Quieting the Inner Critic at 3 AM
When my daughter has a bad dream, she comes into our room, gently nudges one of us, and says “I’m scared.” We can see the silhouette of her curly hair in the moonlight and hear fear in her shaky voice. We move over, cuddle her close, remind her it was just a dream, tell her she is safe, and whisper “I love you.” With a deep breath and new feeling of peace, she can fall back asleep.
But, when I wake up in the middle of the night, it is not such a peaceful scene. My mind starts racing...
I regret everything I have ever done or said or thought. My inner critic becomes a raging monster, reminding me of all the things I have forgotten to do, should have done, need to do.
In a quiet house, my thoughts are so loud it feels like they are screaming at me.
This drawing by Sweden Artist, Matilda @crazyheadcomics, pretty much sums it up!
After years of struggling with this, I have post-it notes by my bed, books to read, meditations to play, lavender, diffusers, journals...I've tried it all.
What has helped me the most, is that I finally learned to treat myself like we handle our fearful daughter in the middle of the night.
Offer reassurance, hug myself, speak lovingly to my worried mind, breathe deeply, and focus on peace. I realize now that I can be the observer of those negative thoughts, and quiet them. I get to choose what I think about.
My inner critic used to lead a failure debrief meeting at 3 AM, but now I look at that time as a gift to practice gratitude, connect to God, and listen for loving guidance.
The best antidote I have found to sleeplessness is gratitude. Sometimes I can lay there and start a list of gratitude in my mind and fall right back asleep. On nights when the inner critic is really focused on failure, I get up and walk around the house expressing gratitude for each person as they sleep, my spaces, my books, the work I get to do, the moonlight, nature, a stocked pantry, a garage, beds to sleep in, memories in each room, photos of our family, my faith, my dog (who I hope doesn’t hear me walking around the house and start barking.) Gratitude for all of it.
In addition to encouraging you to practice gratitude, I am sharing a practice on Inner Dialogue that is especially helpful in the middle of the night. We can learn to be in dialogue with an inner mentor when we need advice. This is a powerful tool in quieting rumination. I hope the practice below inspires you to have a kind inner dialogue the next time you have a restless night.
This is a practice that can happen throughout your day, not just in the middle of the night.
Honing the ability to dialogue with an Inner Friend is a skill that will sustain you through many struggles. In the coming weeks, I will unpack this a little further, but being a friend to yourself is something you can count on with everything else is falling apart.
You can picture this Inner Friend as God talking to you, a dear friend, or a wise mentor. Experiment with it this week and see how you feel.
If nothing else, I hope you sleep! Sweet dreams!