“You haven’t done it right, they’ll think you’re silly, do more, it’s not enough yet, be more caring, they probably think you’re selfish, it’s not good enough, you’re fat, be better!” That voice sound familiar? You may be hearing different words but the message feels the same, it’s one of attack and unlove. The inner critic is one thing we all have in common but it doesn’t necessarily unite us, in fact it’s the big divider, generally we collude with this big nasty and allow it to bully us in the dark corners of our mind.
The only difference between us, is that some critics are more prevalent than others and some people have cottoned on to exposing theirs and lessening its grip! The path of freedom lies in learning to recognise this unhelpful inner voice and telling it to “Fuck Off!”
Why is it we have this incessant chatter battering at our being all day or even night long? And how does it effect the way we live our life?
It’s simply part of our psyche’s fabric. To sum it up, it’s the internalised voices of our parents talking to us, ensuring we toe the line, making certain that we stay involved in the same behaviours that sought us to get love and attention when we were infants. It may not be the actual words of our parents, but rather our unconscious intuitive feelings about what they may have wanted from us or needed us to be. Children are most adept at reading between the lines and picking up on the things we are not saying.
Known also as the Super-ego in psychoanalytic terms, or the critical parent in Transactional Analysis, it’s the enforcer and protector to the ego, which is our known personality. We all have this experience as I suggested, although the more conscious connection, safety and room to develop our own sense of self we had in our childhood, the less dominant our critic becomes. This is why when we have been exposed to the opposite environment, our critic develops to be more of a brutal bugger because more protection is needed from outside rejection or abandonment. There has simply not been enough “good” internalised.
To play a game with your mind and stir the critic into action, all you need to do, is to take an action or decision far from what you would normally do, and watch how much your super-ego chucks up. It’s generally perceived by the mind as dangerous to move into unfamiliar ways of being, because who would you be then, if you weren’t being the known you?
The irony is, that life is pushing us ever toward change and it’s sod’s law that conjoined within our psyche structure, is an evolving Self. How can the evolving Self do its growing when the defender is constricting? Exactly, it’s a recipe for disaster. So we wonder why life can be so hard right?
Here’s a revolutionary thought, life isn’t always as hard as we think, or it doesn’t have to be at least. On one level, like nature, it just flows along, shit happens, we’re born, there’s sky, we live, we feel, we buy, there are seasons, we love, we learn skills, we eat, sleep, shit, things break, we move around, pain happens, new things happen, old things happen, we think too much, we die, you get it…bla bla it’s not the living that’s hard, feelings can be tough but the thing that we all seem to struggle with is the part of our mind that attaches itself to everything and holds on way too much. It fights us and wastes way to much of our energy in checking, worrying, scrutinising and keeping things the same!
At some point if you can’t keep up with your critic things may break. I know from first hand experience because my inner critic has really screwed with my life, and is at least one of the reasons why I spiralled into a chronic health illness. Although, in retrospect I’ve been afforded a great deal more freedom now and a chance to address underlying problems.
Trying to please my unsustainable critic left me exhausted and broken at one point. Being controversial, I believe it’s at the heart of most all illness, disease and disharmony in the world. When the mind is not harmonious, or left to run the body without enough consideration of feelings, it’s like the tectonic plates moving against one another.
Have you ever had the feeling that you are simply a servant to your mind, fulfilling the images and goals that have been set out for you as correct. There may have even been very little consideration of how it feels, it’s just what should be done. This is the language of the inner critic and living this way for too long can lead to burn out or worse. It also creates a feeling of emptiness and a feeling of lack. It has a real masculine energy to it and the female need to create life, feeling and connection out of things becomes belittled or squashed. It can render us disconnected and hollow until we reunite with the meaning behind our actions again and breathe in the moment.
Why do we need to keep up with those unconscious demands from our infancy anyway? The inner critic works with the inner child and thinks it’s securing safety. Ultimately we become frightened that there will be no love in our world if we don’t obey. Seeking love and approval is often the best way, we think, to be nourished, because this is what we needed when we were young and unable to take care of ourselves. However now we are adults, why does it remain. It’s outgrown it’s remit but it hangs around like a bad smell, especially if our own self-image is negative or distorted.
My identity has been heavily associated with achieving and helping, particularly achieving at being a good enough helper. This left little room for me, yet it’s painfully ironic that this mixture makes for the worst type of help, because when it derives from a person with a lack of adequate autonomy, the “I” is melded with the “you”, and there is not enough space available for real help, which must be free of need of approval from the helper, or a need to take responsibility for someone else. It makes for a revolving parent-child relationship, rather than the summoning of a more useful adult to adult type of joint responsibility dynamic. This is common for a lot of people who go into a caring profession, or even for parents, or workaholics who try to be everything for everyone.
If we haven’t managed to develop a relationship with ourselves then there is little internal nurture so our critic keeps us people pleasing and making the outside world happy. Irony number two, is that the outer world is just a reflection of the inner you anyhow. It’s created through your beliefs which are what direct your behaviours. Plus it’s full of our projections of ourselves. The more wounded we are, the more narsisstic and barricaded we become because we have a big internal bully.
We can often tell there are real shifts happening with our inner critic when our ability to truly be with a person is no longer hampered by who we think they are, rather than who they actually are. The amount of times our critic lays a filter of our mum or our dad over someone else is uncanny!
When the demands of my critic became too big and also quite separated from what my heart wanted things split open and without a body that could function, I was totally left with what was inside. It’s a marvel to see what happens when all those things you’ve invested in, and unknowingly used to prop up a fragile self fall down. I didn’t know who I was when I couldn’t work, see or help others, get out of the house or even cook or wash my own hair? Coming from centring my life on what I achieved, it was stark.
However it became my liberation in the end. I started to work on breaking away the unconscious core beliefs that had kept me from my personal power and self-care. This meant true healing for my wounded child. I found a way to enjoy such small things that sought no end result. In order to heal, I learned to accept this new barren life until it changed. Ultimately I had to understand how to give myself what I needed, which wasn’t necessarily what I wanted! It was not mind over matter but instead body teaching mind.
Through my journey with ME/CFS, I found out who I was without the stuff, and without the stuff I realised all along there had been things going on that I didn’t know about, but which others could probably clearly see.
I didn’t realise how nervous I was around people, which is ironic considering how much intimate psychological /spiritual work and public speaking i’d done. When we use a role to relate, as is sometimes the case, it’s not the real life connection you get from nothing to hide behind. You feel comfortable in a certain mode, but when you are outside of that persona you may feel inadequate in some way. The most confident people are the ones who feel little need to bring so much of themselves to the table but that doesn’t mean we should judge those who consume the space, because they are likely suffering somewhere inside.
When the bricks fall down, the child stuff can be healed and my journey was very much about re-parenting my own inner child so that I dealt properly with my anxieties and fears. It can be good to “feel the fear and do it anyway”, which was my past moto, but it can also be damn right stupid and defensive. Meeting where you are at and giving yourself protection was something that had eluded my development. Over-riding doesn’t work long term.
My critic hasn’t gone, it still tries it’s best to keep me safe, or so it thinks, but I have more free choice. I can chose to take action outside of its remit and discover what it is that I may really want rather than what my mind suggests. It can be easier when the ability to fulfill the critics needs are taken from you and you come somewhat out of the world. It’s a harder task, being again able to meet the critics demands, yet refraining and continuing to integrate what’s been learned, whilst reuniting with the everyday world. It also leads us to the question, are we our mind or our body? And how are they working together or not?
As a society we are largely head based and driven to rate things by our productivity but there is a unity to things when we allow as much consideration to our feelings and connections to people and nature.
Have you heard what your critic has being saying to you lately? Ever thought to question the validity of those thoughts?
Here are some useful exercises to do with your inner critic:
- Try writing down your inner critic attacks for a day and see if you can investigate where those voices may have derived from. How much more free would you feel if they weren’t there?
- Are there certain areas where your inner bullying is more focused? Where do you think those influences come from and are they true anymore?
- Are there people that your inner critic attaches itself to, it may sound something like, “Well name would think its ____!” What is it about that person that makes you speak mean to yourself?
- Is your judgement of others justified? Might it be your inner critic in disguise, worrying that this subject is something you feel inadequate about?
- Where do you need to say no to inappropriate behaviour toward you in your life?
- Write a list of the things you are currently judging yourself and others for right now, do you feel relieved to acknowledge them? Are they still so necessary?
When you feel yourself under siege don’t reason, bargain, give in or fight just give it the fingers and disengage! You don’t need that kind of inner motivation, you can get there with love not brut force.
Be kind to yourself.