What is the Inner Critic?
We hear a voice; it comments constantly on our shortcomings, both imagined and real. We hear it judging us cruelly on every aspect of who we are. Are we and this voice the same? NO. It develops early in our lives, like a natural part of us. It absorbs the judgments of the people around us and the expectations of the society in which we live. Keep in mind; it is criticizing us; whereas the judge is a self within us that criticizes other people.
Where did you Inner Critic come from?
In the growing up process your parents had to teach you to behave appropriately in order to succeed in the world, both at home and in the workplace. Your teachers, relatives, religious leaders, co-workers and general acquaintances expect civilized behavior. So your parents and others looked at you, tried their best to figure out what was “wrong” with you, and then did what they could to fix it. Being fixed and trying to fix others is a major part of human interactions. The basic message you received was “There is something wrong with you.”
A voice develops to protect us from the pain and the shame of always being found less than we “should be.” A repetition develops in our head, voicing the concerns of our parents, our church, or of other people who were important to us in our early years. We literally develop a “self,” a separate sub personality that criticizes us before anyone else can!
How does noticing my Inner Critic apply to my daily life?
Our critic notices everything we do and adds comments. It has the intelligence of a genius, an ability to analyze our feeling and motivations, a sweeping gaze that notices the tiniest of details, and in general, an unerring ability to see and to magnify all our faults and shortcomings. It is the basis of our low self-esteem. Many terms such as addictive behavior, co-dependency, symptom, etc., can be picked up by the Inner Critic and used as a weapon against our growth. In this way it is an enemy of psychological work. It can make us feel terrible about ourselves physically, especially in matters of weight, health or aging. The Inner Critic kills our creativity. I say our, because each of us have one, which makes us vulnerable to each other’s criticisms. My critic and your critic are in cahoots. They keep us coming and going by criticizing on the inside and judging on the outside. Tuning in to the Inner Critic is an amazing experience as we begin to hear how powerful and all-pervasive are the judgmental voices that surround us and feed the Critic in our society.
What can I do to get rid of the Inner Critic?
You can’t get rid of your Inner Critic. Don’t even try. No matter how much you try to please it and change yourself in the ways that it wants, what you do will never be good enough. But if you let it dominate your consciousness continually, its constant harping on what’s wrong will get you down.
If I can’t get rid of it, how can I ease the pressure I feel from this part of me and begin to feel better about myself?
The key to working with the Inner Critic is to understand it. Inner Critics do not come to us and say, “I’m feeling vulnerable and anxious and upset.” Yet, because it was there in the beginning to protect you and control your behavior, your challenge is to find the underlying anxiety and terror that motivates your Critic to say mean things to you. The Critic remembers all too well the pain of childhood, the innumerable times when you were shamed and criticized and made fun of. It remembers the anxiety of your parents about money. It still feels, through the feeling of the Inner Child, the terror of abandonment when you were left alone or when a divorce or separation caused a parent to leave. It desperately wants you to avoid that primal pain, and the only way it can handle it is to make you perfect. To make you perfect, it must criticize you because it knows no other way to help you. In Voice Dialogue sessions we awaken to the realization that these are the underlying issues, no matter how vicious the attack on us. It is only by understanding, by insight and feeling its anxiety that we can make sense about the nature of Critic attacks.
Is there any value to having an Inner Critic now that I’m an adult?
Absolutely! The job of an Inner Critic is to discriminate what is healthy for you and what can lead to disaster. It gets facts and analyzes them. It helps you think clearly. It helps you focus your attention. Your Critic self is one of your most intelligent voices. It can learn to give nonjudgmental critiques.
How can I attend to the Inner Critic?
By realizing it is a self. It is opposite to a nurturing self. Taking command is a process of utmost importance and this pair of opposites fosters the capacity to honor the Inner Critic. Begin to practice having a conversation with that part of you who feels anxious. Ask it what it wants and why. Let it tell you how it guarded the Child and saved it from other people’s judgments. Find out how hard the Critic worked for you all these years. Find out what it is afraid will happen to you when you expose your capabilities to the world. (What is the source of its anxiety right now?)
What changes can I discover in relation to my Inner Critic?
Courage is the other side of fear. To have courage to be in the world, we need allies and when honored for its attributes, the Inner Critic offers a stick-to-it attitude. When the negativity of the Critic is finally neutralized, the ideas it has play an important role in your inner support system. The Critic functions as your discerning mind, and helps to keep you safe. It gives you the ability to set appropriate boundaries. This is like having a good internal friend who supports you and protects your creative process. It can discern what works and what needs attention. In this way, you begin to guide yourself towards leading a creative life.
Are there examples of a supportive Critic/Judge?
Yes. A good example shows up for people who have opportunities to speak in public. We can assist each other. We all critique ourselves and each other. As our world becomes more attuned to public expression, it is valuable to support one another with intelligent encouragement. Get a buddy. As a listener, we are tempted toward what is wrong with the other person’s speech. Can we tell them what in the speech uplifts us, moves us, touches us, or entertains us? Can we inform them of what they may improve upon in the organization and flow of the speech in a constructive way that they can utilize? Can we remember that is it very easy to “trigger” their Inner Critic?
As a speaker, be willing to feel an “anxiety attack.” Assure the Critic and the Child that you are there to learn and you can go through the experience of standing up and expressing yourself. Let them know that as an adult, you can move beyond the fears you had as a child in school and embrace the courage to fulfill your aspirations. You are teaching your Critic to learn to trust your capacity and go beyond your subjective opinions about yourself; to show it you wish to incorporate what your critical mind really has to offer you-- objectivity in what you are doing.