At first, your Inner Critic may wake you up and try to get your attention; “better work on that project, get going, you are going to be late, quit procrastinating, you made a mistake, be responsible, exercise, eat healthier.” It informs and jars you into action. It can be helpful, nudging and prodding you into beneficial behaviors.
If you haven’t paid attention, it often turns ugly and begins to berate you. It says mean things about your character; “you are lazy, stupid, ugly, irresponsible, wrong, weak, no good, damaged, you can’t do anything right, nobody will ever want to be with you and you will never amount to anything.” Those may be mild words compared with your critic...
Even when you are feeling tormented by the inner critic, there is another part of you that arises in disagreement with it. The angst and pain are shouting that judging yourself is harmful. You KNOW there is another story.
Where does this Critical Voice come from and Why is it Controlling Me?
With all of its bashing and criticism, you naturally think that the inner critic is a judgmental devil that wants to crush you. You resist it, push it away or attempt to ignore it. Judging yourself, your experience, your emotions or others always creates distance. There is an immediate natural reaction to push away or ignore what we judge as not right or do not want to experience. So, you push away the inner critic and at the same time distance yourself from experiences and people, which the critic suspects are harmful in some way.
“You lock the door and throw away the key, There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me.”
What if I told you that this voice wants to protect you? Now, that seems like an absurd, crazy thought….but stay with me.
The inner critic is a part of the psyche known as the Superego. It has a purpose. Its job is to help you follow the rules, protocols of society and beliefs that you formed as a guiding foundation in which to safely navigate the reality. Your inner critic is a guide and protector constantly watching everything you do or don’t do so that you stay on course, to keep you safe and free from pain. It guides you away from any person, experience or emotion it assumes will cause you pain. It points directly at your values, rules, and beliefs and cleverly knows exactly how to get you to stay in line with them. You developed many of these rules in childhood by hearing, watching and learning about what was expected of you and what your family and culture deemed valuable. You added your own self-critique, thoughts and beliefs through your experience of life. This conglomeration of words and phrases are repeated to you through the voice in your head.
The thing is…all beliefs and truths about reality are temporary constructs. You and life are constantly growing and expanding. Values, beliefs, and rules need to grow and change as well. The values and beliefs of your caretakers and culture may not mesh with your highest good or what is applicable for you now. In addition, unhealthy cultural motivators of anger, guilt and shame most likely shaped your inner critic. The inner critic only has power and control over you when you believe disparaging thoughts about yourself to be true or believe that all of its advice is good for you. Rather than motivating you, derogatory criticism, judgment and shame deplete your self-confidence and contract you. It limits you, keeps you small and disengaged from your talents and abilities.
“The Inner Critic does not know the Truth”
You have the Key to Open the door to the Truth
Think of the Superego as a supervisor. The job of the supervisor is to oversee You. It tells you when you are going out of bounds from your own values and beliefs. It did not create the rules nor did it create the way to deliver the message. It does not know the truth. It is simply pointing out the principles you have believed are valuable for you to be safe, be accepted, receive love, achieve your purpose and fit in with society. You get to decide what to believe and what values support your highest well-being. When you know this, your superego can work for you in a powerful way to uplift you instead of diminishing you.
Approaching the Inner Critic with Non-judgmental Awareness and Discernment
1. With compassionate awareness and discernment determine: What is the intention of the voice? How is it attempting to protect or guide me?
Turn toward the inner critic instead of pushing it away. Approach the voice from an intimate distance with curiosity and loving-kindness. Have compassion for this part of you that wants to protect and guide you. Listen to what it is actually saying. Instead of immediately believing the words, question the validity of your self-talk. Is it a guiding voice talking about behaviors that need adjustment or actions to take that are helpful, is it protecting you from pain, or is the critic attacking your character?
2. If it is Guiding you then ask: How is it guiding me? Is the guidance helpful or not? Am I resisting any actions, behaviors or experiences, which are beneficial for me?
3. If it is Protecting you then ask: What is it protecting me from? Is there something dangerous or to fear? Is it limiting me? Am I afraid to feel my emotions? Am I afraid to see reality?
3. If it is Attacking your character: Is it saying you are flawed, defective, no good or weak? What were you told growing up? All attacks on your inherent worth are untrue and damaging. Allow yourself to touch the pain underlying condemning words. See the truth and allow any wounded feelings of shame, weakness and grief to express and release. What have you believed about yourself?
4. Use the superego’s directional compass to reveal distortions of the truth and to show you what you believe. See the triggered emotions as telling you “something is off otherwise I would not feel pain.” What have you believed you needed to be, to have, to do, or to achieve in order to be accepted and feel safe in relationship or in the world? Do these statements about yourself or how you interact with life match up with the truth of your authentic self? Do they support your highest growth? Do they allow you to expand and grow or do they keep you contracted and limited?
You get to choose what you believe and what values support you. You are not bound by the judgments of others or of a “voice in your head.” Whenever you hear words of what you “should do” or “should be” it is an indication of someone’s opinion and that opinion may not jive at all with what is right for you. Use discernment to decide whether the advice is beneficial or not. Remember, you do not need to be “fixed.” You are inherently valuable; you matter and simply by being, you are enough.
You can build a different relationship with your superego. You can feel compassion for the vulnerable parts of yourself that are afraid to step out of limitation and the tender parts afraid to feel the pain of repressed wounds or emotions. You can silence the disrespectful voice by honoring the truth of your inherent worth. You have the ability to transform outmoded beliefs and rules into healthy life-giving ones that support you and your relationships with others. When you listen with your heart you will know what values, behaviors and actions serve your soul’s highest good. By becoming aware of your authentic truth, your inner critic will take its proper role as a supportive guide and protector and become a worthwhile ally.
Inner Critic Part 2