Are your stories holding you back?

08/02/2022 - Personal reflections for Week 2 of Journey to the Deep 2022

Once upon a time…

…there was a woman called Aryanisha. She talked too much in meetings about irrelevant things that no one was interested in, her arms were a bit flabby and her hair looked rubbish since she'd had layers cut into it again.

She was being incredibly selfish about her career decisions this year, and she was likely to be setting herself up for financial ruin. She was never going to make a success of her new business and her friends thought...


sorry, what?!

Welcome to my mind, or at least some of my thoughts that have popped up and made it to my journal.

Some of them might be familiar to you - at least in tone if not in content. These are the stories of self-criticism and self-censoring that cloud our minds like silt in water: obscuring our ability to see our situation clearly. Or perhaps they are like tangles of seaweed or fishing nets: holding us back from diving to a place below the ripples of fear and insecurity that whip up these thoughts.

This links us back to last week’s content and practices around our emotion-regulation systems. Our brains are constantly trying to work out the best strategy for surviving in a complex social eco-system, surrounded by the potential threat of being cast out of the groups we are so reliant on: families, friendship groups, work places….

This can lead us to unconsciously or unintentionally creating very negative stories about ourselves in an attempt to fit in, keep safe and meet our basic needs. One of my own teachers, Tara Mohr, playfully personifies these as our “Inner Critic”. The Inner Critic is concerned with surviving not thriving, so they’ve got little interest in our hopes and dreams for a life full of meaning, fulfilment and the risk-taking needed for it.

During our retreat weekend, we want to dive down to find the treasure held by our Inner Guide (more on her soon). So how can we become more aware of and loosen the grip of our Inner Critic? How can we stop believing their stories so that new ones can emerge?

As they are connected with tension, stress, fear and anxiety, we can work with these thoughts and stories as we do with their associated physical sensations and processes in our body.

We can notice we aren't breathing deeply and calmly, and then choose to do something more helpful. For example, we can actively change our breath to slow our heart rate and relax our tense muscles, to deactivate the threat system and activate the soothe system.

Similarly, we can train ourselves to notice we are creating an unhelpfully critical story in our heads, and instead of going in the same direction and strengtherning, we can choose to do something different. The opposite even.

Thoughts are not facts. They are like a mirage, an illusion, arising in dependence on a myriad of conditions. They feel very very real, and as such have a powerful influence. But with practice, and the marvel that is the neuroplasticity of our minds, we can create the conditions under which more helpful thoughts will increasingly emerge instead.

There’s no use in using the Inner Critic to get rid of the Inner Critic – so instead of criticising ourselves for having critical thoughts, bring some self-compassion in! We are going to need patience and playfulness, as we are working with deeply ingrained habits that have been socialised into us for a very long time, over many generations.

Have my next piece land in your inbox…

I imagine you know the score now with signing up to mailing lists. There’s a good chance I have ADHD, so as much as I would like to say you will get a super regular, weekly email, well…. close enough. Plus I go on retreats and things. But I’ll do my darndest best.

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