Your Inner Critic Isn’t as Powerful as It Seems

When you become aware of how an Inner Critic Part is tearing you down, you may want to ignore it, argue with it, or banish it. However, none of these approaches are effective for very long. The Inner Critic will keep popping up and attacking you. You usually can’t win an argument with a Critic. And they can’t be banished for long.

The IFS approach is much more effective. An Inner Critic part is actually an IFS protector, which means that it is trying to help you by protecting you from pain or harm. A Critic usually does this in a hurtful and distorted way, so it doesn’t really succeed in helping you, but nevertheless its heart is in the right place—it is trying to protect you. This means that you can use the IFS approach to get to know each Inner Critic and develop a trusting relationship with it, which lays the groundwork for transforming it.

If an Inner Critic seems very powerful and threatening, you may be frightened of it or devastated by its attacks. However, once you get to know a Critic using IFS, your view of it may change radically. You may realize that it is actually a frightened child part that is puffing itself up to intimidate you, but it really can’t hurt you once you see through its facade.

Let’s look an example. Sarah was very frightened of her Inner Critic. It screamed and yelled at her and crushed her with its powerful attacks. It told her that she was worthless and would never amount to anything. She called her Critic the Attacker and visualized it as a huge monster with great muscles and a loud voice that was attacking her physically.

However, when she worked with the Attacker using IFS, she became openly interested in getting to know it and discovered its positive intent. Here is what the Attacker said to Sarah:

Attacking was a game in our family. They were all doing it, so I had to do it, too, and I had to be good at it. If they were going to do that to me, then I wanted to do it to myself first so they couldn’t do it to me worse. This gave me the power of not being hurt by them. I was trying to protect this child part (which Sarah called the Scared Kid) from being hurt by them and from feeling all that hate and criticism from the family. That was too painful, so if I hurt the Scared Kid instead, it wasn’t so bad because I was the one hurting her—not the people she really wanted love from.

This information from the Attacker allowed Sarah to begin connecting with it and gave her a different image of it.

Later in the session, when the Attacker was reluctant to give up its role, I had Sarah explain that it had an impossible job trying to protect the Scared Kid. It said, “It’s hard to believe that you could help the Scared Kid when I couldn’t do it. It was my job. I had to be able to do it. I now realize that I’m just this little kid, and I’m trying to protect this other kid.”

When Sarah and I heard this sentiment, we both had tears in our eyes. The Attacker was actually a child part that was intent on protecting the Scared Kid from pain. This is so different from the way we usually think of our Critics. This understanding was moving for Sarah (as well as for me), and it made it easy for her to feel compassion and caring for the Attacker. She saw that the real Attacker had been revealed, like the little man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz. And Sarah’s image of the Attacker changed. Now she saw it as a frightened girl who was doing her best to act tough to prevent a terrible tragedy.