Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Relentless Self-Criticism.

When talking on the phone to a sponsee last night, I went to get my Courage to Change, as I had a page I wanted to read to her. It's one of my favourites, (a program friend says that she's certain she's heard me say that about every page of this book, at one time or another) so I'm going to reproduce it here in its entirety.

From Courage to Change, page 103:

 "It's only natural to want a quick fix or an immediate solution to a difficult situation. As one member jokingly puts it: "Grant me patience, Lord - and hurry!" My sentiments exactly! Do have some discomfort or a problem in my life? Let me fix it, or be rid of it now. Is it a situation I've lived with for twenty years? Fine, I'll give it fifteen minutes. Perhaps I've lived with it all my life - well then, an hour, maybe even two. It is connected with alcoholism? Do its roots run really deep in the ground of my being? In that case I'll make a few program calls and share at a meeting.
 Is it still hanging on? Very well, I'll launch a major campaign of self-criticism. What's wrong with me? Why do I have all these feelings about something that isn't important? I'm sure I caused all this myself: somehow I'm to blame.
  Heaven forbid I should surrender, accept my discomfort, and pray for guidance.

Today's Reminder
  Willpower cannot eliminate in a day troubles that have taken root and flourished in my life for decades. Things take time.

    "You cannot create a statue by smashing the marble with a hammer and you cannot by force of arms release the spirit or the soul of man."

I have recognised in myself, and in many other members of Al-Anon, one similarity - relentless self-criticism. We feel whatever we feel, as a result of life happenings, and then when we can't control those feelings by wanting them to go away, we begin to nag and harp at ourselves for having them at all. Just as the reading states, we begin to ask ourselves and others, "What's wrong with me?"

What's wrong, is that we are having the normal human response: pain, or sorrow.

Our culture doesn't allow much room for either of those - why else would so many of us be confused as to what's going on, when we feel them? We are exposed on a daily basis to many messages from the culture, to seek help immediately - get counselling, take this medication, start this exercise routine, and feel better!

Much emphasis is placed upon "feeling better"; so much so, that when we can't force ourselves to feel better, we become anxious and disturbed, and begin to bash ourselves for whatever it is that we may be experiencing.

Human beings cannot get over the loss of a relationship in a few weeks. We must go through a process of grieving, and that takes however long it takes. Some people can work it through fairly quickly, others take longer. We can't judge ourselves by the culture's yardsticks, or by other people's example. We have no real idea of what is going on for them; we see only the public person.

When I am in pain, or grieving, if I then add to my pain by "launching a major campaign of self-criticism," all I manage to accomplish is make myself feel much worse.

I add shame, and this complicates things by blocking the working-through of the original feeling. I don't feel it any less, I just can't process it.

I have a right to my feelings. When the process isn't blocked by shame or self-criticism, those feelings will rise, peak, and subside. This happens continually over a period of time, and each rise is a little less, until I reach a place of calm acceptance.  Ultimately, I will be able to say, "This happened." without an accompanying rush of painful feeling.

That's the process for all of us; that's just how it works. When I allow myself to feel my feelings, I can acknowledge it: "I'm feeling this now."

I can allow the pain or sorrow, let it move though me, because experience has shown me that it will pass. At the peak of the feeling, I may believe that I will feel this pain forever, that I'll never be happy or peaceful again. I let myself feel the pain of that idea. If I'm really struggling with it, I will call my sponsor or a program friend, read literature, ask my Higher Power for guidance and support.

At one time in my life, before Al-Anon, I could shut my feelings off like flicking a switch, by repeating a little mantra of "It doesn't matter, it doesn't matter..." After a few repetitions, I'd go numb. That was how I managed to stay in my first marriage for ten years, by using the same techniques learned earlier in life, to numb myself to pain.

Numbing myself to pain, stunted my ability to experience joy, delight, fufillment. This is another one of those blasted either/or truths: we get none of the feelings, or all of them. Pain and sorrow are included in the package. If I want the joy and the delight, I must accept the full scope of my feelings. That means that at times in my life, I am going to feel pain or sorrow. I pray to be accepting of all of my feelings, and not to shame myself for having them.


  1. Irish Friend of Bill over at Recovery Archive had a good post on this topic today. In so many words, she wrote about inviting the feeling (fear, anger, judgment) to come into our hearts and inviting them to stay because resisting will cause the feelings to persist. But accepting our imperfections and being willing for God to remove them is the key. Great post here. I needed to read this.

  2. Reading your posts reminds me that I might be a big mess but there is hope for me yet! Thanks!