Author: Tom Rhodes, MFT
Have you noticed that the inner critic, your inner critic, has something to say? In fact, it often has A LOT to say. What is this voice? What does it want and where does it come from?! You may have noticed, it tends to spring up at a moment’s notice when you experience/do/say/don’t do/don’t say something that SHOULD have gone otherwise.. In fact, if you hear the word ‘should’ come up in your mind’s self-talk, chances are it is this mysterious, powerful, and highly elusive inner critic making itself known in one way or another.
It may sound strange to refer to something in the 3rd person that feels so much like an integral part of us, but I would say that isolating it, calling it out, is one of the first and fundamental actions that can begin to disempower this little tyrant when it begins to take control in ways that actually don’t work for you. Actually, I would offer that seeing it for what it is, in the moment in real-time, is an absolute requirement toward immensely decreasing the mental and emotional suffering that it inevitably induces when it is left to run the show of your life unchecked.
The following is a tidbit of psycho-information that may help you understand your inner critic a bit more: The inner critic tends to be the internalized voice of our father, and of course mother and/or other primary caregivers to some extent, but namely the father, dear ol’ dad. Have you ever noticed this? Next time you start tearing yourself a new one for, well, whatever!, see if it reminds you of your dad when he was judging himself, or you. Or whomever may have been your primary caregiver or protector. The resemblance is often uncanny, this direct download we’ve received, opened, and let infect our larger, deeper knowing like a virus on a computer. Of course we did, as children that is inevitable and not at all our fault. I believe, however, that this inner critic is actually here to protect us. But like any base ego-function, i.e.-fear itself, when delegated to the realm of telling ourselves who we are and what we’re worth, the outcome is systemic cancer of our very being.
If our parent or parents give us direct feedback without judgment in order to keep us safe or function more optimally in the world, part of a parent’s job, then that is one thing. That, in itself, is what I would consider harmless and helpful conditioning or training. However! And this is one of the biggest howevers out there, given the amount of pain and suffering that is caused by what follows: to varying degrees, our parents judged, criticized and shamed us under moments of stress. To the degree that said stress was more or less a chronic condition for them, some of us may have received what boils down to a tremendous amount of criticism and shaming. As children we are wide open vessels for these downloads or introjects from our primary caregivers. The result? Our inner critic. Our internal protector/behavior regulator. This is probably why Freud named it ‘the super ego’; it’s kind of in charge of our sense of a separate self. You could even see it as the ‘note to self’ moment in action. As we all know, some notes can be nasty.
Finally, I’d like to offer a couple of suggestions, ones I have tested out on myself and when there is enough presence of mind and heart, have been tremendously helpful.
1) Plant the seed of intention, now, to invite yourself in moments of self-critical stress to see the critic for what it is, to call it out matter-of-factly; an example or flavor, “I see you inner critic, and I get that you’re trying to keep me safe or functioning well, but it’s just that you lack the skills to help me in a way that doesn’t cause a lot of suffering. Thanks but no thanks.”
2) Take 3 deep breaths. Enough said. Very simple, and just as powerful in finding that inner ground and silence that we fill up all to easily to our own detriment. This is a quick and powerful way to bring us more in touch with what the inner critic appears and disappears in, raw awareness or presence.
3) Wherever you feel the most tension or energy in your body, where feelings live between the upper chest to the lower belly, gently place a hand or both hands there for a minute or so, consciously embodying that loving holding and care that is truly the only antidote I’m aware of for nasty and painful thoughts or beliefs causing mental suffering. Feel the warmth and perhaps even the subtle energy moving out of your hand and into the lit up area in your body. Just feel the sensate physicality of it, and notice how the mental spin and pain may have dissipated a little, or a lot. Or just maybe, you are feeling open, relaxed, and a taste of that sweetness that you are underneath the voice of harshness.