Conquering your inner critic

“You’re a piece of crap,” I told my best friend. “You’re good for nothing, you’re a total fraud, nobody likes you and for good reason. You are inherently flawed and can’t do anything right, and that’s why you’re worthless and unlovable. Here’s a list of all the things you’ve done wrong that prove this.”

Haha, just kidding. I would never speak to other people this way. No no, these are just the things I say to MYSELF.

What kinds of things do you say to yourself that you’d never say to a best friend? Do you ever belittle, insult, and undermine yourself? Do you ever beat yourself out of success before you’ve even started trying?

Are you meaner to yourself than you would ever be to anyone else?

How many ways has your inner critic prevented you from living your best life?

Getting to know your inner critic

We often think of these voices as our ‘inner critic’, that voice inside seems to exist only to berate and belittle us, to present us with worst case scenarios, always reminding us of everything we ever ‘failed’ at, and everything that is ‘wrong’ with us.

Take a moment of silence and tune in to your inner critic’s voice with curiosity.

What does it say?

Whose voice does it have?

If you close your eyes and invite it to appear, what form does it take?

Does it have a name?

How is it trying to help you?

Using parts therapy to create meaning

We can start to understand ourselves better when we conceptualise our conflicting needs as different ‘parts’ of ourselves. You may have a part of you that wants to get up early and go jogging, and another part that likes to stay up late drinking wine, thwarting the morning part over and over. I have a part who is really keen for a day off to do something fun and creative, but is mostly overridden by my inner workaholic, which occasionally results in hours of sitting at my computer procrastinating, thereby achieving neither work nor relaxation. Most of us have an ongoing complex interplay of different and sometimes conflicting needs.

It helps to think about all of your parts as trying to accomplish something positive for you. It may also be that those parts were established when you were very young and had limited resources. Maybe those parts have not noticed how your circumstances and needs have changed.

The intentions of your inner critic

When we work out where the criticism is coming from and how it is intended to help us, we can start softening into a more harmonious way of being, and diminish its power to derail and devastate us.

If you had an overly critical parent who (intentionally or inadvertently) taught you that you had to be a certain way to be lovable, perhaps your inner critic is attempting to continue that work, believing it to be a noble striving for worthiness.

If you have a deep fear of failure, humiliation, or rejection, perhaps your inner critic is trying to protect you from that by preventing you from venturing into ‘risky’ situations.

Perhaps your inner critic is nothing but an inner protector who is tirelessly trying to keep you safe, without understanding the ways in which it is making your life harder.

How is your inner critic trying to keep you safe?

Befriending your inner protector

Step 1: Thank them for their efforts to keep you safe. Be specific. Thank them for running all those worst-case training scenarios, for showing you areas for improvement and growth, and for protecting you.

Step 2: Open dialogue. When you notice the inner critic being particularly hard on you, stop and listen. How are they trying to help you? What do they need to feel safe? What else do they want you to know?

Step 3: Reassure them. Show them how you’ve changed, how the world has changed. Remind them that you’re in the present, that you’re an adult with resources and resilience. Show them you’re okay. Give your inner protector permission to relax a little.

I always finish these exchanges by imagining myself hosting a big group hug with all parts involved, reinforcing that I am the wise compassionate adult in this exchange, rather than a helpless victim to some internal bully.

Reframe and rename

Approaching your inner critic/protector with compassion, curiosity, and openness, as a source of information rather than a tyrannical force, with a goal for harmony and understanding instead of suppressing and reacting, is the most effective way to reduce its impact on your life. In light of this, you may wish to give your ‘inner critic’ a new name that reflects your new understanding of their role, or the nature of your new relationship. Then, when you hear them speaking, you’ll know how to identify, address, and understand them.

Gestalt therapy is focused on integrating the disowned parts of self, and on being present in the here-and-now, meaning it is a perfect therapeutic approach for healing and befriending parts that have lost direction and are giving you a difficult time. If you’d like support harmonising your fractured parts party, we have a number of Gestalt therapists who specialise in just this. To speak to us about finding a counsellor to support you on this path, get in touch with us to organise a free consultation call today.