My Mean Girl Inner Critic
As I locked up my bike and walked up the front steps, I thought to myself maybe this won't totally suck. It can't possibly be as bad as I've imagined. Who knows? I might make some new friends, see some familiar faces, not get my ass kicked. Anything is possible. As I walked down the hall, trying to find my first class, I tried to act normal. Just play it cool. Deep breaths. You can do this. As I passed the rows of lockers and tried not to stand out, I considered that this might actually turn out okay. Then I heard that voice.
"Oh. My. God. Seriously?" I would know that Valley Girl accent anywhere. "I'm so sure! Is that a Motley Crue t-shirt? So lame," she said with disgust. I slowly turned around, praying that I was wrong. Fuck. It was her. I should have known she would be here today with her Guess jeans and her confidence. Her lipgloss was shimmering in the light and she was glaring at me. She despised me and I couldn't win. She was popular and pretty. She was everything I wasn't and she and lived to point out my flaws. She was the complete opposite of me. She was perfect.
"You let your mom cut your hair? Gawd. You look like a boy. Good luck not getting laughed at today. Maybe no one will notice you. As if. You should probably just keep your mouth shut so you don't make an idiot of yourself. Don't worry. Just do what I say and you might actually survive seventh grade."
It wasn't the first time we'd met. She had always been around, waiting in the shadows to make me doubt myself. She made me feel dumb and questioned everything I did. She was sure to make an appearance when I made a mistake and laughed at me whenever I got hurt. She would drop by every now and then to call me a loser but during junior high she seemed to show up at every turn with her arms folded across her chest, her hip jutted out to one side, rolling her eyes. She made it clear she wasn't going anywhere.
I hated that chick. She was always in my face, judging me. She made sure to let me know about every stupid thing I said and every time I embarrassed myself. She was extremely bossy but I was weak, afraid to have any opinions of my own. I was gullible. She would demean me and I just took it over and over again. She made herself impossible to ignore.
By high school, she had me convinced that I wasn't nearly as smart as I thought. She had me trained to play small, keep my head down and fly under the radar. "Dumb it down," she would say. "You're not going to get straight A's, so why bother? I wouldn't even try if I were you. Besides, boys don't like nerds. You're pretty. That's all they care about. They don't want to hear what you have to say. Show your body more. Give them what they want. It's not like you can afford to go to college anyway. "
She always told me what a failure I was and I believed her. I was envious of her. Maybe resentful is a better word. It all seemed so easy for her. She had all the answers. She was sure of herself. She was together. She didn't fixate over every little detail trying to get everything just right. She didn't have to rehearse conversations in her head to make sure she would know what to say. She didn't try on an entire closet full of outfits before circling back to the first one. I bet for her everything just fell into place.
In my twenties, I had a job, a social life and a lot going on. It was harder for her to keep up with me then. But sure as shit, every time another boy broke my heart, there she was with her ripped jeans and her attitude. "Of course he dumped you," she would say. "You're too needy. And you're no fun. You need to be sexier and less talkative. Be more adventurous. You shouldn't expect so much. Loosen up. Just act normal. Reign it in. Go with the flow. Stop acting like such a hot mess." She would remind me that I was broken and not enough. She told me I was better off being miserable with the familiar than risking rejection trying to find someone new. So I always ran right back to the cheaters and the narcissists, the bullshit and the lies and begged them to believe that I was worthy.
I knew deep down that it was toxic. She was preying on my insecurities. I made her feel good about herself. I desperately wanted to end it, but how? Just the thought of confrontation made me cringe. And I was never a fan of change, even when it was for the best. I couldn't tell her how I really felt. She was too controlling. And the truth is, I was too unsure of myself to go it alone. I felt like I needed her in some codependent way. It was easier to let her degrade me than to tell her off. I was stuck.
When my son was born, she became more intrusive. She didn't even knock anymore. She would just barge right in and make herself at home. She would get inside my head. "Eew. You've really let yourself go. If I was your husband I would be sleeping around by now. Why are you drinking so much? It can't be that hard. You only have one kid and no job. What are you crying about? You better get this right. Don't fuck it up. Make it perfect. Don't ask for help. You can do it all. Be better than that. Try harder. Don't complain. Make it look easy. Prove yourself."
I thought to myself, "she's right." I was scared. I didn't want to fail. I wanted to be perfect. I wanted to be a great mom. I wanted to have it all. So I listened to the most consistent words I could hear and I believed them to be true. And the more I believed, the more evidence I would find to support the fact that I was imperfect and failing.
When my husband lost his battle with depression, she got even louder while the rest of my world came to a screeching halt. Even the trauma I was going through didn't shut her up and at times her voice was all I could hear. "It was your fault, you know. You let this happen. Why didn't you do more? You should have seen it coming. You weren't enough. You couldn't even make him happy. Now what? You're a single mom. You better get your shit together. Who will want you now? You're a broken mess. Nobody will ever love you again."
It was too much. I couldn't take it anymore. Something had to change. And as I started to slow down and work on myself, I learned to become curious. Could any of her words really be true? Am I worthless? A terrible mom? A total dumpster fire? Should I really be anxious and afraid, hiding in the shadows, never trying to move forward again? Will I really be alone for the rest of my life? And then it hit me. She's protecting me. From failure, from rejection, from pain. All this time, in her own fucked up way, she was trying to help. I had to break free.
What if I stopped giving her my power? Just because she keeps showing up doesn't mean I have to let her in. Her opinions are optional. What would happen if I opted out? Maybe I have more wisdom than I think. Maybe I know what's best for me. Could it be true that I'm so much better than she says I am? What if I faced my fears and stumbled and never heard a single mean thing? Suppose I had my own back. What if I made friends with grace instead?
It won't be easy breaking it off with her. She's been in my head my whole life. But people change. We grow. Things end. I'll have to ease into it. Take baby steps. Pull back, fade out. She won't believe me at first. I've never stood up for myself before. She'll think it's all an act. She'll test the waters, I'm sure. She might not take it well. She might even stalk me for a while, showing up out of the blue trying to catch me off guard. Or maybe she'll just text me once in a while. Whatever she does, I will thank her for checking in and let her know I've got this. I'm moving on. I'm choosing love and empathy and kindness instead. She may have meant well. She may have regrets. I'll never know. Either way, she's not welcome here anymore.