I was talking with my mom this weekend about how I feel a great amount of anxiety after leading a group or even just socializing in a group setting. In these situations I don’t feel any anxiety at the time, while I’m with the group. Things are usually going well and I’m usually having a good time. The anxiety comes later, after I’ve returned home and usually when I’m settling down to sleep.
It’s during this quiet time that my inner critic starts to shout: “What have you done? You’ve given too much of yourself away.” Then a feeling of dread flows down my body and tightens in my stomach. It feels awful and makes it difficult to fall asleep. Recently I’ve been able to cope with these feelings rather well, at least compared to how I handled such anxiety in years past. I’ve become more adept at focusing on my body and noticing where it feels tension. I breathe and follow that breath in and out of my body. Eventually I’m able to fall sleep.
But I’d like to find the source of these feelings and eliminate them, or at least learn how to work with them better. I’d like to feel confident of the value I bring to a group and not feel anxious just being me and being fully present.
What really surprised me in talking with my mother about my experience is when she said she experienced something similar in the first years after she left my father. She described some of the thoughts that would come to her mind and I realized they were the same thoughts that my inner critic speaks to me. Things all along the lines of “don’t reveal too much about yourself” and “don’t tell anybody anything they don’t absolutely need to know.”
I shuddered a bit. These are all the words of my father, who drilled into us at every opportunity that we should keep our cards close to chest, never let anybody in, never foster community, etc. My father is not a well man. He fits the profile of an individual with Anti-Social Personality Disorder. He feared healthy socialization and actively dissuaded us from it and sometimes punished us for it.
So it’s no wonder that I experience anxiety when around social groups. I was already aware that I have a strong inner critic. What I realized in talking with my mother is the extent to which I often don’t perceive the presence of my inner critic. It’s more pervasive than I thought. For example, I know that I often get headaches. But yet, there will be days where I suddenly realize I’ve had a headache for the past several hours. The pain, for whatever reason, in these cases becomes a kind of background noise, casuing suffering yet going undetected.
So I’ve decided I’d like to get better at detecting and then working with my inner critic. I want to realize sooner when it’s giving me a headache.
My Zen Community runs a weekend workshop at least once a year, if not twice, on working with the inner critic. I have known about the workshop for sometime, but have found one excuse or another for not attending. One happens to be coming up and after this week’s conversation with my mother, I registered for it.
The retreat is in about six weeks. I’m both looking forward to it and not. I’m excited about learning some new tools to healing this aspect of myself. I also am anxious about staying at the monastery for the first time and about having to reveal and be present as myself in front of a group. All in all, I think it will be a good experience.
I’ll be sure to post here about my expereinces after the workshop.