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A member of our family was going shopping. He carefully planned out his route to run several errands and included a grocery shopping list. As we sit down for lunch later I ask, “You bought water, didn’t you? Is it still in the car?” He slaps his forehead. “You won’t believe what I did. I left the six water bottles sitting at the check out!” No big deal, we have a water filter too, but the perfect opportunity for his Inner Critic to rear his head and make a mountain out of a molehill.
If you want to know what his Inner Critic voice might say, just think of what your own Inner Critic has to say when you make a mistake, “screw up” or forget something. It pretty much kicks you – depending on how “bad” and “unforgivable” the mistake rates on your personal scale. It might say “You are such an idiot! How can you pay for something and then forget it! Now you have to go back and see if the cashier remembers you. In fact, you are not just stupid, you are getting forgetful. It must be because you are getting old. Or maybe something is seriously wrong with you. Forgetfulness is a symptom of…” And the Inner Critic is off and running, making us feel like a complete failure and scaring the living daylight out of us.
Our Inner Critic is always playing in the background like a radio which we do not even notice anymore. It is constantly assessing and comparing how we are doing. And certain situations bring on real Inner Critic attacks. When we are stressed, weak, tired, hungry, in an unfamiliar place or in a new situation, the Inner Critic might torture us more than usual. When adverse fortune strikes, when we get bad grades or negative assessment, or lose our job, or an important relationship ends, the Inner Critic will make sure we feel terrible and at fault. All those are typical moments which make us more susceptible to an Inner Critic attack.
How do we know we are having an Inner Critic attack? Usually, the first sign is our emotional state. We might feel depressed, or irritated or angry at ourselves. When we listen closely, we can then hear those negative defeatist thoughts which are making us feel “not good enough”.
Originally, the Inner Critic is the internalized parental voice. Just as our parents had the intention to help us by giving us feedback on where and how we could do better, the Inner Critic voice also operates on the assumption that it is protecting us. The idea is, “If I, the Inner Critic, criticize you first, you can fix what is wrong and you are safe from outside criticism”.
The Inner Critic is generally trying to protect us from embarrassment and shame. But due to the harshness of that inner voice, it causes exactly the feeling of shame and not being good enough that it is trying to protect us from.
The Inner Critic loves certain buzz words like “mistake”, “failure” and “symptom”. If Mary has the goal to lose weight and she goes for the bowl of ice cream in the middle of the night, the Inner Critic is likely to tell her that she is and always has been a complete failure, that everybody else has no problems losing weight, and that her eating is a serious symptom of a sugar addiction or even worse.
I have been meaning to write this blog on the Inner Critic for about three weeks. Usually, my blogs literally write themselves. It starts with an idea and the blog around the idea begins to formulate itself in my head before I even type one single word into my computer. Not so with this one.
What would my Inner Critic like to make out of that fact? It is teaming up with my Inner Pusher which says you should be productive and get something done. It might start to say, “What is wrong with you? You are such a procrastinator! You could have / should have / ought to…” And if I do not stop the Inner Critic right there and then, it might bring out the heavy cannonballs along the lines of, “This is a serious symptom! You have never had such a long blogging pause. You have a writing block! What if you never write a single blog again!”
Never mind that I prepared and taught two weekend workshops over the last few weeks, the Inner Critic will label that sort of rational justification as “an excuse” and try to convince me that I’m really slacking off and losing “it”, whatever “it” might be.
The Inner Critic also loves comparisons: “You never used to forget anything!”, “Did you read the amazing blog Grace wrote the other day?”, “Look how thin your sister is, you are such a failure!” or “Look how comfortable and funny Anna is with everybody; you are so dull and awkward and you will never make friends at university.”
No matter what you do, the Inner Critic can never be satisfied! It will always find someone to compare you to and it will always find something to criticize. And it will even find the exact opposite to criticize.
The other day, I had a client who is in his mid forties. He just started a new job and his Inner Critic is having a field day with him. It’s a new situation, and there are new rules and new processes to learn. The Inner Critic is trying to tell him he is too old, too slow, and just plainly not good enough. One moment his Inner Critic says “Your younger colleagues have an advantage; they only had to learn the new processes and not all those old redundant skills which you possess.” The next moment, the Inner Critic turns around and says “The colleagues who are ten years older than you have an advantage because they have more experience than you!” So which is it now, is he too old and slow, or to young and inexperienced? The Inner Critic does not care!
There is only one way to win the game with the Inner Critic and that is NOT to play!
The Inner Critic works on two principles:
- There is a correct way of doing things.
- Other people are going to judge you all the time.
Aren’t those interesting assumptions? We just need to go to a different culture or time period to realize there are many different ways of doing things. Each culture has its own rules and value systems.
The Inner Critic works together with other primary selves which we have. We all have different primary personality parts, for example the Perfectionist (likes things to be perfect), the Pusher (wants us to achieve something), the Pleaser (wants to make others happy), the Rational Mind (great at logical thinking but mistrusts feelings and intuition), the Inner Patriarch (echoes the beliefs of thousands of years of patriarchal society), just to name a few.
Each of them operates on certain beliefs. For example, the Perfectionist part in us believes that it’s not okay for us to make mistakes and to be satisfied with imperfection. The Pusher is relentless and constantly pushes us to be productive and achieve something. The Pleaser is convinced that we won’t be loved/liked/safe or that we will experience other negative consequences if we don’t please others. The Rational Mind disregards feelings and intuition and is convinced that it is necessary to understand and dissect everything. All these personality parts are useful. The danger lies in over-identifying with one or more of them. None of these personality parts support relaxation, trusting and going with the flow, being gentle and loving with ourselves or meeting our own needs.
The Inner Critic is the “cop” of the system. It enforces these rules which are beliefs on the level of the subconscious. In order to achieve some separation from the merciless Inner Critic voice which completely paralyzes us and pulls us into depression, we need to change those beliefs which are not supportive for us.
These beliefs are held in the subconscious mind and cannot be changed by the conscious mind. That’s why affirmations only have limited success. Belief change processes offer a way into the subconscious mind to achieve separation from our primary parts and our Inner Critic.
When we have a strong Inner Critic, it is quite easy for others to manage us. We just need that one look or that raised eyebrow and our Inner Critic kicks in immediately. “Oh, I must have said or done something wrong. He/she is not happy with me. I better make sure he or she is pleased with me again …” And without being aware of it, we are giving our entire power away to others.
So how does one tame the Inner Critic and get that voice to shut up?
First of all, we have to learn to recognize when the Inner Critic shows up. The Inner Critic is invisible and often even inaudible. We can make it audible and visible by sharing out loud with our loved ones what the Inner Critic is saying. Journaling and using a different colour when the Inner Critic voice shows up, is another way of calling it out.
The next step is to examine the basic rules the Inner Critic adheres to and makes a crime of, because it works hand in hand with our other personality parts. So the more separation we are getting from our primary selves by changing the beliefs they operate on, the less fuel the Inner Critic has.
Finally, to achieve even further separation, we can get in touch with the energies the Inner Critic tells us we should disown because they are “bad”. Those energies or traits are called our shadows. Shadow work fosters greater balance, inner harmony, self-acceptance and self-love.
Underneath the Inner Critic is anxiety and fear that we need protection to be safe. Love heals all fear. We need to become an Inner Parent to our vulnerable part inside—which is also called our Inner Child—and bring a loving supportive voice up to balance out the Inner Critic. So if the Inner Critic says “You are not good enough!” the loving parent voice can reply “You are perfect the way you are. You are beautiful, smart and lovable in every way.”
The most obvious criteria of separation from the Inner Critic is humour! When we hear the voice of this Critic and can respond with humour, we are on the way to separation.
So what did we do to help our “forgetful” family member to stop the Inner Critic attack that was brewing up like dark storm clouds? We made the voice audible and visible and laughed at it. That prompted that family member to start singing “It’s a good day to go to Superstore, Superstore, Superstore…” to the tune of “The wheels on the bus”. And with everybody’s laughter, the Inner Critic had lost all its momentum and power over the situation. Instead of ruining the day, or at least the next hour, it brought us amusement and entertainment.
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If you want to learn more about your Inner Critic and embark on the journey of separation you have three options:
– Contact Angelika for individual sessions, 905-286-9466, firstname.lastname@example.org
– Sign up for the next Workshop on the Inner Critic
Saturday, July 9, 2016 from 10:00 a.m to 4:00 p.m.
Sunday, May 7, 2017 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.