Much of the thinking that we employ on a daily basis is a reflection of childhood and interaction with our caregivers. I am very much on the nurture side of the nature versus nurture argument. I firmly believe that we come into this world with just the ability to scream in order to get our needs met in the first six months. The rest is a question of development and our ability to move through the recognized stages. A key element of this is how willing or able our caregivers are to help us through it. To a greater or lesser degree, we all develop our adult thinking during this period.
I have written many times about the inner critic and the devastating effect he/she can have on the way we see the world. It consolidates rigid thinking that leaves us afraid to take risks, face normal challenges and move forward from situations that are dysfunctional. It fills us with fear and dread in its irrational attempts to protect us from ourselves. It is an ancient voice that gets more powerful the more we listen to it and the more credence we give it. For many people, the critical voice is overwhelming and paralysing and they run their life based on its input, full of fear, trepidation and always settling for less than they deserve.
However, in my experience, there is another voice which if interpreted in the wrong way can be equally destructive and lead those who listen to it too closely to a life of wild abandon and addiction. This is the escape voice who will sense the strictness of the inner critic and offer up its own dysfunctional solutions to get you unstuck.
If one types “inner rebel” or “escape” into any search engine, you will actually find positive attributions to this concept, “release your inner rebel”, is the main message. This pertains to emotional freedom, unlocking positive potential and deciding on a path for yourself. This is often consolidated with images of women (especially) walking away from some situation with a backpack, middle finger up, tongue out. A well-worn cliché that many buy into. I fully agree that some aspects of this message can be used to move forward but only the Inner Champion… the voice of reason and logic… can really point you in the right direction.
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The escape voice is in my opinion on the other end of a spectrum to the rigid control of the inner critic. As with any spectrum, somewhere in the middle is usually best. The escape voice positions itself as an alternative to the fear based input of the critic. It promotes impulsive and spontaneous behaviour, avoidance of the real issues but gives you the sense that this is functional. “You are empowering yourself… you are doing this for you… you deserve this” is what you will generally hear. In reality, you are putting off the inevitable crash that will surely come.
Listen to the escape voice and what will happen? It will offer an alternative to the indecision and painful analysis promoted by the critic. Instead of spending weeks or months agonising, it will promote reckless abandon. “Quit that job and run away” ” Spend all that money you saved” “Don’t worry about tomorrow… enjoy yourself”, “Don’t worry about the consequences!”. It will advocate instant gratification that has no substance. Gratification to make you feel good for a fleeting moment and that’s it. The problem is that the inner critic will be waiting in the wings to latch onto any guilt that is attached to the “guilty pleasure” and will remind you of how bad you are, how weak you are… and the cycle goes on. In this respect they work together in a polarized system.
The situation above happens every day and is a constant feature of many of our lives. It is a tempting concept to follow but it has a sinister side to it as well if followed to a conclusion. When the instant gratification is not enough, the escape voice will push for even more radical means of “freeing” yourself from the confines of the castle the critic has built for you. I firmly believe that the inner rebel is the catalyst for many types of addictive behaviour that blight society. We are talking here about alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, eating disorders and many more. It makes sense to believe that if someone has a strong inner critical voice that has been torturing them for many years, that the “freedom alternative” offered by the escape would seem very attractive. Once on that slippery slope of going after instant gratification, it is difficult to get off and who knows where that would eventually lead.
The bottom line here is that the escape and inner critic are both extremely dysfunctional voices that disguise themselves. Like the proverbial “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, they both have a hidden agenda of control and dysfunctional protection. One thing for certain is that both voices, if listened to will take focus away from the important issues that will truly move anyone forward. If we can analyse what the critic and escape are urging us to do, then we can use this information to help the inner champion/parent to give us a direction… a functional, healthier view.
The next stage is to make a choice to take action because it is a choice. We can choose to be lost in dysfunctional thought or we can face the issues realistically and logically. This is truly the hardest part and where resistance is often at its highest in therapy.