Bill is tormented by an inner hypercritical voice. No matter what he does, that inner voice lets him know he didn’t measure up, didn’t do it right, and in fact will never get it right. Even though Bill is successful at many areas of his life that inner voice keeps him from being satisfied and at peace for any length of time.
Since we don’t come into this world with critical inner voices hard wired into our minds, I asked him where he had learned that voice and who it is those words connect him to. With a grim smile Bill said that voice was what he heard from his father as a child.
So why would Bill internalize his father’s voice and make himself miserable each time he heard it?
Difficult patterns in our lives are often painful ways of loving someone. I know this sounds paradoxical, even crazy to think that a difficult persistent pattern like Bill’s is actually a loving act. Yet, one of the cornerstones of radical wisdom and self-care is understanding that we take on difficult psychological and emotional burdens to stay connected to those we love. As we come to understand how we do this, we can choose to put those burdens down, and love without suffering.
So how do these painful connections develop? The answer is we are so loving that we will suffer almost any pain and dysfunction, even to the point of becoming addicted, seriously ill, or even dying to prove our love.
As children, we love our parents and we hunger for that consistent love of our parents in return. This reflects the fundamental truth of being human: we are born to love and connect. When we can’t get the love we want, we internalize what we CAN get. We will do whatever it takes to maintain a strong emotional bound, even if that bond is painful. If all we have is the painful connection, that is better than nothing.
Bill’s father and grandfather were classic tough guys who labeled any sensitivity and vulnerability as weakness. Even though Bill could see the price those men paid for their adherence to the rigid macho code he couldn’t help but spend most of his life trying to measure up and follow that painful game plan.
Bill, like most men, was a sensitive little boy. Now as an adult, the unfulfilled vulnerable boy still lives on inside him, continuing to seek the love he wants. He keeps trying, keeps pushing to get something that he never got as a child. He uses that inner critic as a driver to do more and do better, thinking that if only he does enough, someday he will finally get the love he longs for.
As adults Bill and his father rarely speak. Bill has accepted the fate that his relationship with his father won’t give him what he wants. What Bill hadn’t allowed himself to feel is how much he loved and still loves his father, in spite of the criticism he got as a child and still gets internally.
As our work together progressed Bill recognized his pattern of self-criticism as a painful way of loving and staying connected to his father unconsciously. Bill allowed himself to feel what a loving and sensitive man he was and still is. Knowing and feeling that love, he could also feel the love he has for inner boy who still carries the pain.
Now, when Bill hears that inner critical shaming voice, he knows where it comes from. He can choose to reframe that voice as a way of staying connected to his father. And very importantly he can offer that inner boy love and support rather than criticism.
As our work progressed Bill said he might consider taking the risk to contact his father, to let him know that he loves him. It was so freeing for Bill to honor his capacity for love. Bill can now see that he can choose to simply love his father without the pain and regardless of his father’s capacity to return that love.
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I invite you to consider the painful patterns you could be carrying as ways of staying connected to those you love. As you find those patterns, here are at least three choices you can make:
1.) Let the pattern stand as is, knowing that you took it on for a good reason and you will let it go when you are ready. Get to know it clearly and completely. Sense how you are doing so out of love and to stay connected. Letting go of the old pattern may be too risky to change at this time.
2.) From your adult self who knows what the inner boy needs to hear, offer words of support. I suggest looking into a mirror and actually saying those words with your genuine compassion.
3.) Make the conscious choice to love the person to whom the pattern connects you, cleanly and without suffering.
For opportunities to release painful ways of loving and continue to make supportive connections with other men I invite you to attend:
The Men’s Leadership Alliance True North Open Men’s Group. (Every two weeks.)
For one to one Radical Wisdom Coaching and Mentoring contact me at: 303-530-3337 or firstname.lastname@example.org