Emotional literacy, the inner critic, and the Raw Communicator
In ITB, inner exploration is a cornerstone of healing and embodying wakefulness. To heal is to include what has occurred in the past and embodiment is transcendence through inclusion. Quite commonly the greatest difficulties we encounter in any inner work are the habitual thoughts or “voices in our head” that are often contradictory, cruel, or misleading. And while theirs been much said in the spiritual or new age community about what to do with these voices I have always found that there is only one sure fire way to respond to them.
With over 20 years of personal self-reflection and supporting others in such endeavors I’ve uncovered some pretty compelling material. By far the most startling was that ALL my inner voices where in support of me. Yup, I know. Sounds crazy and contradictory. And its all true… with some translation though.
You may be aware already that we’ve all incurred some pretty serious trauma throughout our lives. Whether or not it was serious or we made it out to be serious (I was deeply heart broken and betrayed by my mother when she didn’t let me wear my dirty underwear on my head to the dinner table at age 5) the language that we used on ourselves or heard from important sources (parents, siblings, friends, peers) about the events often stuck and exacerbated things.
As I listen to young adults and teens these days, I recall how my friends of my youth and I once related to each other with confusing slang and often condemning language. I reflect on how judgmental we were and emotionally insecure and uneducated in relationships. With these references of less than supportive language of my youth it makes sense that most of the voices in me use incredibly cruel, exaggerated, and deeply inaccurate language to express what is alive in them and the messages they are attempting to convey. I came to see that this is the center of the story. What I came to see and what many of my teachers and contemporaries have confirmed is that it is the messengers that mishandle and poorly translate the message. The message is simply information.
Our body, through evolution has developed an incredible environmental barometer we call emotions and sensations. Every emotion and sensation is relaying a story about our internal or external environment. When we do this to the external environment (including a person, place, or thing) we call this “empathy.” Neurologically, empathy occurs because we like all creatures have “mirror neurons” which are the neurons of empathy. In fact, we’ve got 200-300 times more mirror neurons than any of the other advanced brains on our planet. This system is so old that it primarily communicates through sensation and emotion. This means that every sensation and emotion is telling you a story about your reality in a deep and rich way. As these senses and emotions come to awareness, we tend to attach a story to them and often those stories can be inaccurate and abusive. In ITB we consider the majority of sensation and emotion to be data, information about our reality. We’ve noticed that the prime challenge though is not that the data exists but how I choose to translate and use such data.
I could walk into a crowded room at a social gathering and feel uncertain, a tightness in my tummy or chest. From this data that my body has just collected and depending on some of my social experiences, my lack of emotional literacy, and internal awareness training (or lack thereof) I translate this data as meaning that, “they’re all staring at me. I look so stupid. Nobody truly sees me. I’m gonna end up feeling lonelier than I felt driving here tonight.” With this inner statement the voice is sending an inaccurate and self-abusive message based off it’s misinterpretation of the data immediately gathered by the mirror neurons.
Through countless hours of shadow work exercises, therapy sessions, and reading and re-reading books on emotional literacy/intelligence and healthy communication I came to a final conclusion. My inner voices where, in reality my cheerleaders and comrades with really shitty communication skills.
My Inner Critic, like so many other people’s in the world, was quite mean. I’d spend several hours doing visualizations of me dominating it, in some way. After so many tactics of shaming, battling, raging against my inner critic, going to “healers” trying to heal the inner critic, talking with my parents attempting to satisfy and redirect this inner critic I finally did the unthinkable: I listened.
Not “listening” as if I was condoning its assessments and statements but, listening as if this was a friend that had a really shitty couple years and they simply needed to express. I listened, I “held the bucket” as they purged, and then I reflected back to them what it sounded like they were feeling and thinking. This my friend was the turn of the tide, this was the great shift I had been looking for.
Inner Critic (IC): You always mess this stuff up! You’re such a failure.
My Inner Awareness (MIA): Are you trying to say that you think it’s important for me to prepare for this event?
IC: Ya? That’s what I just said.
MIA: Do you think it’s important for me to prepare because what I do matters and has an impact on myself and those around me?
IC: (more emphatically) That’s what I just said!?
So that’s the short version of course, but that’s what we ended up with. After several attempts at this and educating myself in Voice Dialoguing (Hal and Sidra Stone) and emotional, needs, and social intelligence (M. Rosenburg, D, Goleman, Junpo D. Kelley) what came clear was that my ability to translate the data was flawed and miseducated. This was compounded by my tendency to fabricate stories to confirm my worst fears based off these poor translations.
“I’m angry” turned into, “something/one I care deeply about appears to have been mistreated/abused.” I care for myself, so when I thought I was being treated incorrectly I felt anger. With work, anger turned into a realignment with protecting what I cared about, which was me.
“I’m afraid” turned into, “I deeply acknowledge that my actions have real consequences (either bad or good outcomes) because I exist and have meaning.” Fear was simply trying to remind me that I mattered, and my actions mattered. Fear also wanted me to know that I was mortal and would die at some point and so I need to deeply consider my actions.
“I’m sad” turned into, “I desire closeness and intimacy with someone/thing and am struggling with the constant changing of reality, impermanence, and that I cannot have everything forever.” Sadness insisted I stop arguing with the fact that life is constantly changing. That life, all things are precious and, on their way, to somewhere else. That if I listen close to sadness it will bring me into deep intimacy with everything.
The Raw Communication Pillar in ITB is the culmination of my work and study of how we humans communicate, how we limit or liberate ourselves linguistically, and how our communication abilities reflect our integration. The resources suggested above helped me and others in the process of cleaning up and clearing out how we are trained to communicate with ourselves and others. Staying curious was the final step in consistently staying intimate with the messages my ancient empathy system was trying to send. Becoming a Raw Communicator has allowed for greater ease of sharing, deeper bonding in reconciliation, and a general richness in all the relationships I bring it to. And while we are never done learning and refining our ability to communicate, it helps to start with a deep commitment to remaining clean, clear, and curious in our communication.