Ugh, I’ve been noticing how I am more than happy to take full credit for my mistakes, but barely give myself credit for the things I am doing well. For instances, I’ve been faithfully practicing my banjo and making steady progress, but my first reaction about my playing is one of abject disgust. It is a wonder that I even persevere with practicing given my feelings about it. I can sort of enjoy practicing sometimes, but it is mostly just a check-the-box chore. One day while writing in my journal, the absurdity of it all became evident. The more I thought about it, the more it became apparent to me that a part of me was actually trying to protect myself with this attitude. Let me explain…
As I have alluded to in earlier posts, I find it helpful to see myself as a collection of parts, different mini-me-selves each with their own agenda and ideas about how to keep me safe and happy. This whole concept of parts is attributed to Richard Schwartz’s Internal Family Systems or IFS. I first learned about it from a wonderful therapist I had when I lived in Massachusetts. My understanding of IFS is that you get to carry around and be influenced by parts of you that were largely formed when you were younger–when you didn’t have all of the power, skills and resources you now have at your disposal. At their worst, parts can appear and overwhelm you when you are stressed or triggered and can often lead to you behaving in ways that embarrass you when you reflect on it later. Luckily, you also have a Self, which is a perceptive, calm, grounded and compassionate center. However, if you are like me, this true Self often gets drowned out by one part or another. It can take patience and skill to recognize what is happening and to negotiate with a part to let your Self lead, and, luckily, it does get easier with time.
Once I recognized that a part was getting in the way of me enjoying my banjo picking progress, I recalled how, as a kid, I often got ridiculed or taken down several pegs if I exhibited pride in accomplishing something. I recall it being an intensely painful and humiliating experience. As a result, a part of me quickly learned to criticize myself before I could act proud of anything to avoid another excruciating letdown. At least by criticizing myself, I could be in control. Unfortunately, this poor protective self-critical part of me is stuck in a time warp. It doesn’t see that it is now keeping me from enjoying what I am doing well and is actually hindering me from deriving satisfaction from working towards my goals.
Luckily, I was given some tools to help alleviate the problem. Instead of getting stuck in battle with this well-meaning part, I show it compassion for what it is trying to do for me. I feel compassion for the kid who didn’t get to feel good about herself, and for hard I had to work to protect myself. It feels like a bright light is now shining on something that was earlier lost in the shadows. I can now slow down, be aware when the self-criticism erupts, and work with this part to encourage it to let go–it no longer needs to work so hard to protect me, because I am not longer a kid trapped in that situation. It is a slow, often tedious process, but one I find to be immensely gratifying.