Take Down Your Inner Critic

Its-hard-to-fight-anIf you’re suffering from self-loathing and a loud inner critic, you’re in the worst kind of prison. You can’t evict your inner voice, so if it’s harsh, shaming and unforgiving, there’s nowhere to run. If you’d categorize the way you’re speaking to yourself as abusive, were you to hear the same words coming from someone else’s mouth, then it’s time to stage a take-down. Because that’s no way to live.

Where Does Your Inner Critic Come From?

Sometimes we absorb the way we were spoken to growing up. Not everyone is received with love, not everyone is nurtured. Peggy O’Mara has a quote, “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” I think there’s a lot of truth to that, but it isn’t the whole truth. You may have come from an incredibly loving home, but suffered unkindness at school. Scared and confused children can be mean, as can those who feel powerless at home. Events may have occurred that made you doubt yourself, or question your ideas about your own worth. Sometimes we’re going along just fine, and then we’re completely derailed by a romantic relationship, or an interaction with someone who has power over us, and it’s a game-changer.

Other times, we learn and we grow and we look back and feel intense shame for certain choices we made, or ways we let ourselves or others down. There are all kinds of reasons that voice in our head can become critical and unrelenting. Coming out of abuse is another one. Feeling like love is conditional and can be withdrawn at any time will also do it, because any time you fail to meet your own unrealistic expectations of perfection, you’ve set yourself up for the punishing sting of pain and disappointment. There are all kinds of ways we can betray our own tender hearts.

We Are All in the Same Boat…

The thing is, in order to shine and to share, you have to have some belief in yourself. And to be straight with you, not believing in yourself is the worst kind of hubris. It’s not a level playing field, but we’ve all been given the gift of a body, some time here on earth, and the ability to love deeply. Squandering those gifts is the equivalent of hijacking your experience here. You can look back and rant and rave and point fingers. You can write a dissertation about why you are the way you are, and why it isn’t your fault, but time will keep on ticking. And you can’t have it back.

We all make mistakes. We’ve all suffered loss to some degree or another, along with heartache, grief, regret, fear, confusion, shame, doubt and longing. If we’re lucky, we’ve also tasted joy and gratitude, love, kindness and connection. It’s a mixed bag here on planet earth, but it’s a wildly interesting ride. Getting bogged down in rage is no way to travel. There are so many tools available, so many paths of liberation, so many ways to enjoy the gifts we’ve been given. You really don’t want to rob yourself of all the beauty available here.

How Do You Starve Your Inner Critic & Feed a Loving Voice?

How do you starve an inner critic and feed a loving voice? I’m sure there are many tools, but the ones I’ve tested personally are the physical yoga practice, and seated meditation. There’s a saying, “How you do anything is how you do everything”, and I believe that to be the truth. If you’re critical of yourself out in the world, the same will hold true when you’re on your yoga mat. But if you stick with it and make it about breathing deeply and consciously, and not about how you look or what’s happening around you, a miraculous thing will happen. You’ll start to take the road marked “Inward”, so you can take a look around and start dealing with anything that isn’t serving you. You can start to observe yourself from the inside out, and build the muscle called compassion. You can work on the quality of patience. You can calm your nervous system with your breath. You can create enough space between your thoughts to get a taste of something called peace. And you can develop the ability to witness your tendencies, your thoughts and your feelings. You can start to recognize that you don’t have to believe everything you think, as the saying goes. You can start to choose better thoughts. Over time, you can feed a loving voice so it grows and strengthens and takes over your life. It just takes work and determination. Feel free to reach out if you need a little nudge.

Sending you love,
Ally Hamilton

starve-your-inner-critic

The Part That Is Personal

Sometimes-life-knocksOften I get emails from people who tell me their relationships would be wonderful, if only their partner would change. And sometimes they tell me they’ve been to therapy hoping that would help, but there hasn’t been any movement. Here’s the thing. We can never change other people. No one can ever change us, either, unless we want to make a shift. And you can find yourself at a real stalemate, and start to feel hopeless and stuck.

But just as we can never change other people, we are also not set in stone. You can always change what you are doing, and there’s tremendous power in that. When you look at the situations in your life, the story to pay attention to is not the one about what this person did, or how things unfolded in ways you couldn’t have imagined, or how something beautiful turned to something painful. I mean, you can examine all of that, but the thing you really want to dive into, is the story of your own participation.

Sometimes people get very clear on the “not taking things personally” part, and that’s wonderful. If someone is abusive, cruel, unkind, dismissive, thoughtless or disrespectful, that’s a reflection of where they are on their particular journey at this point in time. Is is not a reflection of anything lacking within you. But, and this is an important but, what is about you is your decision to continue to interact with people who don’t know how to do anything but hurt you. That part is the personal part, that’s the part you want to understand.

We’re not always talking about awful, abusive situations. Sometimes it’s just a matter of the spark going out. People take their partners or loved ones for granted all the time. Sometimes we think we have people “pegged”, and we don’t have to pay attention anymore. But everyone and everything is in a constant state of flux. You are not the you of five years ago, and neither is anyone else. You can’t ever peg anyone. But you can stop looking and listening and appreciating and cherishing and celebrating people, and that’s a sad but common occurrence. And if you find you’re in a relationship like that, where you feel unseen and unheard and taken for granted, you’re probably not going to turn that around by pointing fingers, and letting your partner know all the many ways he or she is blowing it. Because it’s never one person. In any relationship, there are two people, and the third thing, the space between them. That is where the relationship exists, in that space. Each person decides what’s going into the space, and this is true whether we’re speaking romantically or otherwise.

It’s easy to lose the thread. But if there was a spark in the beginning, if there was communication and vulnerability and honesty, you can find those things again, by offering them yourself. When you change what you do, things change around you, people respond to you differently. Also, your happiness is your own responsibility. You can’t put that on anyone else, that’s an inside job. If you are not at peace within yourself, if you’re not feeling inspired, if you’re not loving yourself well, no one can solve that but you. The idea in a healthy relationship is that you support your partner, you don’t look to him or her to solve your pain for you.

If you’re in an abusive relationship, and by that I mean verbally, emotionally, or physically abusive, it’s time to do something. Physical abuse demands that you create physical boundaries. In other words, you have to get out, and you’ll probably (definitely) need support in doing that. You cannot stay and expect things to change because they won’t. Or they will, but not in a good way. Your life here is a gift. It isn’t something you want to gamble. And thinking your love or patience or tolerance will finally change things is a dangerous delusion.

If we’re talking about verbal and emotional abuse, boundaries are also in order. If you’re not worried about your physical safety, it’s time to draw the line. If a person cannot treat you with care and consideration, then what is the relationship about? Are you financially dependent? Does the abuse remind you of the way you grew up? Does some part of you believe that you are not good enough to deserve love? If you get a yes to any of those questions, you need help and support. Low self-esteem is dangerous because we betray ourselves when we feel we aren’t worthy of being cherished. We put ourselves in situations that are crushing and heartbreaking, and you can only take that for so long before you become depressed or hardened, or you need to numb the pain. That’s no way to live.

There is no happily ever after without your participation and action. There is no person who’s going to sweep in and save the day and make everything okay, unless you decide to be that person. Be that person, seriously. Life is too short for anything else, and it can be so beautiful. Sending you love and a hug. Reach out if you need help, Ally Hamilton

Color-Blindness

You-must-love-in-such-aYou are the sum of all your actions, and so is everyone else. That doesn’t mean you can’t and won’t make mistakes, or that your poor choices stay on your “permanent record” forever; it’s just that what we do, the things we say, and the choices we make define us. As long as we learn and grow along the way, as long as we do our very best not to hurt other people intentionally, we’ll all do just fine.

The thing is, sometimes we want something so much, we refuse to look at a person’s actions or hear their words. Maybe what they’re saying is shocking to us, or disappointing, or hurtful, or just not at all what we’d expected. Maybe the choices they’re making are confounding. You really don’t want to brush these things under the rug, or try to talk a person out of feeling the way they do. If, for example, your partner tells you he or she is not happy in your relationship, you have to hear that. Telling a person that the way s/he feels doesn’t make sense is not the same thing as taking in what was said. It’s not.

If your loved ones say they don’t feel heard, and you respond with all the evidence about what a great listener you are, don’t expect them to feel like you’re getting it. You can’t tell someone that what he feels isn’t valid, because feelings don’t have to be true, and they don’t have to make sense. That doesn’t mean you have to agree, but if you want people who are close to you to feel like you understand them, you have to try to wrap your head around the idea that what’s clear to you may not be to other people.

Did you know that one in twelve men suffer from some degree of color-blindness? That means if you grabbed a guy off the street, there’s a one-in-twelve chance he won’t see what you’re seeing when you look around. Now, when we’re talking about being color blind, we get that there’s a real difference in perception that can’t be helped, but we’re all color blind to each other to some degree. We’ll never fully be able to look through someone else’s eyes, or live in someone else’s head. We will only know people to the extent that they allow us access to their interior worlds. And the same is true for us. How honest are you with the people in your life? You can be in a relationship and still be totally alone. You can be alone without being lonely at all.

It’s hard enough to embrace the vulnerability of this gig. The worst thing you can do is make your life and your relationships murkier and more fragile by running from what’s true for you, or what’s true for others. If someone wants to leave you, you have to let them. If someone feels unheard and it’s a someone you love, you have to hear that, and see if you can learn to listen in a different way. Sweeping things under the rug, grasping to the reality you want when it isn’t real, clinging to people who want to run, none of that is living. That’s grasping, and it’s exhausting. Open hands. Open eyes. Open mind. And most of all, open heart. Sending you love and a huge hug, Ally Hamilton

Not This, Not That

buckminsterfullerIn yoga practice, so much of what we’re doing is about stripping away. It’s very possible, and quite common, to reach adulthood and have no clue who we are or what we need to be at peace. Culturally we’re taught to look outward for happiness; if we just meet certain “markers”, if we can look right and have the right job and the right partner and the right house and car, then we’ll be good to go. A lot of people are so focused on attaining these outer signs of happiness, they pass right by the signs that would actually lead them there.

Also, there’s the way you grew up. Maybe you were taught, in word or through actions, that your worth as a human being was based on your performance; if you did well in school, if you were a good boy or girl, then all would be well. If you screwed up or failed to reach the bar, love was withdrawn and the disapproval was palpable. Maybe punishment was swift and intense. That’s just one example, of course. There are many. Maybe you grew up in a house where you felt unsafe, and you learned to be indispensable or invisible depending on the moment. Maybe you were spoiled rotten and taught that you were the center of everything, and that other people existed in order to orbit around your needs and wants. Perhaps you were taught that your needs and wants were something you were supposed to swallow, and that your fears and dreams had very little impact on the world around you. Maybe you were parentified and got a huge lesson in care-taking and people-pleasing. It’s a huge spectrum, but the chances for knowing yourself are slim in any of these scenarios.

This is why we have so many people who reach adulthood and have no idea which way to turn. The house doesn’t do it, the diet doesn’t do it, the right partner doesn’t do it. What’s the point? Where have they gone wrong, why isn’t the formula working? The formula doesn’t work because it’s based on the stuff around us, not the stuff within us. I know someone who’s been searching for the “perfect house” for years. Money isn’t an issue, the location could be anywhere. No matter where he goes or what kind of house he buys, it’s never the right one. It never does the trick. If you want to be at peace, you have to get your true house in order. Your body is your home. If things are not well within you, they won’t be well around you, even if you buy a mansion in Bali and have people on hand to feed you fresh mango at your every whim. There’s no escaping yourself.

In the yoga practice, we’re looking for “vidya” or “clear-seeing”; being able to identify what is real from what is unreal, what is permanent from what is impermanent. You have to question everything you think you know, because you may have accepted things along the way, decades ago, that turn out not to be true for you. You may have adopted ways of being that don’t serve you, that dis-empower you, or block you from receiving love and joy. You may have a lot of unlearning to do. Maybe you’ve come to believe you aren’t lovable, or that you’re broken in some un-fixable way. Maybe you think you can’t trust anyone, or everyone lies and cheats. There are all kinds of ideas you might have developed that just aren’t true, and so you have to dig. You have to unearth. You have to do the work to heal your deepest wounds so they don’t direct your entire life. The way to peace is inside, not outside, and the sooner you start, the faster you get to a place where life feels good. Avoiding this work is the surest way to suffer. You aren’t here to suffer, although it’s part of life sometimes. You’re here to shine. I wouldn’t wait.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

What Are You Waiting For?!

The-show-doesnt-go-onThere’s such a tendency to wait in life. We seem to suffer from this delusion that life is going to start somewhere out in front of us, when “things calm down”, but this is it. Life is happening right here, right now.

Sometimes we put off difficult conversations thinking we’ll wait until the situation is less intense, or hoping that circumstances will magically change on their own. We think we should wait to have a baby until we have our “ducks in a row”—a larger house or more financial stability, and don’t get me wrong. Bringing a human being into the world is a huge responsibility, and you want to be as emotionally and financially prepared as possible. You want to know yourself, and have some sense of your strengths and weaknesses (you’ll get a huge lesson in all that even if you do), but babies need love and stability. They need that a lot more than fancy stuff.

Anyway, the point is there’s never a perfect time to do a challenging thing, whether it means standing up for yourself, ending a relationship that doesn’t feel right, pursuing your dreams with everything you’ve got, committing to your partner, working on shifting a way of being that isn’t serving you, or bringing a person into the world. There is no perfect time.

Life is messy and complicated and unpredictable. You can do your best to find inner steadiness, to follow the pull of your heart, to forge a path that feels right for you. You can learn to communicate honestly and with compassion. You can do your very best not to hurt other people, to consider the impact of your speech, actions, and choices on those closest to you, and to practice empathy. But if you’re waiting for things to be less chaotic or uncertain, you’ll be waiting a very long time, because that’s the name of this game.

You create peace within you, and you can try to create it around you, by inviting people into your life who are also trying to communicate what’s real for them in a kind and loving way. But things change and people change, and life will always surprise you, sometimes in devastating ways, and sometimes in ways that expand your heart more than you could have imagined. We aren’t here to wait. We’re here to play, to explore, to make mistakes, to learn, to grow, to share, to connect, to give. But not to wait. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Be Your Own Clean-Up Crew

jimrohnSometimes we get ourselves into difficult situations, and find we really want a way out, but the way does not seem clear. This is really common when we’re young. I certainly got myself into some tight spots along the way, and made a mess on the way out. Part of it is just that it takes time to know ourselves. It’s very easy to go through the first quarter of our lives being influenced by external factors. We might place a lot of value on what other people want for us. How other people want us to be or to feel. We might feel pressured by societal norms, or the way our friends seem to be doing things. There are countless ways to get lost on the path.

And when I say “the path”, I’m not suggesting there’s one path for everyone. I mean, your particular path. The one that’s going to lead to your deepest, truest self. The one that’s going to take you to your joy so you can swim in it and share it. The thing is, we aren’t encouraged to look inward, we’re taught to focus outside ourselves and meet certain markers, and those markers might differ from family to family, and from culture to culture, but we all have them. The expectations, the ingrained beliefs and ideas about things. Sometimes we have a lot of unlearning to do to figure out what makes sense to us, to uncover what scares us, inspires us, excites us. If you haven’t figured that out and you go ahead and make huge life decisions before you know who you are, you’re pretty much guaranteed to crash into some brick walls, and hurt yourself and others. As long as you aren’t reckless with other people, as long as you don’t set out to hurt anyone, no one can hate you for being young and confused, for thinking you want something, and then getting it, only to find out it is not what you thought it would be. That’s called being young and making mistakes, and it’s how we grow and learn.

Having said all of that, your choices and your actions define you, as does the way you make your mistakes, and the way you address them. What you do about how you feel is the stuff of character-building. Making a mistake is no crime. Handling it in a cruel or unkind way, leaving someone in the dark, showing a lack of compassion and empathy—those things are crimes. They’re crimes against your own heart and your own well-being, in addition to the harm you’re inflicting on the other party. The human heart is resilient, and most people will recover from heartbreak, abandonment or betrayal, given enough time, and assuming they avail themselves of tools that help with healing. Having to live with the fact that you treated someone poorly, though, that’s another thing. At night, in your bed, when all the noise of the day stops and you’re left with your thoughts and your internal dialogue, there’s nowhere to hide. You can’t run from yourself. You have to be able to live in your own skin, and breathe.

Sometimes we get desperate and it’s hard to face the mess we’ve made and so we try to run or hide or deny or deflect, and of course, that just compounds the pain and confusion, and lengthens the time it will take to heal. You cannot heal in murky waters, and you cannot heal if you lie to yourself. The sooner you face your problems head on, the sooner life will feel good again. It’s funny. Years ago I was on a play date with my son. He was about four. When we were leaving, I told him to go and help his friend clean up the mess of toys they’d created, and the other mom said her housekeeper would do it and that she preferred that anyway, because she didn’t want to end up with a nerdy kid who wore a pocket protector. I said I didn’t want to create a grown man who left his dishes and dirty laundry all over the house for his wife to pick up. I didn’t say it as a challenge, it just kind of slipped out, and we looked at each other and laughed and she sent both of our boys to go clean up. Often I see dog poop on the street. It’s the same syndrome. If you go through life expecting other people to clean up the messes you’ve made, don’t expect to be happy, because part of being happy requires that we’re accountable, that we’ve taken ownership of the way we’re going to show up in the world. Sometimes in an effort to help someone, we rob them of the opportunity to do that. Instead of helping, we’re enabling behavior that’s weakening this person we love, and true love doesn’t weaken us, it strengthens us.

Sending you some love right now,

Ally Hamilton

When to Hold On, and When to Let Go

Some-people-believeSometimes it’s so hard to know when to hold on, and when to let go. This comes up in all kinds of relationships. Often, we’re dealing with people who simply do not know how to love. Maybe there’s a history of abuse, and they’re continuing the cycle of what was done to them. Maybe there are personality disorders, and we’re dealing with people who don’t feel empathy, and are incapable of communicating in a compassionate way. There are people who go up and down…sometimes they’re rational, and other times there’s no logic at all, no possibility for understanding. Those are often the most challenging cases, because we get lulled when things are good, and blindsided when the tides turn. The thing is, after you’ve been through a few cycles with someone, you have to stop allowing yourself to think things are going to be okay every time they have a good week. Your heart is tender, and it can only take so much battering. Also, you are the steward of your own ship, and if you keep sailing into tsunamis, you can’t expect things to go well. There are also cases when we’re dealing with betrayal, and it’s hard to know if we should try to open again, or cut our losses and move on. Sometimes we’ve just grown in different directions and need something else, maybe something we’ve never known before. Like belief in ourselves.

Here’s the thing. If someone has a history of treating you badly, you have to distance yourself. I mean, if it’s not a relationship you want to end completely, then boundaries are your only option. I’m talking about familial relationships here. Most people do not want to cut ties with their parents, siblings, or exes when there are children involved. I really consider that a last resort. There’s a deep pain when we have to walk away from people who were meant to love us, and didn’t or couldn’t. There are cases when ending the relationship and cutting off ties is the only option, so I want to acknowledge that, but short of instances of abuse, boundaries will usually get the job done. We can love people who have a hard time being consistent, while still loving ourselves.

If your parent or parents have never been there for you, if you’ve had a fear-based relationship and doubted your value to them, I do think you need to step away. Sometimes that’s incredibly difficult. If you rely on your parents financially, or you come from a culture where you don’t leave home until you get married, it’s not as easy as just moving out and starting your own life. Obviously, it’s very hard to heal and to create boundaries when you’re living under the same roof with people who’ve let you down in all the important ways. You can recognize that perhaps your parents are repeating what was done to them, but that does not lessen the impact on your own gorgeous heart. It’s beautiful if you can see that it isn’t about you, or anything lacking within you. It takes strength and insight to understand that some people, even your parents, might not have the tools to love you well, and that it isn’t a reflection on you. You’re lovable. You’re made of love and you’re full of love, and if your own parents can’t see that and receive that and embrace that and nurture that, that is very sad for them, and a heartbreak for you all. That doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t have love in your own life. I would say removing yourself from the situation is ideal, but if you aren’t in a place where you can do that yet, protect your heart in all the ways you can. Nurture yourself, be kind to yourself. Mother yourself.

If we’re talking about romantic relationships, betrayal is a tough one, and I also think it’s a case-by-case situation. Let me say that if you are unhappy in the context of your committed relationship, bringing another party into the mix is a very bad idea. If there are children in the picture, you’re putting your whole family on the line. You’re also making troubled waters murkier. If you’re at the point where you’d even consider going outside your relationship, it’s time to grab your partner and head to therapy, because the answers to the problems do not reside in a third party. That isn’t going to fix things, it’s going to confuse them further. Maybe you and your partner have gotten off track. Maybe you’ve dropped the thread. Maybe you’re so convinced you know everything there is to know about one another, you don’t even pay attention anymore. Perhaps you’re out of balance. Maybe there are little ones in the picture, and you haven’t figured out how to nurture them, keep a roof over your heads, and still find time for romance. Maybe you’re full of rage or resentment, or a list of ways your partner isn’t showing up for you. Maybe you’ve shut down. The things is, relationships need our time and attention. Human beings thrive on love and connection and communication.

Sometimes people blow it. They get desperate. They feel lonely or unseen or unheard, or they feel unwanted in every way, and they act. Maybe they’ve felt rejected or disrespected, and someone at work is making them feel amazing, like everything they say and do is brilliant. Like they’re hot and desirable and hilarious. You know how it goes. A flirtation starts to build and then there’s emailing or texting and the next thing you know, something has happened. I mean, you can’t play with fire like that and expect to walk away unharmed. When there are other people in the mix, like your family, that hurt has deep and far-reaching consequences, and now, instead of focusing on the problems that existed between you and your partner, the number one priority will be fixing what you’ve done, if your partner is even open to allowing you to try. You’re going to have to be patient, and understand you broke their trust. You’re going to have to be transparent, and also compassionate. Basically, you’ve just created a bigger mess for yourself, and you’re likely to feel resentful, because all the other issues are going to take a backseat to your making things right, which might not be possible. Having said that, people can recover from betrayal. It takes two people who are willing to fight for the relationship. If there are kids in the mix, I hope you try. If it’s a pattern, and there’s a history of cheating, you’re probably not in a good situation, but if it’s a one-time thing, and you can recognize that both parties contributed to the deterioration of the relationship prior to the betrayal, you can come out stronger on the other side.

Sometimes there are no kids in the picture, but there’s a long partnership. People sometimes write in and ask if it’s okay to leave someone just because they feel pulled to do so. Usually, these are people who are very used to putting other people’s feelings, needs and wants ahead of their own. I don’t believe anyone would thank you for staying in a situation out of pity or guilt. We all deserve more than that, don’t you think? It’s never easy knowing what to do when our heart is in the mix, and other people are involved. I do think people tend to walk away from their families too easily these days. I think it’s heartbreaking when parents and children don’t speak, when brothers and sisters aren’t in contact, when people walk away from the families they’ve started without giving it everything they’ve got, first. I also think life is short and precious, and that we don’t have time to waste. If you know a thing is dead, release yourself, and the other party. If you’re holding on to something toxic, by all means let go, or get yourself help doing that if you need it. Love is worth fighting for, and sometimes that means we hold on, and sometimes it means we let go. Trust your instincts.

Sending you love, and wishing you peace,

Ally Hamilton