This Memoirist Wants to Help You Quiet Your “Inner A**hole”

“I care what people think. I just don’t let it be the boss of me.”

Before writing her 2019 memoir, On Being Human, author and teacher Jen Pastiloff had to do battle with some fairly substantial obstacles: an eating disorder, deafness, grief, and the persistent voice of doubt inside her. That latter self-critic is a phenomenon most of us are familiar with. RuPaul calls it the “inner saboteur,” but Pastiloff has given it a sharper moniker: the Inner Asshole.

Thanks to a sense of humor, yoga, journaling, and the highly important art of not taking herself seriously (as well as antidepressants), Pastiloff’s now in a position to help others combat the self-doubt and fear that may be stopping them from fully flourishing, via her writing workshops. What she knows about the art of authenticity can help anyone who’s feeling stuck or stymied by the expectations of those around them. Here, she explains how to combat negative self-talk and start “living real.”

On Being Human is a memoir of “waking up and living real.” But what exactly does that mean?

I have what I call an Inner Asshole — we all have one. Some of ours are louder, some quieter. My IA just wants me to doubt myself and to sound smart and profound, and like I know what I’m talking about. And that’s what the “living real” part of the subtitle is about. Living as our authentic selves despite who the world, or our own IA, tells us we should be.

It’s a declaration saying: “This is who I am. I will not pretend that I can hear. I will not pretend I am younger than I am. I will not pretend I don’t live in a one bedroom apartment. I will not pretend I am not on antidepressants.” In short, I will no longer hide who I am for fear that you won’t like me. I will be unapologetically myself in a way I did not allow myself to be until my late thirties. 

The “waking up” part is still happening. More than two years into the pandemic, I am waking up even more.

Your story and mine have a lot of parallels: First of all, we both worshiped our fathers. But you tragically lost your dad when you were just eight years old. For people who haven’t read the book, what was that time like for you?

My dad was 38 when he died. He was my best friend, my co-conspirator, and my biggest fan. He smoked 4 packs of Kools a day, which feels like a lie but it’s not. Once, he asked me to run across the street to get him another pack. I had flushed his pack down the toilet because he had promised he’d quit. He said to me, “Jennifer, you are being bad and making me not feel good.” I said, “I hate you. You always break your promises. I hate you.”

That last conversation we ever had. “I hate you” were my final words to him. I decided it was my fault — I killed him. I took on a new identity from then on as a bad person. That was my inner monologue every day of my life until my 30’s: “I am a bad person. I do not deserve to be happy. I do not deserve to hear. I do not deserve to eat.”

When someone told me that he’d died, I began to teach myself how to lock everything inside. I never cried. Not once. If I could go back in time, I would have allowed myself to grieve. It’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about working with people who are grieving. And it’s the impetus for my Allow Writing workshops.

Not allowing myself to grieve then was the worst thing I could have done, but grieving has no expiration date. We can allow ourselves to feel whatever we need to feel. 

Another thing we, unfortunately, have in common is our struggles with eating disorders. What was it like to relive that toxicity, when writing On Being Human?

I’ve been reliving it a lot lately. I started a 30-day poetry challenge on a whim and hundreds of people are writing their own poems with me, daily. I’m writing a lot about my past eating disorder and that’s amazing because it feels like I’m alchemizing it into something beautiful and something that sadly, so many relate to. 

The other equally true answer is that my eating disorder never left. No, I don’t starve myself, nor do I exercise for 4 hours a day or loathe myself in the ways I used to. But when I’m stressed or sad or peri-menopausal, it’s where my brain wants to go. The path of least resistance. 

My nephew has a rare genetic disorder called Prader Willi Syndrome, a deletion or partial deletion of the 15th chromosome. It affects the hypothalamus in the brain and sends a signal that tells the person they’re starving. It’s the cruelest and most heartbreaking thing and my sister has to padlock the fridge and alarm all the cupboards. It’s caused me to really rethink how I think about hunger and food. We get to have hunger. We get to satisfy that hunger. My nephew never does. May we have compassion. 

Like many of us, you practiced a lot of negative self-talk: “I’m a bad person” or “I’m not smart enough” or “I’m not pretty enough.” How did you break that cycle?

Who said I broke it? The biggest way I quieted the voice and that crappy self-talk is with humor. It’s the most important thing to me — finding the levity. But it’s all about our daily practices. 

For me, those daily practices include not sleeping with my phone next to my head, so email or work or news isn’t the first and last thing I do every day. Or Instagram, where I might start going down a comparison rabbit hole. I also begin with a morning prayer I call my “Body Prayer” that starts with “May I remember…” and lists all the things that remind me of who I want to be in the world. It starts my day off in a very intentional way, which is how I want to live.

I also keep a journal I call the “Off the Hook Book” where I let go of whatever needs letting go. I write in it at night to dump anything before bed that’s weighing me down. I let myself off the hook for not being perfect, for my perceived flaws, or for eating an entire bag of salt-and-vinegar chips at midnight then falling asleep in my clothes on the sofa without brushing my teeth. 

Perhaps the most important of all, I try to not take myself too seriously. I also own the site — dot com was taken.

Yoga was a salve for you. Tell us how you first got into it. 

There was a tiny gym right next to my waitress job at The Newsroom Café, and I started doing yoga there, in a little space in the center of the gym that they’d carved out for it, to heal my body from years of over-exercise. 

Yoga in the middle of that gym, with all the clanging weights and loud music, taught me how to tune out the noise and go inward. It also was the only place I did not hate myself. So I kept going and going. It didn’t save me from depression, but helped a lot. It wasn’t until I went on antidepressants and combined that with yoga and all the other practices that my depression began to subside. But yoga was also a way out of my waitressing job because I became a yoga teacher, then started doing the first versions of the On Being Human workshops I still do. Yoga was a way out and writing was a way in. 

I came back to my writing after I became a yoga teacher and that led me here. My entire life and livelihood is about union, connection, and what I call the “I got you” effect. That phrase is my only tattoo — so far — and it’s how I do my best to live my life. 

You had trouble hearing as a kid, and then lost your hearing even more when you were pregnant with your son. Despite being deaf, you’ve built a career around listening. I’m guessing the irony of that isn’t lost on you…. 

I’ve always had tinnitus. It’s a constant ringing in my head that has made me want to die in the past. I never talked about my declining hearing, but rather just bought into what people said to me: “You don’t pay attention. You’re spacey. You don’t listen.” 

When I finally admitted to myself that I couldn’t hear, I thought I was broken and since I believed I was a bad person, I thought that being broken was par for the course. I also falsely believed that if I spoke that truth out loud, it would become real whereas if I kept it locked inside, it’d disappear. Then, when I decided I couldn’t function any longer without hearing aids, I wrote about it and how I was ready for hearing aids. but couldn’t afford them. Someone read that and got me a pair. 

When I was pregnant with my son Charlie six years ago, it declined even more, to the point that I could no longer hear without my hearing aids. Thank the lord of waiting tables, I had learned to lip read while waitressing. With my lip-reading skills and my hearing aids, I was able to get by.

I’m an amazing listener because I have had to learn to listen with my entire body. My deafness has been a gift and that doesn’t mean I don’t have days where I scream in frustration because I cannot make out what is being said. But it has led me to this incredible place where I can hear almost better than anyone I know, even when I miss some words. The irony tickles me.

The way you write about pain and loss throughout your life is so relatable. How has the loss you’ve experienced helped you connect with people in your workshops?

Because we’ve all had loss and pain and if we haven’t, we’re either lying or we’re a very small child. I share mine in such a way that says, I’m the same as you. Sure, the details are different but when we see ourselves in others it feels like a miracle. Like we aren’t alone, after all, despite what our Inner Meanie has told us. 

I use a lot of humor and demonstrate what not taking myself too seriously looks like. So, people look at me like Oh, she’s normal. I am terrible at so many things, and that’s OK. We can’t be good at all the things. But I’m damn good at what I do, and that is connection. I create spaces that allow people to feel safe and comfortable in and I listen fiercely. But I can’t cook a chicken, I’m math-averse, and I also can’t type. 

You encourage people to be silly, but I think a lot of adults feel like they’ve lost “the art of silliness.” How can people get that back? 

That is a b.s. story — nobody forgets. It’s in us. But most folks won’t allow it because of the dreaded fear of What will they think? So I model what being silly looks like and what not caring what others think looks like, and that helps people open up to their own playful side and their own willingness to not let everything be so hard all the time. And for transparency’s sake: I care what people think. I just don’t let it be the boss of me and my recovery time is quicker. 

When I teach yoga or workshops we always have a dance party and sing out loud. I was even on Good Morning America years ago for creating karaoke yoga, but it’s an easy way to feel freer and also it is fun. We get to have fun. I say this sentence a lot: You get to have this.

It’s true — we get to have fun. We get to love and be loved for who we are rather than how many followers we have or our weight on the scale. We get to rest without guilt. We get to feel how we feel. We get to sing out loud even if we sing terribly, like I do. We get to have this.

Jen Pastiloff is the LA-based best-selling author of On Being Human, as well as a public speaker, coach, and the creator of the Shame Loss movement. You can find her online yoga classes at