The concept of an inner critic is well known but most people have to deal with more than one manifestation. There might be one that attacks you for doing too much of something and another who then berates you for being lazy. The advice would be to work with each separately. I will now look at the types of inner critic that can pop up.
We all know it, only too well. It’s that inner voice, that “inner critic,” that seems always present and always keenly prepared to defeat us. When we feel happy, the voice says: “Yeah, this can’t last.” When we’re about to attempt something, it whispers: “Watch out. You’re gonna fail.” And when we do succeed, the voice dismisses: “That was just luck. It won’t happen again.” However, less known is the fact that a number of inner critics can form and work together to keep us in a hole of negativity. Understanding which ones are present and how they combine and appear can help us to counter them and reduce their power. Following are descriptions of the most common ones I have experienced in my day-to-day work.
I am a Perfectionist… I need 120%. I set very high standards for your behavior, your performance and your interaction with others. My demand is that you do these things and everything else perfectly. When you fail, I will attack you and let you know frequently how not good enough you are. Sometimes my demands will mean that you don’t start something or if you do, you won’t be able to finish it for fear of failure and sometimes even success. My message is….. Don’t do anything unless it is 120% perfect. Doing nothing prevents the feelings you will have about failing and keeps my hold over you strong.
Trust is good, Control is better… I will make you feel bad when you want to do something impulsive or addictive. When you are down on yourself and you overeat, use drugs or get angry, I will remind you how disgusting you really are. You see, I am in a constant battle with the impulsive critic who tells you it is ok to do such things.
Work, Work, Work… I will attempt to motivate you by pushing you harder. I will remind you of how lazy, stupid or useless you are . I like to keep you in that hamster wheel for fear of you falling into the clutches of your procrastination critic.
Risks are bad… I know they say that part of life is the taking of risks, the unknown is exciting but not in my book. I will try desperately to undermine your confidence and self-esteem to stop you taking those risks. You see, I am protecting you from hurt and rejection. Who needs success when you can safely do nothing? You will never amount to anything anyway, so why try?
Seek and Destroy….. I am the most dangerous and powerful of your critics. I am the one who attacks your fundamental self-worth, destroying green shoots of recovery before they grow and reminding you that you should not even exist. My sole task is to wipe out your positive energy, creativity and spontaneity.
You should feel Guilty…. My job is to remind you of those things you have done or didn’t do or kept secret. I will tell you how guilty you should feel for hurting that person, betraying that value or repeated behaviour you should feel ashamed of. I will never forgive you for what I feel you have done and you have to pay. I am only trying to help you avoid the pain by constantly keeping it in the foreground.
The Shaper…. I try to get you to adapt to social and family norms by telling you how few friends you have, how socially inept you are and what an outsider you are. I don’t see change as at all positive.
In order to understand the complexity of the inner critic, we must realise that as children, growing up in dysfunction, we absorbed certain things about the world and used survival mechanisms to cope. Part of the mind’s role, the more primal part, is to protect us from danger. In a sense, it is hard-wired to keep us alive and help us survive. As a result, it “records” past incidents that could cause danger and refers to this when similar incidents occur, sometimes years later. It causes us to react to the perceived danger by withdrawing, stopping or pulling back from certain activities, ( of course, this can be useful when walking out in the street in busy traffic). However, it becomes a hinderance when it holds us back from “dangers” that we are meant to “outgrow”. Indeed, the painful experiences our minds record most vividly are from our earliest years: our infancy, our childhood, even our teens. During these early formative years, we were understandably overwhelmed by the world. In our infancy, we were completely dependent; and, as such, we justly interpreted the slightest physical or emotional discomfort as a very threat to our existence. As children, any sense of separation from our parents or other comforting things triggered a sense of panic or fear of abandonment. Any dysfunction around our basic structures such as abuse, divorce, financial ruin, etc had a devastating effect . ny sense of disapproval might be interpreted as complete rejection. Later, in our adolescence, disappointments that would now seem minor felt then like our world was collapsing. Certainly, we know now that we are no longer infants or children. But because these “traumas” occurred during our most basic developmental years – when our minds were literally “looking” for patterns and associations to make sense of ourselves and our world – these fear associations can become almost instinctual and unconscious … and often fixed in time. This is where the critic(s) step in. They are trying to protect that wounded “inner child”as though we were still children and in real danger. We can assume then that the critic is a voice from the past, a voice of a young child and a “wounded” voice. So, when we do – or even consider doing – something that triggers this old association with danger (or disappointment, rejection, loss, etc.), this wounded part awakens, panics, and starts to vocalise. It will “play back” the original trauma to prevent us from re-injury. Containing and limiting the “inner critic” means working in therapy with the adult and the “child”. This is often why being harsh with your inner critic is difficult. It is part of you. A part that needs nurturing and protecting (in the right way), and most of all allowed to develop.