Is Your inner Critic Your friend or Your enemy?
Have you ever noticed the voice in your head telling you that you should have been at your fitness class today? Or you shouldn’t have said what you did at the dinner table last night? What might others be thinking of you?
This inner voice in your head scolds and reprimands daily. Telling you what you should do and not do. It criticizes you for your appearance, for not calling your parents often enough, for your work perfomance, for how much you are drinking and for your choice of friends.
The moment you find inner peace a new situation arises and new criticisms appear.
Hearing this critical voice you eventually feel tired, unsettled, shamed, not good enough, depressed, anxious and hopeless. Nothing you do is good enough. You feel stupid, ugly, fat, slow and boring. The criticism going around in your head eventually gets to you. You end up feeling sad and depressed.
Perhaps you know this voice as an echo of the voice of your parents, teachers or older siblings. As an adult it lives inside you and the criticism goes on inside what feels like non-stop.
This inner critic is useful to an extent. It guides us through life and lets us know what is right and wrong. This is part of normal socialization and helps us function in society and around other people.
But when the inner critic gets the upper hand at all times and judges everything in your life it ends up making your life miserable. You get out of touch with your true self. You get confused and feel not good enough meeting new people. You might not be able to start a new project or finish your degree because you hold back in fear of failing.
If this goes on for many years you might shut down all your feelings and emotions and you feel stuck in life. Not able to move forward. You might develop social anxiety or depression.
The concern about being judged, being good enough and trying to live up to outside standards and expectations can end up replacing you own inner voice. You get stuck in the role of ‘pleaser’ and can’t feel your own needs clearly.
If once in a while you do something “forbidden” and do not follow the rules and expectations you feel guilty and anxious.
Where does the inner critic come from?
It develops in childhood because every child must learn to adapt to the environment. The child learns how to avoid punishment and get his/her parents to love and appreciate him/her. The child learns that when he/she is sweet and quiet, mother and father are happy. For the child survival depends on getting love and approval, so it’s best to try to “please” and adapt to his/her the parents’ values and ways of seeing the world.
The child learns to suppress and push away any ‘forbidden’ emotions and ideas. Emotions and ideas that his/her parents do not approve of. Thus a kind of inner ‘police dog’ arises to guard the child. It keeps the child within certain limits. It’s function is to inhibit some of the natural impulses of the child and takes on the voices of the parents and the community.
This police dog is called the inner critic or super-ego. It acts as a punishing, critical and corrective inner voice.
If the parents have been very critical or judgmental the child learns to criticize himself. If the parents have been absent the inner critic may have taken up the space or void left by the parents. In this manner the critic becomes a kind of parental substitute. Unfortunately often very critical as the child often will interpret the parents’ absence as ‘I am not good enough’ or ‘I am not worthy of love’.
The inner critic forms in childhood but lives on into adulthood. In adulthood symptoms of anxiety, depression, hopelessness, unrest and powerlessness as a result of a toxic or destructive inner critic. At this point it becomes apparent that the inner critic is one of the causes of the issues and some work needs to be done in order to free yourself from it. This work can take time, but will lead to more inner freedom and more contentment in life.
Tools for working with the inner critic:
- Write down the criticism on a piece of paper
- Imagine you saying stop to the critic
- Do something you like that doesn’t have a specific goal
- Practice meditation and mindfulness
Soul without Shame – Byron Brown
Become a friend of your inner critic – Stone
Have you ever experienced being attracted to someone and then repelled when then liked you back?
Somehow the attraction is in the magic pull of the unknown and the uncertainty. As soon as the possibility of a relationship or a steady connection lurks we lose interest.
If the other person rejects us or sends mixed signals we magnetically attracted to them.
This is a complicated dynamic indeed because of a series of beliefs we hold.
One is that you have to work hard to get something. If something is really valuable it does not come easy.
Another is that we crave the unavailable person’s love and approval because we doubt our own lovability. We believe that if we can get the love of the person it will prove we are worth something and we feel better about ourselves. As long as our love and attention is not reciprocated we feel insecure, anxious and powerless. Fighting for love we believe we can ‘win’ the person over and all will be good. We will have proven to ourselves that we are worth it and good enough.
Another attractive element of chasing someone who makes us feel insecure and who rejects us is that we get addicted to feeling pain. We get hooked on the thrill and excitement of not knowing. This can be quite stressful with a mix of pain and pleasure, like riding a roller coaster.
The problem with the push pull dynamic is that often the person we are attracted to is not available to us and never will be. They keep a distance because they are not really interested in us or are not ready for a relationship. They might enjoy the attention they are getting from us, but are not ready to be involved with us. We end up getting rejected.
Rejection and abandonment may be issues from our past and thus we recreate the pain of the past. Unconsciously longing to resolve the issue we end up reenacting it. When we feel the pain of not being loved and being rejected we feel familiar feelings that often stem from childhood. We want to heal the wounds, but going for the push pull connection we only get disappointed and hurt yet again.
Some couples manage to actually get together with the push pull dynamic being enacted between them. They go through ups and downs and on and off times. One partner pursues the other while the other runs away. Sometimes the roles will switch so there is always a certain balance and distance. This is often a highly emotional couple and the relationship has many addictive elements. Both are looking for love and connection and running away from intimacy at the same time.
The high we experience in the beginning of a relationship or when we are in love at first is similar to being on drugs. The love chemical oxytocin reaches high levels when we first get together with someone and the oxytocin keeps us ‘hooked’. This is beneficial as it keeps partners together long enough to develop a bond of love.
However if the partners continue to be in a push pull dance they become addicted to the oxytocin but there is no bonding or security being established. The oxytocin is released and they are soothed when they meet for a brief moment only to be pulled apart again. Often both partners are afraid of love and intimacy. They do not feel love for themselves, so they either long for it in the other or push the other away.
This sort of push pull attraction can last for a long time and the partners experience glimpses of satisfaction and happiness, but there is no security or real bonding. So the relationship feels out of control and dangerous. Usually it doe not develop into a stable and nourishing partnership. In the end we hurt ourselves and our past wounds remain unhealed. Only true love and commitment might heal some of our wounds.
So if you find yourself in a push pull relationship or attracted to an unavailable person you might ask yourself if you might begin to cultivate self love rather than looking outside for someone else to love you.
In the alcoholic family the children suffer in many important areas of life due to the drinking patterns of a parent or parents. Usually the family in some measure has a lack of structure, safety, stability and predictability. This affects the children basically because children need structure, safety, stability and predictability very much in order to develop naturally.
The stressful environment of the alcoholic family causes the children to grow up fast and become adults in order to cope. In addiction they become hyper sensitive to the environment and the parents behavior. Noticing and picking up on cues in order to stay safe. They become expert in reading other people and keeping a distance or fixing a situation. They might become their parent’s helpers and therapists. They adapt to situations that are uacceptable because there is no escape for them. They adapt to their parents yelling, being absent, arguing, being violent and of course drinking.
The child will often feel responsible for the parents’ drinking and will at times try to get the parents to stop or will feel that ‘if they really loved me they would stop, so I must be worthless’. So this has a deep effect on the child’s self esteem and sense of value as a human being. When the child feels abandoned and neglected he/she will take it personally.
The consequence as adults are multifaceted and complex. They may suffer from the following symptoms.
Adult children of alcoholics may suffer from many psychological issues ranging from:
relationship problems and codependency
anger and sudden rage
tendency to please and adapt to others
identity and need confusion
As adult children of alcoholics it might be difficult to feel your limits and you may accept situations or behavior from people that is not appropriate. You may be a person who is very caring towards others while neglecting your own needs. You may not even know what your needs are and spend your time trying to figure out what others want or need.
In order to heal from your childhood wounds you need to face the fact that your early environment was not ideal and that you suffered as a result. You need to grieve the parents you did not have and feel the feelings that you have not been able to feel then. Working on boundaries and feeling your needs is very important and you may also have to evaluate the relationship you have to your parents today.
When you lose someone or something that was important to your life you will go through one or several reactions. The loss can be experienced as a sudden shock or can be the realization that you have lost someone or something that is not coming back. So now you have to deal with the facts and move on somehow. The famous grief specialist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross proposed the following stages of grief based on her work with hundreds of clients going through grief. The stages gives you an overview of some of the feelings you may be experiencing. And they may not be experienced by you in the same order as described below.
Denial – The first reaction is denial. In this stage individuals believe the diagnosis or the fact of the loss is somehow mistaken, and cling to a false hope or tries to explain and come up with a better version reality.
Anger – When the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue, they become frustrated, especially at other individuals, but it can also be at other situations in life. You may ask: “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; ‘”Who is to blame?”; “Why would this happen?”
Bargaining – The third stage involves the hope that the individual can avoid the grief. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek compromise.
Depression – In this stage you feel dark and gloomy. Feel hopeless and exhausted. There is no hope. You have thought of death and loss.
During the fourth stage, the individual despairs at the recognition of their mortality. In this state, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time mournful and sullen.
Acceptance – You feel some hope again. You feel more in balance and the future is more bright. “It’s going to be okay.”; “I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.”
In this last stage, individuals embrace mortality or inevitable future, or that of a loved one, or other tragic event. People dying may precede the survivors in this state, which typically comes with a calm, retrospective view for the individual, and a stable condition of emotions.
On Being an Ex-pat
In our increasingly globalized world people move countries like never before. This means we enter cultures we are unfamiliar with and we live in countries where we have little or no network. Expatriates usually refers to highly skilled migrants who live in a foreign country temporarily. Some work for large international corporations, others are diplomats. The children of ex-pats go to international schools.
Typically ex-pats adjust well to the new country, but occasionally the adjustment can turn out to be more challenging. Ex-pats may feel alone and isolated which puts more strain on the family or if the ex-pat is single isolation could turn into depression.
Questions of identity are common as ex-pats have to fit in and adjust to new customs and ways of behaving. It may be difficult to understand the local people at first and understand the cultural norms. Some ex-pats engage and meet new friends while other ex-pats isolate themselves or stick to people from their home country. Either way there there is often a cultural gap and a sense of not belonging. Ex-pats may have a sense of separation from the local society and people. This can mean work becomes the primary focus of the ex-pat which leads to even more separation. Work or other addictions can provide a sense of belonging or soothing, but is a vicious cycle. The imbalance between work life and life outside can trigger symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Another common issue for ex-pats is the issue of the ‘next step’ and the sense of being torn inside between countries. There might be a longing for ‘home’ or family in the country of origin and a constant ruminating about ‘should I move back home?’. The ex-pat might have a constant sense of missing, homesickness or longing that is felt like a sadness or depression. Or it might be a feeling of emptiness inside and of not being in the right place.
If the ex-pat has moved many times there is often a sense of not belonging anywhere. This can be confusing. All options are open and this can be both worrying and exciting. Living in the present moment in the here and now is difficult as the mind always wonders to other destinations and possibilities.
Eventually the rootlessness can lead to unhappiness and emptiness.
Typical issues for ex-pats are:
- Problems adjusting
- Work stress
- Work addiction
- Marital problems
- Sense of culture shock
- Isolation and loneliness
- Feeling torn between the home country and the new country
- Identity questions
Living and working abroad in another culture can be a great learning experience and a challenge worth exploring. It can give you new skills and you discover new aspects of yourself and life. You grow and mature as a result. You learn to understand people from diverse backgrounds and you see that life can be lived in many ways.
If you are struggling with your ex-pat experience psychotherapy and counseling can help you deal with the challenges. You can learn about yourself and how to overcome these challenges.
Dating in the age of Tinder and online dating can seem daunting. The ‘market’ of available partners is massive and overwhelming. The possibilities of meeting many casual partners one after the other does not make it very easy for relationships to develop gradually and slowly over time. From the first date there is the pressure ‘do we have chemistry’ ‘am I attracted’. Very often we do not take the time to really get to know the person we are dating. Any little thing that goes wrong or rubs us the wrong way on the first date and the person is out. Dumping someone is very easy and can happen simply by text message or worse: you never hear from the person again. They have already moved on to the next potential Mr. or Miss Right. This is part of the dating game, that everybody is looking for someone to give them love, acceptance, security, status, acceptance. This gets in the way of getting to know someone where there is no vested interest from the start. We are very focused on ‘getting’ something and in many ways we are consumers in the dating game. If the ‘goods’ do not meet our wants and expectations we do not waste time. We move on to the next prospect.
Meaningful interactions consist of mutual understanding and curiosity. A sense of respect and validation for the other. This can be difficult to obtain in only one or a few dates. And so often we judge each other based on first impressions. This means that people who are more confident and extrovert and risk takers have a better chance at appearing attractive on a first date. However this does not mean you are compatible as a couple or that the person is a decent and honest person. Often I hear people talk about ‘chemistry’ as the main ingredient on a first date. People do not take the time with someone if the chemistry is not there right away, so they move on quickly. But in many cases chemistry actually builds over time along with mutual understanding and human interaction. More than a few dates are necessary for you to get to know someone on a deeper level. It is important to take time to get to know someone beyond first impressions.
If you are committed to meeting a partner you have to take the time to get to know your prospects. First impressions and ‘chemistry’ can be based on our projections upon the other. This means we see in the other either what we fear or desire. Culturally we have been taught to equate attraction with love, so we look for ‘chemistry’ instead of a long term investment.
In order to see beyond our own projections we need to take time to inquire into the other person and get to know them. This is not always easy because we might think we want a relationship for all the good experiences we dream about, but we might be reluctant to have negative experiences, risk rejection, getting hurt or having our hearts broken.
If you have become used to being single you might have issues around commitment. They might manifest as high standards, comparing with prospects with your ex or always looking for someone ‘better’. It might also manifest as a push-pull with the other person. When you are available the other person is unavailable and then the roles switch. This way the relationship never goes deeper or gets more committed. Behind the fear of commitment can be fear of rejection, fear of intimacy or low self-esteem. Not committing is a way of staying safe and not get hurt.
So before you start looking for a partner you need to examine whether you are willing to commit to the process of getting close to someone new. To be vulnerable and open. To communicate your needs and feelings. You have to be willing to be disappointed or hurt in order to find a partner. You have to take the time to remove the barriers you might have erected against a partner in the name of freedom or ‘I have not met the right person yet’.
If you can commit to this you have a chance at finding and being in a relationship. It might not be perfect and it might not be ideal, but you might get to know yourself better and have someone to share life experiences with.
Loneliness – longing for contact
We live in a time when more and more people feel lonely and alone. Many do not experience having friends in real life. But they spend time on computers and social media. We have cyber friends. Contact with other people in everyday life takes up less and less of our time because we can avoid face to face contact.
Some people find they know a lot of people superficially, but don’t have anyone emotionally close nor have anyone the trust. They have nobody to turn to when they need help. We learn early in life that we need to cope with everything ourselves and be self-reliant.
How do you find friends? The answers are many: buy a dog, become a member of a club, volunteer, etc. But does it help with the feeling loneliness?
Since loneliness is experienced by people who are alone and by people who do not have many friends, but also by people who have friends and contacts the answer may be more complex.
So what is loneliness and who suffers from it?
If you have social phobia you tend to avoid other people.
You fear their criticism or rejection. You feel awkward in social situations so you avoid them. You create a life with very few contacts and eventually become more and more isolated and lonely.
If you suffer from depression you may have a tendency to isolate yourself because you feel bad. You find it hard to relate to other people and it drains you to be in social situations. Just making a phone call can be exhausting and you want to avoid it.
If you have experienced disappointment and let downs from other people you might find it difficult to trust and open up. You eventually shut others out and live your life alone.
If you have experienced losing someone or you have moved many times in your life you might have difficulty forming a new bond. Or if in childhood you were abandoned or have experienced a death in the family you might feel uncertain about depending on someone else. Being alone can seem easier. This way you do not run the risk of losing someone, being abandoned or going through the same pain again.
Another factor in feelings of loneliness is low self-esteem and self-criticism. If you do not feel good about yourself it can be difficult to make contacts. If you do not feel worthwhile you might doubt that someone wants to be with you. Relating to friends you are passive and wait for them to contact you. Thus friendships slip away and you blame yourself for ending up being alone.
If you have many friends but still feel lonely the cause of your loneliness is not lack of contact but might rather be lack of intimacy. If you do not open up and share your inner feelings honestly you might feel lonely in the company of others. You keep the facade and no one knows you on a deeper level. The contact remains superficial and empty.
We all need contact with other people and we need face to face contact. Having any kind of face to face contact will be satisfying to us as human beings. Yet we need to have more than just superficial contacts. Having deep contact with others help us know ourselves and we feel connected.
If you feel lonely you might take a look at what keeps you from creating contacts and meeting people. And if you have friends but feel lonely when you are around them maybe ask yourself if you are really are opening up when you are together.
A cornerstone in Freud’s theory of psychotherapy is the theory of resistance.
The idea is that the patient will resist change is his/her life and in psychotherapy to a certain extent. This is due to painful feelings that have been previously repressed coming to the surface during therapy. The patient wants to get better, but will resist feeling the pain. This is a natural human impulse: the resist and avoid pain. The therapist must help the patient deal with and accept that pain is a part of the process of getting better in psychotherapy.
Another related theory is that some patients feel they stand to gain something from suffering and feeling bad. They may find it difficult to get better unless this is dealt with. One common gain is that the pain associated with the symptoms will feel safer and better for the patient than feeling some deeper (and unconscious) pain. Its a trade off.
For some people feeling good and happy is associated with pain and danger, so in therapy they might resist getting better. Being unwell is safer even if it does not feel good.
Being unwell or suffering can in some cases be experienced as being in control. You might feel powerful as someone who is suffering and it can be a way to get attention and love from people around you. Maybe as a child you only got attention when you were sick or unwell.
Resistance in therapy can also be associated with what Freud described as repetition compulsion. It is the need to repeat old patterns in order to solve them. Giving up the pattern or the problem can feel like losing something important or losing connection to a person or a feeling. When we identify with our problems and suffering that we have known since childhood we might resist letting go of it completely. We hold on to what we know and identify with.
Resisting change is a common phenomenon in many of us. As human beings we survive by being in control and knowing what is going on. Any change can feel threatening to the status quo even if it’s a change for the better. Even if it means holding on to a problem.
Resistance may show in following ways during psychotherapy:
canceling or rescheduling appointments
avoiding important issues in therapy
being angry with the therapist
forgetting to complete homework assignments
downplaying the importance of an issue
getting better suddenly
For some clients resistance is more prevalent and more difficult to deal with. For others resistance can more easily be dealt with and worked through. If resistance is more prevalent it may interfere with the therapeutic process, yet trying to push through it will make it worse. So in my work as a therapist I will attempt to work with resistance rather than against it. This way the patient can feel a sense of control during the process and slowly learn to trust that underlying feelings can be dealt with safely in time.
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