There are a range of books that tell us how to deal with our family of inner critics. Most centre on mantras and progressively aggressive language to deal with them. While this can be useful, we have to remember that by isolating the critic and pushing it away, we are maybe losing an ideal opportunity to work with it. Working on the theory that it is trying to protect the inner child that was wounded and criticised, we can safely say that it is trying to help, albeit in some dysfunctional way. Getting to know and connecting with a critic or critics is a much more effective way of dealing with them and eventually lessening the grip they have.
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One of the key aspects in this process is the discovery of the Self. This is the pure part of us that shines through and guides us when we are not being tormented by the host of inner critics that exist within us. It can be said that we are either in Self (curious, open, compassionate) or in torment(taken over by pain and insecurity) at any given time. Finding the Self is the key to healing and seeing the world in a different light. When this can happen, the natural qualities that embody the Self will shine through. For example, the Self promotes connection, helping you to interact socially. You are drawn to meet other people, join groups and be part of the community. The Self also likes to connect with our inner critics, helping to engage with them and aid healing. The Self is interested and inquisitive. It helps you to take natural risks in life, to be interested in people without judging and promotes an understanding of new things. It is also interested in how your inner critics work and why they react the way they do. Finally, the Self is compassionate and helps you to be compassionate towards others and yourself.
To be help the Self shine through, we first have to understand that our inner critics are not aware that the Self exists and feel they need to control to keep us safe. They are fully ignorant of the fact that underneath it all is a part of us that is fully able to deal with life’s issues. They are still in young and scary mode where the inner child is being protected from hurt and rejection. This is the only way they know. They do not trust that the adult can handle situations that the wounded and criticised child couldn’t, so they step in when triggered and take over. They tell us to avoid conflict, not to take risks or act socially… all in the name of protecting the child within us. True healing takes place when we can appreciate and work with the inner critics, rather than pushing them aside to get to the inner child. These critics have been working tirelessly for years helping us to avoid our childhood pain and when we connect with them and appreciate what they tried to do, they can step back and trust us to take over. To be able to connect with and understand our inner critics, we must be in Self mode and this is done through a process called un-blending. When we can accept that the inner critics are protecting our inner child and an attack happens, we can do various things to sooth the inner child. We can comfort it directly with compassion, letting know that you understand the pain and hurt it feels. You can reassure it that the Self will be interacting with the critic and will help it to understand. You can also use imagery to conjure up pictures of comforting your inner child, standing between it and the critic or images of a protective parent soothing the child while your Self talks with the critic. Once your inner critic is isolated, you can speak directly to it, safe in the knowledge that the inner child is being protected. This is where the strength of Self comes in. Rather than scorning and getting angry with the critic, use compassion, curiosity and connection.
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Firstly, openly thank them when they appear:
Thank you, I appreciate all you have done for me
I fully understand that you are trying to protect me
I understand the responsibility you carry.
I know you work hard for me
I understand how hard it is to let go
Ask questions (from the stance of curiosity):
I wonder what you are trying to achieve by protecting me this way? (likely answer is to avoid pain, facing change)
What would be the consequences of not calling me lazy, fat or stupid? ( the critic would have less power)
What happened that made it important for you to judge me? (the wounded child was hurt in the same way and it was triggered)
I accept that you are trying to help but I would like to do this
I accept you fully and as part of me
Please trust me to lead
This process of having a direct relationship with your critics is in stark contrast to most other advice which banishes the critics with images of aggression and violence. By working with the critics, we can promote a healthy, trustful relationship with them that allows our inner child to be healed. This is not a process that happens overnight and can take some time. However, in therapy, a psychologist can promote this process and help the client come through. In my next post, we will be taking the process to the next stage… that is, the healing of the inner, wounded, criticised child.
This Post Has 6 Comments
What a coincidence! This is exactly what I was thinking about this morning before reading this excellent article. How to thank my inner critics for their tireless work but tell them gently that they are now out of a job because their services are no longer required!
Thank you Helen. I am happy it helped
Perfect timing. I was just thinking this morning about how I could help my inner critic feel heard as she’s also one of my child selves. Thank you!
Thank you for the comment
Thank you for this Dr Jenner.
I have been trying to talk to my inner critics with the model you have suggested. It’s not easy! Understatement there!
With mine, it seems it’s like they (the critics) have been doing the capable job for years, and someone on work experience comes in telling them they are not doing the job right…. so they tend to just laugh…can’t exactly blame them I guess.
She (the Self) has to prove herself over time. And the thing is, its exhausting. They don’t trust well if at all either, and have taught me not to.
The “Self” can only deal with the inner critics when she is feeling strong enough to do so, but sadly a lot of the time the whole system has to shut down, and recoup, due to the intense mental pain, and/or crippling worthlessness you talk of in your next post.
It is like there is not enough “Self” to combat the Inner Critics all by myself… I am outnumbered.
Yes, you are correct. Dealing with the family of inner critics that include shame and anger does rely on the formation of a strong adult parental voice.