Almost all of us have that little voice in or heads that spends its time judging and criticizing us. It is the one that tells us how we messed up, how we fall short, and what we did that was bad and wrong and what is not acceptable about us. Most people mistake this voice for all of themselves, as opposed to a part of the complex system of their psyche. Because the ‘self-critic’ can cause so many problems and be so detrimental to our wellbeing, it is tempting to think of it as an enemy that constantly lives with you; and in your own skin. And because of this, the world is full of methods for standing up to your inner critic and fighting against your inner critic and ignoring your inner critic and negating and minimizing your inner critic. The problem is that these methods don’t work. They will never work. They will never work because believe it or not, the inner critic is not against you. It is actually powerfully for you. It is trying its very best to protect you. And unless you understand this, you will add to your own suffering, increase your self-hate and intensify the internal war within yourself.
To understand the inner critic, you need to know that organisms that belong to the animal kingdom, including humans, find pain and stress that they cannot control and that are therefore unpredictable and out of their hands, so painful and terrorizing that they will often take their control back by being the one or by being the first to cause their own pain. You see this clearly with studies done relative to self-injury. When injury is inflicted on animals in a setting where there is no way to get away from that injury, such as electroshocks, they will often begin to self-injure. This restores a sense of control over pain. So, the principle is: self-inflicted pain is safer and more tolerable than pain inflicted by someone else, especially someone upon whom your life depends.
As a child, if you want your needs to be met, survive in society and have a chance at feeling things like love, belonging, contribution, and safety, you only have one option: To adopt the values, rules and standards of the family and society that you are born into. And hold yourself to them.
To understand this, I’ll give you an example, let’s say that when you were younger you got angry. And imagine that you were raised in a family that sees anger as bad and wrong. The adults in your environment would immediately react by turning against your anger. They would do this in order to discourage you from being angry. They might do something like send you to your room for a timeout or immediately become defensive and shame you for being angry or dole out a consequence like taking away one of your toys. The experience of disapproval is painful enough for a child, whose survival and every need they have is dependent on the adults in their life, that the child wants to avoid this experience in the future at all costs. In response, what you would do in order to be able to control avoiding it in the future is that you would adopt the social value of not getting angry and you would make it your own standard for yourself. You internalize societal values, rules and standards and begin to police yourself so that you stay in alignment with them. After that day, any time you feel anger creeping up, or if you get angry, you will begin to police yourself before anyone else has the chance to do so. You remind yourself of how bad and wrong your anger is. You remind yourself of how sub-par it makes you as a person. You beat other people to the punch and disapprove of yourself.
In the best-case scenario, you will either manage to do this quick enough so as to discourage yourself from doing whatever might cause you to meet with disapproval. In the worst-case scenario, you might do whatever causes you to meet with disapproval, but instead of meeting with the full force of their disapproval, you can decrease the consequences by demonstrating clearly that you don’t stand by what you did and that you know it is bad and wrong and therefore won’t happen again.
This part of you that takes on the role of this internal police officer that keeps you in line so that you don’t align with anything that would lead to disapproval and the painful societal consequences of disapproval, is your inner critic. It is a part of you that is trying to protect you. And so, you could consider it your most inverted advocate.
The inner critic is a protector personality within the complex system of your psyche. It is actually trying to save your life, help you to avoid consequences and keep it so that you can get your needs met. Just like a police officer serves to keep people in alignment with human society, the inner critic is trying to keep you in alignment with other people. It is trying desperately to uphold your values and standards… Both those that are true to you and those that you adopted from other people in your social environment. The inner critic is the one that holds the truth of what matters most to you.
For example, perhaps what someone in your life rejected about you was that you were so sensitive. The self-critic will then constantly criticize and shame you for being sensitive. If you don’t stop being so sensitive, it will escalate and its negative feedback will become more and more intense. It may even turn into shame, whereby you begin to triangulate yourself internally against the part of yourself that is sensitive. Your inner critic does this because it thinks that with enough disapproval of it, you will either stop being that way or be motivated to fix it. And this will get you the sense of belonging and safety that you want. In this example, the truth this self-critic aspect holds, is just how important belonging and safety are to you and how much you need those things.
It is tempting to think that the inner critic is self-sabotaging. In reality, there is no such thing as genuine self-sabotage. Any part of you that appears to be ‘sabotaging’ you, is a part of you that thinks it is actually doing the best thing for you. To understand this concept in depth, watch my video titled: There Is No Such Thing as Self Sabotage.
You will get nowhere when it comes to getting the inner critic to see that what it is doing doesn’t work in your life today. And you will get nowhere when it comes to getting your inner critic to change the way it functions within you, unless you really, really put focus into understanding it. You must understand how and when it was created by you. How it being created was for your benefit at the time, what its motives are for saying what it says and what its intentions are for saying what it says. You also have to consciously examine your relationship to those values and standards and rules that the inner critic represents. As well as consciously examine the current reality of the consequences it is trying to help you avoid. For this reason, the best thing you can do is to do parts work directly with the part of you that is your inner critic. To learn how to do this, watch my video titled: Parts Work (What Is Parts Work and How to Do It).
When you work directly with your inner critic, you will see just how benevolent and well intentioned this part of you is. You will also be able to show it how the way that it is going about protecting you may not be effective and might even be causing you worse pan than the consequence it is trying to police you into avoiding. You can end the adversarial relationship that you have with that little critical voice inside your own head. You can end the adversarial relationship that it has with any other parts of you that it thinks will lead to you getting disapproved of as well. The outcome of this allied relationship with your inner critic is the true inner peace you are looking for. A sense of internal support, alliance and self-esteem instead of internal war, judgement and criticism.
Your inner critic actually needs to be (and deserves to be) understood, respected, loved, recognized and valued for what it is trying to do for you. And this understanding, respect and positive recognition will be necessary in order to create any pliability within this part of you, regarding its willingness to change its perspective and methods. Whenever you are working with your inner critic, you need to figure out what valued and needed things that the self-critic is holding the truth of in any given situation where it is being noisy. As well as the truth of the consequences it is afraid of. Examine those values and needs consciously. If you consciously stand by them, get those things directly and from the people and in the places that you can actually get them from. Examine those consequences. Are they real or are they not real anymore? Given the answer you arrive at, how does that change things?
Do not ignore, stand up to, fight against, negate or minimize the voice of your inner critic. By doing so, you are turning against a protector within yourself. You are causing pain to a part of yourself that is fighting for your wellbeing. You are missing the opportunity to find out what value or standard or need your inner critic is fighting to keep you in alignment with. You are remaining ignorant of what consequence it is trying to help you to avoid. You are resisting a part of yourself, thereby creating rigidity instead of pliability within yourself. And you are treating this part of yourself as an enemy instead of as what it is… a friend.