I genuinely couldn’t work out why or how I landed the job as a Principal of a school many years ago. I felt apologetic and embarrassed when asked what I did. I called myself a ‘small p principal’ just filling in until ‘they’ (always hard to nail who ‘they’ ever was) would realise their mistake in giving me such an opportunity. replacing me with a real Principal who would do the job so much better than I ever could.
It was not the first time I’d felt this way about myself. In so many arenas of life I perceived myself as a ‘wanna be’, never the ‘real deal’; always fearing people’s closer inspection and inevitable disappointment when ‘they’ realised, I wasn’t what ‘they’ expected. This led to an unconscious strategy come pattern of self-sabotage by withdrawing before something even got off the ground such as a friendship, further study, a new venture, a job opportunity, or any risky undertaking where I might be exposed and found wanting. It also led to a pattern of cutting and running when people got too close, or challenges mounted in a situation I would perceive as potentially unmasking my outer layer of well-constructed but fake confidence and capability.
I’ve lived with a constant undercurrent of anxiety in all facets of life. As a wife, mum, daughter, sister, friend, student, employee and so on. I’ve always felt lacking, never enough, not quite the real deal.
I’ve described it as having one foot facing in and one foot facing out of most of my life; poised, alert, ready to run for fear of being unmasked, judged and rejected. I’ve lived with a restlessness, a wariness and weariness, always on guard, anticipating, pre-empting and proving over and over that I truly am not enough.
Some years ago, while in the midst of ‘sweating all the small stuff’ in my role as the self-titled ‘small p principal‘ in a school community, I participated in a 3-year training in the Enneagram. I experienced quite a few ‘ahhah’ moments in the quiet of the nunnery where the gifted gentle trainers taught us through reflection, meditation, oral story-telling and solitude how to recognise and hold for the first time, our true self, our wounded self, our image of God self. I recognised the Perfectionist; the good girl who strove to measure up, meet expectations yet always seemed to miss the mark. There is much more I could say and for anyone who knows and has worked with the Enneagram, you would agree it is one of the most intimate, wholistic and helpful journeys of self-discovery.
During this time, I was finally given the skill and the courage to come face to face with my ‘inner critic’. I had been introduced to him during a prayer retreat some time ago and I’d dubbed him ‘the crow’. I recognised him as the cawing strident ugly voice who constantly criticised, condemned, compared and crushed me. Yet seemingly he also protected me, prompted me, proved reality and truth about myself and my capacity in every situation.
He came out from the dark shadowy recesses of my mind and was exposed through the course of the sessions. I wondered why God had waited over half my lifetime to expose this nemesis hidden in my mind. He had done so much damage.
But now was the time to begin the journey, the painful hopeful letting go of this friend/foe.
It has and continues to be the ‘thorn in my side’ work for me. God has been at work patiently teaching me to daily listen for the Shepherd, to recognise, trust and obey His voice in my life. A voice of ‘perfect love that casts out fear’ every day, every day. As I write this blog, with niggling fear, because the ‘inner critic’ condemns every sentence, every phrase and even now wants me to hit delete, I know I am not alone in this journey of ‘unworthiness’ of which ‘imposter syndrome’ is a symptom.
Freedom, love, joy, peace and abundance have for many years been elusive. I haven’t deserved them, my ‘crow’ would say, as he reminds me of all my flaws and failings.
A friend once said in response to my ‘crow induced’ self-pity and habitual moaning about not being good enough, “Of course, Di, of course you aren’t enough, nor are you worthy. That’s the whole point of the gospel. That’s what God has been saying since the beginning. We as human beings are not able to live perfect lives, please everyone, measure up, be all that every situation requires. God knows this and gave us His son Jesus to set us free, to live an abundant life now and a life with Him in eternity. It’s nothing you can earn, nothing you need to fix or do. It’s God. It’s all Him.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I knew this. I knew this. But in that moment, my head and heart fully embraced the truth and as for ‘the crow’, well, his voice has for the most part, despite minor skirmishes from time to time, dulled, loosing his claws of control and his harsh pecking of power to steer my course.
I’m learning, still very slowly and haltingly, to enjoy being loved, appreciated, thanked, praised and equally misunderstood, criticised, judged and rejected. It’s all still happening, but how I respond is gradually shifting. I’m still hesitant around risks as I perceive them, still anxious first. But I do enjoy choosing to have a go, make mistakes, develop curiosity, wonder, awe and delight in the myriad moments of ordinary life.
I seriously could write a book. (Back off inner crow! – I could!) There’s so much to be gleaned from honest and open reflection as I have come to understand in the years of living that many of us crazy making humans are blighted/gifted with the ‘inner critic’. One thing I do understand is that this voice has given me an equal and opposite desire and hunger to hear God’s voice, to pursue a faith journey, to long for a fulfilling and satisfying life that I genuinely enjoy in all it’s imperfection.
I’m a teacher, a counsellor (a listener), a writer, a friend, a wife, a mother, a woman of God and most of all I am loved, cherished and treasured. I’m OK.