Digging in the Dirt

2 Mar

Trinity Cemetery - photo by DMT

Truffle pigs can be persistent little suckers.

A few weeks ago, while I was struggling with yet another set of issues that have plagued me for a long time, J. wrote a response that identified this tendency as “truffle pigs digging.”  I love the analogy because the phrase is not only humorous (say it ten times fast and you’ll see what I mean), but it also accurately describes the way in which the brain latches on to something and refuses to let go.

What’s been interesting about this is that once I had a name for what was going on, I found it much easier to identify what was happening – and then let it go.

How have I been able to let go of so many of the worries and fears?  The answer lies in being willing to confront the problems and utilize my resources.

I’ve asked for advice from friends and family, but I’ve also integrated a variety of outside resources and used those as a basis for identifying solutions to the problems.  Once I opened my mind and realized that everything is related to everything else, I could see that every bit of information I take in can be used to help me make better, more informed decisions – and that these decisions were the key to stopping the truffle pig rampages in their tracks.

One of the best investments I’ve ever made was in hiring a life coach.  I found my life coach, Mary Rives and her Thrive and Shine practice, through the Life Coaching TrainingAlliance website.  In our first phone session, she walked me through the process of coaching and asked guided questions designed to help me identify the issues I wanted to work through.  I was immediately hooked by her calm, gentle manner of dealing with my truffle pig issues, and signed up for a package of three additional sessions.

Those three sessions changed my life.

Life coaching is not therapy (though I’ve used psychotherapy as well, and highly recommend it).  You don’t dig into the psychological depths of where the problems came from in order to understand where the problem began.  Instead, you identify the problems you’re struggling with, and then work with the coach to develop healthy ways of actively dealing with them.

In the first session, we identified the issues I felt needed the most attention (self-criticism and perfectionist tendencies), and then spent time talking about how to actively confront the unproductive habits I’d developed.  Mary listened carefully to what I was saying, restated what she heard, and then asked questions that allowed me to identify possible solutions to the problem.

In our first session, I identified my long-standing problem associated with my “inner critic” and talked about how “she” constantly worked against me; tearing me down and undermining my confidence.  As we talked, Mary offered some insight into how and why this critic comes into being.  It was an eye opening moment when I heard her say that the inner-critic develops as a defense mechanism and its specific purpose is to push us to get out of situations that are physically or psychologically dangerous.

However, as a person becomes more confident and secure in themselves, the inner-critic loses its job and, as a result, becomes destructive rather than productive.  As the inner-critic loses its purpose, it seeks out new ways to “protect and serve,” and in doing so, it begins to attack the positive traits we seek to cultivate – strength, confidence, self-worth.  Every new attack causes us to question ourselves and doubt our abilities, leaving us to wonder if anything we do is right.

At the end of our first session, I suddenly piped up and said, “Mary!  I know what I need to do with my inner-critic!”  Mary asked me what that was, and I excitedly blurted out, “She’s worked so hard to protect me for so long, and instead of being grateful, I’m trying to squash her!  Maybe I need to change my tactics.  I think what I need to do is to love her out of existence!”

My outpouring was met with dead silence on the other end of the phone.

Immediately my inner-critic kicked in and I began to backtrack and rethink what I’d said.  I was wrong.  My thinking was wrong, obviously.  The solution was silly, wasn’t it?

Mary broke in and said, “I’ve coached a lot of people in my life, but I’ve not had someone come up with such a clear, concise solution in one 45-minute session.I’m quiet because I’m stunned by the simplicity and brilliance of your idea.  It’s perfect!”

It took me a few minutes to process – and accept – that my idea was a good one, not a ridiculously silly approach to the problem. And then I began questioning how to I was supposed to do this.

Mary and I came up with the idea that I should sit down and write out a physical description of my inner-critic, so that I could clearly identify and see her.  Defining what she looked like would give me the advantage of being able to address someone I could see, rather than trying to deal with a disembodied critical entity.  I was skeptical, but I agreed to try.

After we ended our session, I sat down with my journal and pen, and began to write.

And write.

And write.

As I poured a description onto the pages of my journal, I discovered that my inner-critic was a small, thin young woman who had been backed into a corner; her body tense, fists balled at her sides, prepared to attack anything that threatened her – or me. She looked exhausted, and it dawned on me that that this exhaustion was the result of the years she’d spent fiercely protecting me. The effort had completely depleted her reserves of strength.

As I spilled my observations onto the page, I was overcome with a feeling of sadness, compassion, and absolute love for this tenatious waif.

And I began to cry.

I found myself shifting the focus of my writing, and instead of writing about her, I began writing to her.  I thanked her for all of the years she’d endeavored to keep me safe, and expressed a deep gratitude for how well she’d done her job.

And then I wrote, “We’re safe now.  You can rest.  I’ve got us covered.”

However, identifying the issue and defining it was a long way from actually breaking the habit.  So, over the next few weeks, every time my inner-critic rose up in my defense, I looked over at her in the tight little corner, smiled, and said, “We’re safe now.  You can rest.  I’ve got us covered.”  Each time I did this, I could feel her breathe a small sigh of relief and relax a little bit more.

She could trust me, and more importantly, I could trust myself.

I know this probably sounds odd, and more than a little “woo woo.” Believe me, as someone who constantly looks for evidence to prove what I think and feel, it sounds odd to me, even though it’s my experience.

And honestly, I’ll admit that writing this account of the experience made my inner-critic rise up, again.  However, this time I recognize that she’s trying to protect and defend me; to keep me from looking foolish or exposing me to ridicule. And while I appreciate her attempt to keep me safe, I also recognize that a large part of her power rests in my willingness to keep secrets (about my vulnerabilities and my “mistakes”) and in my being complicit in a system that keeps me from expressing what I really think or feel.

I’ve come to believe that, in the end, it’s the silence that kills us.

My sessions with Mary helped me understand that letting go of the negative habits and beliefs isn’t an easy task, but I’ve found that when I can ask the questions that allow me to face the issues and deal with them in a constructive way, I can preserve and protect the precious resources I’ve worked so hard to nurture and grow.

The truffle pigs can dig, but I don’t have to let them destroy.

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