Many of us who have been scapegoated as children and into our adult life, develop a harsh “critical inner parent“. This can cause us much anxiety and make us doubt ourselves over every little thing. It undermines self confidence and makes us afraid to take healthy chances. I like the phrase “inner heckler.” As I mentioned in a previous post, I actually thought mine was my own voice, until my therapist asked me to listen to it more closely to see if it could perhaps be my mother’s voice. He was right!
Growing up, I was given very mixed messages. Sometimes praised, when I reflected well on her (good grades, people complimented my behavior or appearance). But often berated, shamed and criticized. I was often compared unfavorably to others. Before I even started kindergarten, she’d told me I’d be prettier if I had blonde hair and blue eyes like my cousin. If she was in a bad mood when she came home, she’d fly into a rage if in an otherwise clean house, a pillow wasn’t aligned correctly on the couch. She’d get in my face and scream how I was lazy, stupid, etc. The few times I yelled back, it tended to escalate to physical with slapping, shoving, punching, so I learned to appease and keep things calm for my own safety.
Things were very inconsistent. One night, talking to my mother when she wasn’t in the mood to talk after she came home could provoke a rage. The next night giving her space so she could decompress could provoke a rage. Or a sad, self-pitying sulk where she’d claim I must not love her if I wasn’t talking to her when she came home. I was rarely physically abused, but knowing the potential was there kept me anxious and walking on eggshells.
On one board, someone posted a clip of Christopher Titus. The forum conversation wasn’t about the inner heckler, but the comedian does a pretty interesting thing with his inner heckler. While I don’t approve of calling it one’s “inner retard” or mocking people with developmental disabilities, I do like how he sets that voice out as different than his. First reference starts at about 5:00 into the video:
Recently, I’d been having a lot of trouble with my inner heckler, so I decided to adapt a modified version of his approach. I call mine Bat Poo Crazy Cakes or Batty Poo for short or by my mother’s first name. I picture her as she looked when she made the least amount of sense, wearing her top & panties and walking around the house unsteadily & slurring her words. This would usually happen after she drank a sizable amount of the economy size bottle of Almaden or Gallo. Things could go either way on such an evening. Either it would be “I love my babies very much” or it would be one of those nights where having me when she was 19 held her back from what she wanted to do and her life would have been better if she waited until she was older to have kids. Now, I don’t doubt the truth of that, but being as I was the kid in question, perhaps I wasn’t the best choice of people to express this to! That’s what one’s friends, etc. are for. But why go to the trouble of calling a fellow adult when one can parentify a kid without all that inconvenience of calling/meeting another adult (being sarcastic here in case it’s not obvious)?
Now, it may not be any better to mock someone’s addiction and mental illness, but I find this depiction has been helpful. Even in just the few days since I reframed it that way. It allows me to “consider my source” and realize my inner heckler makes no sense and should not, under any circumstance be taken seriously.
Here’s an example. A few days ago I went to a spin class at the gym. Per the gym’s policy, I’d signed up the day before to reserve a spot. The earliest bus got me there just in time to change and be ready for the start of the class, so I didn’t get to stake out a spot. Some people who didn’t sign up had taken spots.
My first instinct was to just slink off and not say anything because Batty Poo was telling me I was out of shape and people were going to laugh at the idea of me taking a spin class. But I told Batty Poo we got up at 5 am for this class and we are going to take it. I was struggling with how to speak up and let the instructor know I’d reserved a spot. But another woman already was doing so, so I just added my “me too”.
There was a bit of a standoff and the instructor had to threaten to get the sign up sheet before the people who hadn’t signed up freed up some bikes. Batty Poo was babbling on about how they deserved the spot more than me because they were toned, fit and more of the same. I told her to STFU and informed her that if she was planning on sticking around, she better pedal until she couldn’t talk because I didn’t want to hear her mouth. She was quiet until she started comparing my progress in the class unfavorably to other people’s (too slow, not enough tension). I informed her the point of the class wasn’t to compete with other people, it was to give me a good workout. Then I mentally shoved her heckling ass off the bike! It felt good! 🙂
At about 6:55 in the video, Titus goes into how he left his father’s house and how his inner heckler said, something like “yeah but I’m coming with you for the rest of your life” . I found this to be helpful too. Aside from college vacations (a couple of Summer Breaks and Christmas breaks), I haven’t really lived with my mother since I was 18. Even the breaks were miserable enough that I found excuses to live in the city where I went to college and to return early from Christmas breaks. So I’ve felt kind of wimpy/stupid that all these years later, it still affects me. It’s been nearly 3 decades since I lived with her on any regular basis. But that inner heckler is always with me. Feels good to finally get a bouncer for her!
One of my recurring nightmares has been where for some reason which is never clear in the dream, I’m living with her again and she’s berating me. The last one I had of these was a few months ago. I told her she was mean and WTF was her problem. Then I walked out. Haven’t had one since.