You may have heard of the term “urge surfing,” a practice attributed to Dr. Alan Marlatt for working with addictive tendencies. We surf our urges by bring mindfulness to our urge sensations, then allowing ourselves to skim along the edge of the urge rather than getting swallowed up by it. It’s an effective technique for preventing relapse during addiction recovery and it’s also effective for helping us resist old habits related to things like eating or behavior that we want to stop because it’s not serving us.
So, I tried urge surfing with my inner critic but it felt less like surfing and more like flirting. Maybe the difference between surfing and flirting is that we surf something that doesn’t seem to have any kind of persona (like a wave) and we flirt with something that can be personified (like the inner critic).
The inner critic feels differently for each of us. For me, it’s a tightness behind my sternum and a slight queasy feeling. There’s a feeling of dread and a sense of inevitability. I can sometimes predict when my inner critic is going to start coming into the scene because it often pops in after a really good day when I feel a sense of satisfaction with my work. The inner critic comes in with the shame message of, “Who do you think you are?” in response to doing well. You might have a similar experience.
The neat thing about flirting is that, as long as you keep your wits about you, there’s no need to actually do anything, to commit to anything, to cross your own boundaries.
In flirting with the inner critic, I see it coming, I acknowledge it’s there, I have it in my sights, it knows I’m here. I sort of look at it a bit sideways with a little Mona Lisa smile on my face, a little cheeky side look, a knowing twinkle in my eyes. “I know you,” I might say if there were words, “And our last date was sorta disastrous.” It’s like the way women are attracted to powerful, dangerous men – like Mr Big in “Sex and the City.” You know he’s a really bad idea, but you just couldn’t help yourself last time.
The neat thing about flirting is that, as long as you keep your wits about you, there’s no need to actually do anything, to commit to anything, to cross your own boundaries. So, in flirting with the inner critic, there’s a sense of power, the kind of power that comes with wisdom and knowledge of a dangerous thing. I can stand in my own danger (to use Clarissa Pinkola Estés‘ words) and view the danger of the inner critic from that place.
If I can maintain the flirt, the inner critic generally keeps his business in his pants and there’s no walk of shame (to continue with the Mr Big analogy). When it doesn’t occur to me that flirting is even an option – when I’ve been swooped up before I know it and I’m agreeing with things I know are a bad idea – then it’s all over. The inner critic has me and the only ending is to feel really bad about myself. Walk of shame, missing underwear, the works.
I’m smiling as I type this. This will quite possibly be one of those posts I send out to you, dear readers, then soon thereafter I’ll have the inner critic and shame to deal with. Sometimes shame just barges in without the inner critic there to usher it in. When that happens, self-care is holing up until the storm is over, honoring the process of allowing shame to wash through my body (Brené Brown calls it the “warm wash of shame,” but that makes it sound way too pleasant!), loving my dear body and its ability to hold strong emotions. It would be nice to have a chance to flirt first 😉 but we’ll see what happens!
Why do any of us put ourselves out there into the world knowing that the inner critic and shame may well tag along in the aftermath? Because we know we must. Shame loses its strength when we talk about it; shared resources build us all up; power is in community. If you ever wonder if you can show up in the world to make a difference, know that you can because you know that you must. That’s all.
If you’re interested in learning more about the inner critic and shame, check out HeartWorks’ Thriving Woman Toolkit 6-week online course.
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- Podcast Episode 5: Tending to Isolation and Loneliness During the Pandemic - December 26, 2020