Editor: Be informed about self-negativity is the first step we are walking outside ourselves.
In my note on inner conflict, I described how it is caused by the “cutting off” and exiling of an inner part of you which is fully valid, but found to be unacceptable to yourself — and the people around you — for one reason or another.
This cutting off is painful and unnatural, and ends up taking a tremendous force of brutal self-negativity, which often takes years of childhood pounding and pressure, to “get installed”. And once installed, the self-negative inner voice will echo throughout the rest of one’s life — influencing your life decisions, and clouding your inner compass — until you can find a way to heal it.
Generally, I’ve observed four different kinds of self-negativity when working with my meditation students:
Competence Self-Negativity is the feeling that you are not good enough at something which you “should” be good at. Getting good grades is one example. Making money is another. If you have an inner wound in this area, you will likely “shield” the wound by working really hard at things that will bring you achievement, prestige and money in the areas where you feel the wound most acutely. But you won’t necessarily do all this because you enjoy the work per se — you will be driven to succeed largely out of a fear of being further shamed. Career paths where success is more “scripted” (i.e. law, tech, medicine, finance) will be the safe and reliable places to build a strong shield. So your success and prestige is a shield (and one that works quite well, thank you), but the deeper meaning and purpose of your life may remain unfulfilled. The lifelong cost of a shield like this is often very, very high, but not fully realized until mid-life. This is why we often have the cliched Hollywood-image of the “prestigious rich guy” who is publicly envied but privately hollow and unfulfilled.
Body Self-Negativity is the feeling that there is something inherently wrong with your body. There are endless flavors of this — you could feel you are too fat or too thin, too short or tall. Too hairy, or not hairy enough. Too dark or too pale. Too plain. Too _____. This kind of inner wound is an almost-guaranteed trigger for low self-image and self-esteem, but can be expressed through many different behaviors. Issues around food (too much or too little), cutting, sexual promiscuity, anxiety and addiction can all arise out of a deep sense of body self-negativity.
Identity Self-Negativity is the feeling that you are the “wrong” kind of person. It could be because you are a racial minority in your community. You could also feel you are the “wrong” gender. Sexual orientation, religious belief and other factors can also drive identity self-negativity. This kind of wound will come out in many different ways, but one common reaction is to shield with money and prestige — to shield your identity wound by over-proving your high competence. Another very natural reaction is anger — a deep, simmering anger that an inherent, unchangeable part of who you are has been brutally forced into exile and hiding.
Relationship Self-Negativity is the feeling that you should have been loved in a certain way, by a certain person, but were not. Therefore, there “must have been something wrong with you”. This often revolves around one’s parents, where they may not have been present, or may have expressed their love and approval only conditionally. For instance, you are loved only if you are successful, you are loved only if you are obedient, or pleasing. You are loved only if you are thin, or “perfect”.
Everyone has all four
Typically, everyone has all four kinds of self-negativity to one degree or another, and the only difference is in the unique cocktail blend of these that each person has acquired over time.
Said another way, if you have an inner voice that tends to be self-negative, it will often flit from one type of self-negativity to another, like a little monkey jumping from branch to branch — like its trying to stay hidden and one step ahead of you. If you refute one self-negative nitpick, it immediately jumps to another line of attack. “Ok fine, so you lost 5 pounds, so what — you are still not as rich as you should be.” Sheesh.
In fact, I’ve found that the single hardest thing about healing a self-negative inner voice is to pin it down in the first place — so you can even get a decent good look at it — to even see what we’re dealing with here. It’s been in hiding for a very long time — and it does not want to be seen. And more often than not, we are afraid of looking too hard for it anyway — after all, who knows what we’ll actually find?
But if you want to actually to heal it, you’re going to have to find it — and then resist the urge suppress it, or numb it with alcohol and pills, or run away from it into the arms of your next “urgent” project or romantic distraction.
This raging inner voice is actually the most important “other” in your life — precisely because it is still an alien “other” — and it is not supposed to be. You’ll need to find a way to bring it “back into the boat” with you, so that it’s rowing with your whole inner team again, and not trying to sink you.
I’ll cover this more in a separate note.
Right now, I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback — does any of this resonate with you? You can comment here in the margins, make highlights, or email me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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