Inner Critic and Inner Child

Most of us are pretty well acquainted with the inner critic, the one who says (to me), “Your writing stinks. You’re not good enough. You’re not a loving person. You don’t have enough friends.” That inner critic voice is usually installed early in life and can sound remarkably like our parents.

The inner child is very susceptible to hurt from these voices, of course, because she is small and vulnerable. Lately, as I work on the ending of my memoir of recovery from incest, the critics are out in force, telling me I can’t put this out in the world—“It’s too personal. Too biased. Nobody wants to read it.”

When my critics come out, I write for my sanity. I spill out what they are saying, keeping writing without stopping, elaborating and filling it out until I get to the core, the meanest part. This is hard work. I ask where the voice came from—is it my mother’s familiar criticism, or my father’s, or perhaps a teacher’s voice?

Then I sit with my inner child and tell her, “Nope. It’s not that way. They used to get the final say, they criticized you like that. But now I believe you and I care for you. They don’t get to talk to you like that now.” I remind the child that these adults had their own hurts and limitations that made them small and sometimes cruel.

The inner child is engaged in an intimate and difficult wrestling match with the inner critic and needs all the help we can give. We need to push back against the old parental voices and install new supportive ones.

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The Ark of the Memoir

The story is a little boat in which the writer ferries the reader across the waters to a destination. Writers talk about the arc of the story, that flight trajectory that carries the reader up and back to earth. A literary friend of mine reminded me of the ending of the Lord of the Rings in which the hobbits return to a forever-changed place that is and is not home.

As I begin to end this memoir of healing from abuse, I wonder what is that home to which I return the reader? What has changed and what remains? Is it the voyage that matters more, or the return?

As the memoir opened, I was in deep confusion and doubt, wondering whether my recovered memories were true. I felt I could not trust anything about my past; I didn’t know who my family really was.

The voyage across the waters, however, was much more than an inquiry into memory and fact—it was an immersion in painful feelings, a learning to trust, lessons in intuition, and an invitation to creativity.

I see—the beginning was only the beginning. Many more themes arose from the deeps during the trip. The ending needs to land with much more than an answer to the initial questions.

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