Who you calling evil?

Over lunch, I was telling a friend about my inner critic: the voice that tells me I’m not good enough, the voice that demands that I should do more and better of whatever I do.

“That’s your yetzer hara, she replied.

“Piru” by Jäinenbanaani – Tietokone. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

I was startled by that context for the Hebrew phrase meaning “evil impulse”—the Jewish version of the cartoon devil on your shoulder. I considered my inner critic to be well-intentioned, if overly harsh. Sure, it calls me names sometimes—lazy, selfish, irresponsible—but isn’t that simply a misguided effort to help me be the opposite of lazy, selfish, and irresponsible? Isn’t that voice trying to help me do good things? How could it be evil?

But we were deep in conversation, so I just blinked and went on.

A few days later, my friend used the phrase again in an email. This time, I stopped to think about it.

Ostensibly, my inner critic wants to generate good impulses, spurring me to take good actions. But in truth, this voice demands perfection. It sets an impossible goal and then bullies me for failing to do the impossible. It rejects my true self as “not good enough,” demanding that I become someone else—someone who doesn’t exist and never will. If somebody put those demands on a loved one, I wouldn’t put up with it.

Trying to brush off my inner critic doesn’t work. Thinking of it as the yetzer hara allows me to talk back. When I stop thinking of this voice as trying to help me, and see it instead as intending harm, I can argue. Instead of “yes, but,” I can respond: “No, you’re wrong. I did not fall short. I did not let people down. Nobody expected me to do more or better—nobody except my yetzer hara. And who asked you, anyway?”

What is the Mary Oliver Challenge? Glad you asked! You can read about it here.

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