Pacify the Critic: Ayurvedic Relationship Tips
I am excellent at pointing out when something needs to change. In fact, it is probably one of my best team-leader traits. It has, however, ruined many a romance for me. See, my inner critic not only has great ideas about what I should be doing differently, but often some useful advice for what others should be doing differently as well. And that can be a bit of a relationship killer.
Maybe you can relate. Have you ever felt that if you could just get your partner to change that one thing, that one behavior that agitates you to no end, or depletes your intimacy, your relationship would be better for both of you?
You do your best, trying to explain just why that one particular thing is frustrating. Perhaps over a cup of tea, or a glass of wine, or during a “honey, lets take a walk” talk. But after a few walks and glasses of wine, your partner gets wise to your motivation and begins to avoid your sweet invitations to go for a stroll or sit and "talk about us.” Maybe this leaves you feeling hurt and misunderstood. Perhaps your partner's reticence even pulls a few triggers from past relationships.
Is all of this hitting a little too close to home? If so, I hear ya! This is a common experience for us pitta dominant hotties! Our intention is generically to make our loving relationships even better, but we often become too rajasic (yoga-speak for agitating or "activating") and we end up behaving somewhat abrasively, often coming across as too sharp or insensitive. This is not our intention, but out of our zeal to be effective we often end up miscommunicating (or overcommunicating) and our partners may shut down (if they tend more toward the kapha end of the spectrum) or space out (if they tend to be more vatic). This really burns us up!
So, what does a well-intentioned fireball (aka pitta gal) do with her morsel of insight about how her partner could improve when this insight is dismissed and abandoned by her “better half”? If you're anything like me, you may wonder to yourself: WHY won't they just appreciate this oh-so-benevolent and selfless offering of wisdom?! Well, after much thought, lots of walks (by myself), and some good "teachers" (aka past lovers), it has come to my attention that my inner critic is most likely a "Debbie Downer," not just to me but to my partner, too. Really, it's a double loss: my partner is understandably upset, and my inner critic tells me I am a failure due to the fact my advice was shunned!
I often change my behavior to accommodate my inner critic’s comments. Don’t wear that, it makes you look too (fill in the blank). Don’t say that, you'll seem too pretentious. Or You need to push back, otherwise you will appear weak. At times these "suggestions" have been useful, and deep down, I know my inner critic's intentions are good. I’ve critiqued myself to protect myself from getting my feelings hurt, but lately, many of these helpful “tips” are starting to feel like an overplayed script. I'm beginning to see where those past lovers were coming from. #Humilityishard
The key here is to be able to become aware of when a trigger stimulates us and to make friends with our rajasic responses or reactions.
For many of us, the inner critic's voice was formed from the collective voices our parents, authorities, and old patterns of behavior called defense mechanisms. These memories and habits get activated (become rajasic) when triggered by familiar situations and environments. Because we are relational beings, often it is in our most intimate relationships that this self-critic shows up to “protect” us from being hurt, abandoned, or humiliated, as we were in the past. The key here is to be able to become aware of when a trigger stimulates us and to make friends with our rajasic responses or reactions. Our triggers can be positive signals, telling us that we need to become conscious and aware when old patterns are being “turned on." And when we become conscious of this, we are able to use our heightened awareness to activate new responses like breathing techniques, asking for a “few minutes,” or simply sitting down to feel ourselves grounded—anything to help to break the old patterns and offer space so that we can respond skillfully. This is a “friendly” association to our rajasic patterns as it allows us to experience a stimulus or “trigger” without the compulsion to simply be reactive.
How Our Inner Critics Relate to Our Doshas
When our minds become rajasic (think passionate, yet agitated and "wired") and our thoughts are jumping all over the place, we tend to compensate with "opposite" actions and behaviors, things that we figure will numb, "rein in," or "calm" our agitated minds. Sometimes we compensate with emotional eating, or with numbing agents like alcohol or narcotics. Other times we compensate by trying to exert control. This is where the pitta folks (Hi—that's me!) tend to excel. We love to be in charge anyway, and we are usually pretty good at it, so this desire to “fix” or offer "great ideas” is our natural pathway to direct the dispersed energy of our minds, aka rajas (activity).
How do other dosha-dominant peeps tend to work with their inner critics? Vata-dominant people are often more at home with this disbursement, as vata dosha is most related to the element of wind. If the right creative outlets are in place, then vata simply uses her gifts to create. However, if she has not learned how to positively direct her energy, she may look to bring in heaviness (food, sedatives) to help her slow down and steady herself. These maladaptive measures actually do just the opposite—they create a false sense of stability and ultimately cause anxiety to rise even more.
In relationships, thanks to their light, airy nature, the vata guy or gal might find it tough to pacify their rajas, so a vata-dominant partner might find it overwhelming to try to stop the "wind” (movement of vata) in their mind and body. As a result, they may engage in the aforementioned unhealthy behaviors, or be tempted to “cut and run." This is generally an impulsive response; in psych lingo we call it “being reactive.” This can be both a reaction to their inner critic or to a partner’s criticism.
The kapha-dominant folks, well, they often react to criticism by simply “hunkering down," getting stubborn, or turning inward. They may also feel depressed in these situations. Remember that kapha is related to the elements of earth and water so their inner critics want to slow down the process of change or conflict. The kapha guy or gal will want to examine criticism—to measure it, think (a lot, and slowly) about it, and check out all possible outcomes! This is his attempt to be safe and to rule out any surprises before moving or making a change. The inner critic of kapha can get triggered by “too much, too soon,” and in response their nature attempts to tourniquet the flow and put the brakes on any emotional oil spills. The kapha inner critic “EMT” response can be experienced by their partner as another type of controlling.
So how do we drop all this drama? I'm learning that the key is to ask my inner critic to kindly “flip the script” and let go of her idea that she needs to be in control. And then to let another aspect of myself, (like my inner curious detective or my compassionate campfire girl), take over for a bit.
Though it could feel uncomfortable at first, you might find that relinquishing some control ends up feeling like a super-sweet surrender. When both partners (whatever their doshas may be) throw up the white flag, let the energy naturally flow without fear that it will overwhelm, and just hold space for each other, partnerships can flourish and they often discover new paths to healing and intimacy. Don’t worry, self-critic, you will always have a home in my head, but keep your paws off my heart and my partner!
Kathryn Templeton has devoted her life to the health of others. A psychotherapist for more than 30 years, she continues to work both clinically and as an educator specializing in the treatment of individuals with complex trauma, anxiety, depression and now ASD. As C-IAYT Yoga Therapist, E‐500 RYT ParaYoga teacher, and NAMA registered Ayurvedic Practitioner, Kathryn has worked to develop specialized treatments integrating the principles of yoga and Ayurveda with clinical therapeutic... Read more>>