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