there is probably some strong fear arising and our brain decides it must make sure we NEVER EVER EVER do that again. Ever.
Like, seriously, never fucking ever again, do you hear me?
We'll get to how to helpfully relate and respond to people in such circumstances another time, but for now let's focus on the narratives and associated nervous system patterns that are getting activated.
Case in point. Another woman made some harsh comments about me on a Facebook group this year. I won't go into details but it was enough for me to be replaying it, checking back to see if she had written more and how others had responded, and then I didn't sleep until about 3.30am.
I tried pretty much everything available to me with the energy you have in those hours! Distraction with fun clips on YouTube (gymnasts and dogs, obvs), listening to relaxing meditations, breathing exercises, being in imaginative dialogue with the part of me that was kicking off. The lot. I was anxious and I was pretty angry!
Eventually I just fell asleep from exhaustion.
The next morning the thoughts were back. Argh! I thought, right, this is material for the course. What's happening and what can I do? Who can I get inspiration from?
I thought of an interview I watched in the night with Ariana Grande (LOVE HER) about people being hateful online. These amazing, powerful female singers are always getting pulled down. And then I remembered Taylor Swift's song "Shake it off".
As I put my headphones in and started dancing, I remembered the technique I had learnt through periods of panic attacks about shaking. Along with a bunch of other things - including a few doses of valium! - shaking had helped dissipate all of the energy that was getting caught up in this intense feedback loop between my body and mind. So surely it could help in a less acute time?
So I started shaking like a jellyfish at a disco party, and doing jive steps from when I was competing at Uni, and just jumping around like an absolute tornado, for about 15 minutes straight while repeating the song. And I almost could have cried at times but it was exhilarating.
By the end of it I felt amazing. The rest of the day I smashed it at work, had some brilliant conversations, and appreciated being able to turn this experience into learning. The thoughts occasionally popped up, and I talked about the fears with some friends, but I felt in a very different place from releasing the tension that was in my body.
So my main takeaway is if your internal critical voice has intensified, it's likely that your threat system is going into overdrive and might need something more than just a gentle relaxation technique or reflection tool. Give it a rest with trying to reason with your mind and do something to work with all the adrenaline and so on in your body and get that energy OUT.
Run like the wind.
Punch a pillow.
Sing like frickin’ Taylor Swift in the shower.
Shake like a jellyfish at a disco party.