“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
—Pogo (Walt Kelly)
I found an old book published in 1982 a couple of weeks ago called The Inner Enemy, How to Fight Fair with Yourself (Dr. George R. Bach). The top header immediately caught my eye: ‘Stop being ruled by that little twerp inside you!’
We’ve all got one—that twerpy inner voice nagging at us about one thing or another. Names for it vary:
The Inner Enemy
The Inner Critic
The Enemy (meaning the devil in Christian corners)
The Dragon Within
The Inner Bully
And plain, old fashioned Guilt
Dr. Bach defines our Inner Enemy as the uncreative focus of our energies. “It is our anger turned inward on ourselves.”
Sometimes it is much more than a nagging voice—it is a relentless roar with an unfathomable litany of abuse. We want acceptance from others, but we permit the pedantic Twerp to sing its songs of self-judgment. If anyone else ever said such things to us, we would likely terminate the relationship. But all too often we allow this part of ourselves to run amok and dictate far too much in our lives.
Few are immune. Les Brown is a world renowned motivational speaker. I’ve been listening to his speeches and in one he talks about his experience with being told he had prostate cancer. Even as one of the most influential motivators, he was overcome by the voice of fear and skepticism just as strongly as any of us. He was bold enough to comically reveal some of the crazy things he did in abject terror for the sake of saving his life.
Wayne Dyer, for all of his self-help books and proselytizing on attitude, fell into a deep depression when his marriage failed and admitted to staying in bed once for 3 weeks.
Not even Jesus or Buddha were exempt.
There is always a consequence for allowing the nitpicking voice to rule unrestricted or for denying it altogether. It may be as seemingly benign as couch potato-ism or it could seductively lead us down the dark path to tragedy. On an almost a weekly basis we see how the Inner Saboteur defeats countless actors, athletes, and musicians—people who appear to have it all. They seek to silence the voice with drugs, sex, and alcohol to the point of destruction and death.
The first line of defense is admitting that we have an inner voice that is not working for our best interests. We often dismiss the idea that we have an Inner Enemy. If it only creeps out in one area of our life, it’s easier to ignore. We’d like to believe we are Twerp-free and to present as though we have our shit together, but if we are honest with ourselves, we will most likely find evidence of its existence. The Twerp loves when we refute its presence or power because unacknowledged, it has carte blanche to freely maraud, harangue, and pillage our lives with glee.
Dr. Bach states in the book:
“Becoming aware of the Inner Dialogue, encouraging fair debate leading to decisions which reflect our own best interests, are crucial, for the outcome of the Inner Dialogue determines the outcome of our life. It makes the difference between success and failure, pleasure and pain, self-esteem and self-loathing.”
It’s that powerful. Once you succumb to the Twerp (believe its lies), it’s a downward spiral. How can the Dragon Within pull your life off course?
The most obvious way is when we try to make a significant change in our life. Have you ever started a diet, taken up meditation, quit smoking, began an exercise routine, or tried to break a bad habit? The Twerp’s backlash to change can be torturous enough to stop even the strongest of us, sending us running with our tail between our legs, back to the safety of the status quo. Twerp abhors change.
Have you ever …
- Called yourself a name or negatively labeled yourself?
- Habitually missed deadlines?
- Lost things constantly?
- Been prone to workaholism?
- Become a clumsy bumbler for no reason?
- Procrastinated in a big way?
- Berated yourself viciously?
- Let fear keep you from doing something fun?
- Overindulged on a regular basis?
- Had writer’s or artist’s block?
- Totally goofed off when you had something important to do?
- Talked yourself out of a really good idea?
- Felt irritated and angry for no apparent cause?
- Given up on love or a dream?
- Gotten sick right before an important event?
- Stayed at something or with someone you don’t like or even despise?
- Doubted your ability to do something you know damn well you can do?
- Had perfectionist tendencies?
- Concerned yourself with the good opinion of others?
- Felt dread or anxiety when things are going too well?
If so, you’re likely dealing with Twerp tampering.
Uncovering the voice is not always easy. The Twerp can be incredibly subtle and sneaky and prefers to keep a low profile. It hangs out in the subconscious and can leave you feeling mystified about unidentifiable angst.
Twerp keeps a running list of every rule our parents, teachers, culture, our church, and all authority figures have handed us. Conformity is its lexicon. It deftly catalogues every mistake, failure, label, criticism, embarrassment, heartbreak, betrayal, and shameful event. It is indefatigable in spinning the old stories ’round and ’round in our heads when the time to strike is ripe.
Do we come fully loaded with an Inner Twerp? Without a doubt we are infected with viruses that begin shortly after our arrival on Planet Earth. We’re handed down dumb-ass belief systems and hear all types of messages that give the Twerp momentum. It starts at home, not necessarily out of malice, but of generational hand-me-downs and ignorance, and then can proliferate with interactions from teachers, friends, and fellow students. Negative feedback, criticism, and bullying at school all feed the hungry Dragon. We download and store these messages in our operating system and Twerp guards them like Fort Knox.
The movie What the Bleep do We Know?! brilliantly illustrates the significant damage the Twerp can do to us. Within the documentary is the story of a woman who has become embittered by a cheating husband and how her Inner Critic affects her life and relationships.
Thankfully, we do have a supportive inner cheerleader that tells us “I can do it,” “I am skillful,” “I am intelligent,” etc. It’s the motivator and inspiration behind our successes. It’s our spirit and comes from the seat of the soul. It can tell you to stop doing something harmful, but if that voice attacks you, it’s definitely not coming from your higher self.
We war with the Twerp. We try to silence and smother it. We wrestle with it. We are disgusted by it. But I’ve begun to see that the voice is not the devil enemy we imagine it to be. It is the rejected, the hurt, and the scared parts of us. Ironically, it is born in self-protection, yet set free to make tainted decisions and twisted declarations, it ends up capable of obstructing our best laid plans and can slowly and painfully fester into self-hatred.
Making peace with the Twerp is the best way to come to a truce. Years ago I worked with a therapist who suggested I name that nasty critic. I called her Annabelle the Bitch. Lately I’ve been negotiating with Annabelle (I dropped the bitch part—not the best way to build a friendship). She’s revealed some interesting information.
I heard Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) speak today about what she feels her biggest triumph has been. She said it was the process of understanding the harsh voices within. She spoke to them and calmed them as she would her children. She told them to rest, to go to sleep, and that she would take care of them. She quieted them.
What is your Inner Twerp trying to tell you? What poppycock is it selling you about you? Let it speak and then listen. Pay close attention to its stories rather than letting it run unchecked through your thoughts, casting black clouds over your days. Call and counter it on its bullshit, loudly. Cry if need be. Rather than disown this influential part of yourself, discover what it wants and quell its fears. Befriend it instead of declaring a war that you won’t win.
Ask the important question: is what it is saying really true? Once we question and dismember the lies and warped perceptions of the Twerp we can transform our relationship with it.
The Twerp is a formidable foe and the war within is the biggest battle we will ever face. The good news is that we have the power to make peace with it. From a Jungian perspective, shedding light on our shadows dissolves the monsters we seek to keep hidden under the bed.
From all accounts, the payoff of acknowledging and making peace with our demons is as unique and varied as snowflakes. When Liz Gilbert put hers to sleep after doing the work in an ashram, was it worth the effort? Well, let’s see … after she left India she found love in Bali, walked away from her journey with a worldwide blockbusting bestseller and is a highly sought-after speaker with yet another new bestseller.
While navigating life by heart, I have come to understand that the taming of the Twerp is the most crucial peace work we can ever achieve in life. Being gentle with ourselves; loving ourselves; having compassion for ourselves transmits like a satellite around us. It inspires and heals those within our reach. It can shift the outcomes in our lives: as within, so without.
Who knows what your payoff could be in a peace treaty with your Twerp? I propose you make an ally of your shadow. Whatever wonders await you, I wish with all of my heart that peace be with you and with the wounded world at large.
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