Listening to the Inner Sceptic

3:08 PM



A few days ago, I found myself in a relatively benign exchange with a friend that later left me swimming in a pool of anxiety, straining to keep my chin just above the water line until I could sort out feelings that seemed threatening and incriminating.

It may be worth mentioning that these feelings weren't imposed on me by anyone else.

I simply became convinced that I had made a lousy decision, torturing myself with judgment and self-criticism until I finally did the work of forgiving my personal, albeit minor, error in judgment. The weird thing is that mostly, my suffering was unnecessary, and the issue existed only in my head.

So, I'm just wondering here. Does everyone assume the worst about the way he or she might be perceived by others?

We sure do in my family, and in the broader sense, in my tribe. We dance as fast as we can, trying to anticipate each other's needs, trying not to offend, to miss anything. Personally, I also spend equally as much energy mentally trying to justify and defend my positions and behaviors (to avoid feeling like I messed up). But, it's silly to spend so much energy trying to avoid being accused, being found guilty. or being seen doing anything wrong.

The thing is, when my friend and I finally connected after my misdeed she honestly thought my decision had been wise. The torture was all my invention, my unkind parent-voice telling me what I expected people to be thinking. Self-induced, wheel-spinning, suffering.

In his book Addiction and Grace, Gerald G. May, M.D. says that addiction is compulsion that flows in more than one direction, fueled by both attraction and revulsion. In other words, while most people associate compulsive behaviors primarily with attraction, we are equally driven by avoidance. Attachment in either direction is binding, and bondage is prison.

It sucks to spend decades trying not to make a mistake.
It's also impossible.

However we refine the systems we use to avoid errors in judgment, we will continue to make mistakes. It's baked into the cake, as they say, of this human experience. More significantly, we may want to ask ourselves, why am I listening to the mean voices in my head?

Author and wisdom teacher Don Miguel Ruiz recently added a fifth agreement to update his famous book, The Four Agreements, encouraging us to "be skeptical" of our own thinking, a concept previously endorsed by others like him, including the late Wayne Dyer. Truthfully, many of the thoughts that ping around in our heads aren’t based in reality, but are simply echoes of past input that's no longer current, or helpful.

Author/teacher/pastor Dave Brisbin says, "When you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

And when we entertain judgmental thinking, especially toward ourselves, we of course project that sort of mean thinking on others, assuming they must think the way we do. We can live a lifetime trying to avoid experiencing something we perceive as painful, or we can notice when an awful feeling seems familiar and become willing to question the beliefs that are fueling those feelings. 

Maybe the compulsion to avoid judgment perpetuates the familiar cycle.  And maybe, practicing compassion toward my mistakes, errors or quirky bad habits can help. 

One thing I think I'm sure of, we don't have to believe what we believe. 

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