Jeanette had low self esteem, all her teachers wondered about this. She was musically talented, but had no confidence in herself. She never tried out for the orchestra or school plays. As she got older, this pattern continued and she ended up with minimal jobs. She just assumed that she wouldn’t amount to anything. Every time she had an inclination to reach out and try something, she got a sinking feeling in her chest and gave up on the idea. She didn’t believe she was worth anything or could amount to anything.
One day a friend was talking about this critical voice the friend had inside her. She was having a very bad day with it! Something clicked inside Jeanette as she realized that she knew the voice her friend was describing. It lived inside her, too! It was saying things to her like, “You aren’t any good. You can’t do it. Don’t even try.” She had always just assumed that this was the truth about her. She had never seen it as a separate part of her that was giving her these harmful messages. She remembered how a part of her would want to try out for a play but this voice spoke so forcefully that she didn’t.
This part is commonly called the Inner Critic. Since Jeanette didn’t know about it, she had no way to communicate with this Critic. She couldn’t confront the source of her negative beliefs about herself.
Now that Jeanette became aware of how it was tearing her down and ruining her life, she got very angry at it and wanted to get rid of it. If she had turned to conventional therapy, she might have been encouraged to persuade it to change or simply to overcome it. She would have seen it as the enemy. However, this isn’t very effective. When we battle with the Inner Critic, it can just become more entrenched.
Using the IFS approach, Jeanette explored inside and gradually got to know her Inner Critic. To her amazement, she discovered that this part was actually trying to help her. Even though it was causing hopelessness and depression, it was doing this in a distorted attempt to protect her. It wanted to keep her safe from failure and humiliation, and it figured that the best way to do this was to prevent her from ever trying anything difficult. It accomplished this by constantly judging and discouraging her.
However, once Jeanette realized that her Critic was trying to help her, her anger melted and she began to understand and befriend it. In IFS, you never have to fight with a part or try to get rid of it. You can develop a trusting relationship with it and help it to relate to you more constructively. Through her relationship with her Critic, it softened and became less harsh.
When Jeanette explored further using IFS, she discovered that there was a different part of her that was receiving these messages from the Critic. This part believed these judgments and felt worthless, defeated, and hopeless. We call this part the Criticized Child. Jeanette realized that she could become a friend to this unhappy child and connect with it from a place of love and compassion.
Then using the IFS procedure, she accessed the memories from her childhood of times when she was judged and dismissed and made to feel worthless. The Criticized Child is the part that was hurt by those criticisms. Jeanette could then heal this Child through her love, and help it to release those feelings of shame and worthlessness. As a result, her Critic receded into the background and caused her less trouble.
As a result of this work, Jeanette discovered a helpful aspect of her Self that we call the Inner Champion. It has the capacity to support and encourage us in the face of Inner Critic attacks. Jeanette was able to develop and strengthen this part that cares about her and wants the best for her. Her Inner Champion told her that she has a lot of talent and can accomplish great things in the world. She learned to evoke it when necessary and take in its support.
Her Champion said, “You are OK just the way you are. You can do it. I’m proud of you.” This helped Jeanette to take the risk to develop her musical talent and try out for performing positions. She moved ahead professionally in a career that she really loved. As her Inner Champion took over for her Inner Critic, she became more self-confident and happier in many aspects of her life.
To transform your Inner Critic:
Take a Questionnaire to determine which types of Inner Critics are a problem for you, and get a report on how to work with them. (We have identified seven types of Critics.)
Self-Therapy Journey is an interactive online tool for psychological healing and personal growth that has a module on the Inner Critic.