Loving the self-doubt monsters

3 11 2010

Someone who’s work and way of being in the world inspires me is Marianne Elliot who describes herself as a “Zen Peacekeeper and Change-maker”.  She also says,

“I’m a writer, a human rights advocate and a yoga teacher. Part of my purpose in life is to support and motivate others to find and own their own authentic place in the world and their own unique way to serve the world”.

Which is important work to be doing.

Recently she wrote a post about how to get things done when the self-doubt monsters are making their presence felt.  She suggested that leaping first, getting on and doing something before they get their talons into her was what had enabled her to get on and do some of the amazing things she has done.  Later she spoke of beating the self doubt monsters.

Now, pacifist that I am, I immediately notice when language like “beating” is used.  Marianne meant beating them in a race, getting there first, but that still raises a question for me.

This week she has written about the questions my comment raised for her and some of what she is thinking about whether or not to take notice of the fears and mean voices.  I think they are good questions, and I don’t claim to have answers.  But for what it’s worth, here are some of my thoughts.

I wrote a comment about her earlier post that goes like this:

“One thing stood out for me – it was the language of being able to “beat the self doubt monster”… Which made me think about ahimsa. And about how my self-doubt monsters are doing their best to save me – from failure or embarrassment or some other thing they’re afraid of. And that I don’t need to beat them so much as befriend them, and help them get better oriented to the world I actually live in. They often have a very narrow and skewed view… but they seem willing to soften and reconsider when treated with respect and kindness… I think for me there is something about faith in love: that love matters, that love changes things… even the self-doubt monsters.”

Ahimsa is a yoga ethic – it means non-violence and overlaps with my Christian pacifist view of the world.  And maybe winning a race against self-doubt monsters doesn’t imply any violence at all.  But it is a competitive rather than co-operative kind of image.  So I think some of my comment still stands.

You see, I don’t think having “mean voices” about our selves, our work or our gifts is inevitable.  I’m on the side of transforming the inner critic – especially when that inner critic is unreasonable or a fearmonger!

Christianity is about redemption – being freed from what binds us.  And about Love – God is love we say.  Loving our neighbour as ourself too.

So here’s the thing.  I wouldn’t say to anyone – “who are you to think you can do that?” or “you’re not good/clever/smart/strong enough to try that”.  But I do have self-doubt monsters who might get started on that line of argument!  The thing for me is to befriend them, to love them (loving myself as my neighbour in this case), to allow them to be transformed so that their protective instinct can be of service rather than a hindrance.  Sometimes we might have to negotiate a truce – “you hold your doubts and let me have a go and see what happens!”.

Sprinting past them to get to the start seems to me to be an exhausting way to begin.  I’d much rather we all set out together, me and the doubts and fears.  Even when it looks a little awkward and cumbersome as we start off yoked together as if in some strange kind of three-legged race.  For me this is the path of compassion, the way of love and life – because those self-doubt monsters, they’re part of me too.




4 responses

3 11 2010
Ian Mobsby

really interesting Jemma. I am not sure how you guys have done it, not sure I could have done what you have done.


4 11 2010

I think we agree with each other Jemma, very deeply actually. As for my ‘thinking outloud’ at the moment, it’s really just a matter of shifting my own emphasis in response to some new insights from respected teachers.

I’ve spent a lot of time learning to befriend those voices and it has been very, very fruitful work. They are much quieter now, the kinder I was to them the kinder they became to me.

But some are persistent, and I have enormous respect for teachers like Cheri Huber who says: ‘Offer kindness to the next upset voice you hear in your head. If it doesn’t accept it, never listen to it again’

So yes, absolutely – I always begin with kindness, softening, making space. But if the voices keep coming, and refuse to accept that kindness, I’m working on the ‘never listen to them again’ part.

Am I actually in a race with my doubts and fears? Of course not. But it does seem to help to move fast sometimes 😉

Thanks for joining the conversation – you remind me that when I write about ‘exactly where I am right now’ in a post, I might be doing an injustice to the long history of how I’ve come to be there… Which in this case is from a long practice of the softening and befriending!


4 11 2010

Thanks Marianne. I wouldn’t want to see our voices as being in opposition and I’m certainly not claiming that the way I’m muddling along is the best or only way to do things… But I’m also a 70×7 kind of girl. Even though that reference was Jesus talking about how many times to forgive a person sinning against you, I think it also stands for my relationship to that voice in me that seeks to bind me, or render me afraid. So I’ll keep offering kindness, and, by grace, finding the capacity to be forgiving, patient and persistent. I hope you find freedom from anything that gets in the way of shining your light brightly in the world or doing the work to which you are called. I hope the same for my self.


6 11 2010
Lilian Nattel

Jemma, I think you put it so well. Years ago I read “Healing into Life and Death” by Stephen Levine, and the one thing in it that I found astonishing was when he wrote about inviting the demons in for tea and discovering that they were, in fact, frightened children.

I understand how at times, things can be accomplished by ignoring or shoving away or mentally covering ears to those insistent and negative voices. It may seem, or even be, that in that moment the only option is to either listen and stop or to not listen and go. But there is a cost to that in energy and internal division.

In the long run, finding the time to listen and make peace results in wholeness, and that wholeness can then be brought to whatever task is at hand. If the world is to be healed, in whatever way each of us can do so, then each of us must come to it willing to love all of ourselves, including the doubts, including the snot and the feces and the whining that is all a part of our humanness.


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