Knowing that your Inner Critic part is trying to help you and protect you from pain means that you can connect with it and develop a cooperative, trusting relationship. This is the best way to help the Critic to relax and ultimately to transform.
A key IFS principle is that all parts are welcome. This means we need to be genuinely open to getting to know each part from a curious and compassionate place, which will encourage it to reveal itself. In order to do this, you must be in Self, which will allow you to be openly curious about the Critic and respectful of it. The Critic can tell if you feel negatively toward it, and it probably won’t show you much about itself, but will just continue attacking you.
Recognizing Your Inner Defender
To check to see if you are in Self, notice how you feel toward your Inner Critic right now. Do you like it or hate it? Do you appreciate it or judge it? Do you want to banish it? Are you afraid of it? Are you curious about it?
The purpose of this inquiry is to discover whether you are in Self with respect to the Critic. Being genuinely open to your Inner Critic is not always easy. If it has been causing you pain, it is natural for you to be angry with it. It would be understandable if you judge it and want to be rid of it. However, approaching the Critic (or any part) with these attitudes won’t lead to healing and reconciliation.
These attitudes aren’t coming from your Self; they are coming from another part of you that we call the Inner Defender, because it wants to defend you from the Critic. Often the Inner Defender feels judgmental and angry toward the Critic. It may try to dismiss the Critic or even banish it from your psyche. But remember, you can’t get rid of a part, and the Critic usually fights back successfully against attempts to dismiss it.
Sometimes your Inner Defender tries to argue with the Inner Critic. If the Critic says that you are worthless, the Defender tries to prove that you are a good person who has accomplished things in your life. If the Critic says you can’t succeed, the Defender argues that you can. If the Critic says you are a lazy bum who must work harder, the Defender may say, “Leave me alone.” It wants to engage with the Critic and defend your goodness and your right to be yourself. It wants to fight against being controlled by the Critic.
While it makes sense that your Inner Defender wants to champion you, engaging with the Critic in this way usually doesn’t work. First, the Critic often wins the argument. Or if your Inner Defender wins for now, the Critic may redouble its attacks later. Second, this approach creates inner conflict.
Your Inner Defender
Do you have any sense of what your Inner Defender is that fights against the Inner Critic that you have chosen to work on? You may not know this until you do the guided meditation that takes you through an IFS session later this week. However, if you have a sense of this part, please take some notes on this, and if you feel like sharing them with the class, click email@example.com.
Unblending from Your Inner Defender
If you realize that you are blended with the Inner Defender, ask that part if it would be willing to step aside so that you can get to know the Critic from an open place. Explain that doing this will help you to work successfully with the Critic to help it relax and transform. After all, the Inner Defender is probably not willing to step aside because it wants to fight or get rid of the Critic. Explain that the best way to resolve the pain the Critic is causing is to transform it.
You might first need to give the Defender some space to express its judgments and concerns about the Critic. Stop trying to get it to step back, and instead spend some time finding out about its role in your psyche. What does it do for you? It may have a larger role than just fighting against the Critic. Focus your attention on it for a while and get to know it. Give it time to explain itself to you. Make sure that it has had its say and feels that you understand it. Then once you understand it, give it appreciation for its efforts on your behalf. This should help you to develop a trusting relationship with it. Then it will probably be willing to step aside.
If the Defender has expressed itself and still isn’t willing to step aside, ask what it is afraid would happen if it did. Take some time to fully understand its fears and empathize with them. Defenders are usually afraid that if they give the Critic an inch, it will take over and attack you. Once you understand the Defender’s fears, reassure it that you will handle the situation safely. Explain that you won’t allow the Critic to take over—that you will be in Self and in charge while making a connection with it. The Critic won’t be attacking because you will be asking it questions about its motivation, not listening to its judgments.
You might have more than one part that is an Inner Defender. One might argue with the Critic; another might rebel against it; a third might try to get rid of it.