When good things happen, especially when I’ve hoped and wanted them for a while, the Cautious Carol part of me kicks in. Driven by avoiding potential problems and dangers by whatever means possible, she presents me with worst-case scenarios and prods me with anxiety. Thanks to her peeing on my parade, she’s sucked the initial high out of things in the past. As a result, I’ve come to understand this aspect of myself and know that I overestimate the potential for drama and disappointment in these scenarios. It’s my inner critic acting almost like a cooling device, tension relief for that part of me that wants to protect me from being ‘too happy’.

The idea is that if you don’t believe too much and you’re hypervigilant and on the lookout, you can’t get too hurt. You can’t disappoint others too much or make a tit out of yourself believing that something good actually happened to you. And even when it becomes clear that something is real and so Cautious Carol has to back off somewhat, she’s just waiting for the moment that something goes wrong. The slightest hint that something might be a little off and she’s rushing in with her overnight bag ready to take up residence.

And I always know that it’s the inner critic part of me, not me, because of one particular thing: the switchiness.

When it’s your inner critic and yes, fear and ego at work, no matter what you do, it comes up with something else. Whether you obey it or not, it keeps switching sides.

“OK, but what about…? And another thing… But have you thought about…? But what if..? OK, now I know my forecast of doom was incorrect and that it’s this scenario instead, have you thought about this other problem? And what about [that time from a few decades back]? Yes, I am dragging in everything but the kitchen sink! Don’t be forgetting that now and getting ideas above your station!”

Now that I’m aware of this habit of mine, as opposed to believing that my overprotective inner critic is my inner voice or the gospel truth, I can step back a bit. I’m curious and compassionate about this aspect of me that quite frankly exists because of trauma. I recognise my younger self and my old pain and loss.

Distinguishing my inner critic from my authentic self and inner voice has given me a sense of humour about these ‘episodes’ of self-doubt, anxiety, self-criticism and naysaying in the face of accomplishment, achievement and joy.

“Oh, look who it is! Good ole Carol’s here ready to dampen the proceedings. OK, what have you got for me? Lay it on me!” In knowing that this part of me is overzealous and exaggerated, I see it for what it is.

The thing is, if you deny aspects of yourself, they seep out in other ways, such as passive-aggression and projection. You make room within yourself for shame and fear, and don’t realise how much it distorts your perception of things. You’ll struggle to know what’s real and what’s your imagination. But when you accept yourself, darker parts and all, you have a greater sense of what’s authentic and you also have awareness of your emotional baggage. In this way, you can take better and better care of yourself as you heal, grow, learn and live.

Are you ready to stop silencing and hiding yourself in an attempt to ‘please’ or protect yourself from others? My book, The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon), is out now.

The Joy of Saying No by Natalie Lue book cover. Subtitle: A simple plan to stop people pleasing, reclaim boundaries, and say yes to the life you want.
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