The Inner Protector

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A while back I cited Michael Montoure about the inner demon, that little bastard in the back of our heads, continually running us down and reminding us at the worst possible time of everything we’ve ever failed at:

What you don’t realize is that your demon doesn’t know anything. It’s an idiot. It’s nothing but a parrot, repeating back to you anything negative that it’s ever heard, anything that makes you hurt, makes you squirm. If a teacher once told you, “You’ll never accomplish anything,” it was listening; it hoards words like that and repeats them back to you to watch you jump. It doesn’t know what it’s saying. It doesn’t care. – Michael Montoure

I tumbled on a good way to beat that demon. This is actually quite simple, but really made a huge impression on me. What we need is our inner protector.

Rick Hanson is a brilliant therapist who writes an equally brilliant blog, besides other projects. Recently he wrote an excellent piece in The Huffington Post entitled “Ten Steps To Forgiving Yourself” that maps out a strategy for putting down that damn demon (Rick calls it an “inner critic”):

For most people, that inner critic is continually yammering away, looking for something, anything, to find fault with. It magnifies small failings into big ones, punishes you over and over for things long past, ignores the larger context, and doesn’t credit for your efforts to make amends. Therefore you really need your inner protector to stick up for you: to put your weaknesses and misdeeds in perspective, to highlight your many good qualities surrounding your lapses, to encourage you to keep getting back on the high road even if you’ve gone down the low one, and frankly, to tell that inner critic to shut up. – Rick Hanson

It’s amazing synchronicity the way these two pieces complement each other. Montoure empowers us to beat the demon; Hanson gives us a method. Hanson says that it’s important to acknowledge mistakes, of course, and learn from them so they don’t happen again. But most people beat themselves up way past the point of usefulness, usually with the help of that little bastard demon/critic.

Everyone has had someone in their life who cares about them. The first step, says Hanson, is to be open to the sense that you’ve taken aspects of this being into your own mind, including their caring for you. Part of your inner protector. Stay with the feeling of being cared for, Hanson continues, and ask the protector what good qualities it knows about you. “These are facts, not flattery, and you don’t need a halo to have good qualities like patience, determination, fairness, or kindness.”

This to me is the brilliant part. From that place, Hanson says to separate the mistakes that happened into three piles: moral faults, unskillfulness, and everything else. “Moral faults deserve proportionate guilt, remorse, or shame, but unskillfulness calls for correction, no more.” That distinction is all-important. Not everything we screwed up is an indicator of a serious moral failing or irreparable personality flaw: sometimes, it was just unskillfullness.

But in an honest way, continues Hanson, take responsibility for moral faults and unskillfulness. “Say in your mind or out loud (or write): I am responsible for ______ , _______, and _______ . Then add: But I am not responsible for ______ , _______, and _______ . For example, you are not responsible for the misinterpretations or over-reactions of others. Let the relief of what you are not responsible for sink in.”

No matter what needs to be done, you can’t address a problem until you define it. This is critical. That means defining all aspects of what it is, plus all it is not. We’re never responsible for every single consequence or manifestation of something we’ve done. That’s what that little bastard demon would have us believe.

Hanson goes on (paraphrasing):

– Acknowledge what you have already done to learn from this experience, and to repair things and make amends. Let this sink in.

– Next, decide what if anything remains to be done — inside your own heart or out there in the world — and then do it. Let it sink in too.

Now check in with your inner protector. Is there anything else you should face or do? Listen to that “still quiet voice of conscience,” so different from the pounding scorn of the critic. If you truly know that something remains, then take care of it. But otherwise, know in your heart that what needed learning has been learned, and that what needed doing has been done.

– And now actively forgive yourself. Say: I forgive myself for ______ , _______, and _______ . I have taken responsibility and done what I could to make things better.

It’s not easy to do this: a lot of us are far more prone to give credence to the critical demon than to someone who cares about us and will take our side no matter what. Hanson writes in another article, “In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.” But this is great stuff. This stuff works. Similar to visualizing the demon, like Montoure recommended, and maybe even get hold of it and tear it out of you – actually visualize the inner protector and stay with the feeling of being cared about, of being looked out for, of someone having your back. It’s you, man. No little bastard demon can get between you and your protector.

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