The Gentle Exorcism of Dexter, My Inner Critic.
I’ve been reading quite a bit lately, and the concept of the inner critic seems to come up often. This has led me to some deep thought regarding my own inner critic whom years ago, I decided to name Dexter.
Dexter is a mean little demon who takes up real-estate in my brain but refuses to pay any rent. He’s angry and destructive. Everywhere that he goes his main purpose is to damage if not destroy.
There was a time in my life when Dexter ruled my world. So much so, that my belief in the things that he said left me paralyzed with fear and shame, making it impossible for me to function. Many years ago, his abuse was so successful that it was difficult for me to leave my home and I starved myself down to 92 lbs because he had convinced me that I didn’t deserve food.
As I grew, and found my way to a healthier place, Dexter would tell me to stick with what I did best. He would tell me that making costumes, was the only thing I’ll ever accomplish in life. He would point out that I’ll never be great at it, adding that I’ll never be great at anything, but for the most part, he kept reasonably quiet and allowed me to do my work.
Having lost some of his power, he decided to stick with what was easiest. He would lay dormant until I would try to grow creatively through art, or music, or writing, anything really, and he would be sure to wake up to remind me that I was attempting to do things that I shouldn’t. After all, who did I think I am?
His harassment caused the panic attacks that I had during guitar lessons. The same panic attacks that had made me decide not to pursue a career in music when I was in high school. To me this was a sure sign that I could never really be a musician at any level.
When I decided to to take up photography, Dexter convinced me to throw my first rolls of film in the garbage without even developing them. I finally became brave enough to develop some pictures, but threw the first prints out without even looking. My belief in Dexter was so great that any mistake or failure to me was proof that he knew what he was talking about. Dexter enabled me in my own quest for unattainable perfection.
I knew that I had created him and he used that against me. “Look at you. ” He would say. “You can’t even control what goes on in your own head. You’ll never do anything right.”
I tried everything I could to destroy Dexter. I tried to make him leave his comfortable home by abusing him back. I tried talking him away, I tried medicating him away. I imagined him locked up forever in a sound-proof vault where I wouldn’t be able to hear him anymore and though he would take vacations from time to time. He always came back.
Unfortunately for Dexter, my drive to create was stronger than his drive to destroy me. It is simply impossible for me not to try, no matter how hard it is to try. So I kept trying photography, until I couldn’t hear him anymore. I continued taking music lessons including singing which was something I’d always been terrified of even when I was alone. He faded a bit, but the battle was never ending.
The thing that I am learning now, is that you cannot change anything by force. I’ve learned to be gentle and loving towards myself, and in doing so, I am gentle and loving towards Dexter. After all, he is me.
Apparently, you can kill with kindness.
Learning to love myself was the ultimate win. In typical bully fashion, having been truly challenged, Dexter has crawled off into a far away corner of my mind and curled himself up into a tiny ball. his voice, is still audible at times and his words still have the ability to bite and hurt… but only if I let them.
Now, when I hear his frail whisper I say “Sorry Dex. You can live here if you insist but know this; I do not have to listen to you!” And I don’t.
So, my dear Dexter, thank you for all that you’ve taught me. Thank you for showing me my strength and resilience. Thank you for helping me to grow. Thank you for teaching me not to be hurt by words.
Now go back to sleep!