One of the most startling discoveries about our Inner Critics is that they are actually trying to help us. This is an amazing, powerful secret. In its own distorted, confused way, your Inner Critic is actually trying to help you. At first this may seem surprising, but once you get to know your Critic in a deeper way, you’ll come to understand why it is attacking you. It may be negative and harsh, but it is doing so in a distorted attempt to protect you from pain. As strange as it may seem, we have found this to be true over and over with hundreds of clients, and so have other IFS therapists.
Your Inner Critic thinks that pushing and judging you will protect you from hurt and pain. It thinks that if it can get you to be a certain way—perfect, successful, cautious, nice, slim, outgoing, intellectual, macho, and so on—then you won’t be shamed or rejected, and you might even get approval from people who are important to you. It tries to get you to fit in by prescribing rules and then attacking you if you violate them. Even though attacking you actually backfires and causes you more suffering, your Inner Critic is doing what it thinks is best for you.
The good news is that because the Inner Critic actually has positive intentions, you don’t have to fight with it or overcome it. You don’t have to win a battle; you don’t have to get rid of it. Instead, you can discover what it thinks it’s doing for you and make a positive connection with it. You can offer it appreciation for its efforts, and it can begin to trust you. Knowing that your Critic’s heart is in the right place makes it possible to create a cooperative relationship with it and transform it into a valuable resource. This relationship makes an enormous difference in your internal landscape and sets the stage for deeper healing.
All Inner Critics are, in their own way, trying to help you, and the different types of Critics have different motivations and means.
Protecting You from Judgment or Rejection
For some Critics, the primary goal is to protect you from being judged, ridiculed, rejected, attacked, or abandoned by people. A Perfectionist Critic might be afraid that if you aren’t perfect, you will be judged or dismissed, so it tries to get you to be perfect in everything you produce—even the way you look and operate in the world. It attacks you whenever you aren’t top notch in every way. A Taskmaster Critic might try to get you to work hard so you will be really successful, because it believes that if you fail at anything are or even just mediocre, you will be attacked or rejected. It is a slave driver that judges you unmercifully whenever you aren’t working to maximum effort.
A Molder Critic might be afraid you are stepping outside the mold of what is acceptable—for example, by gaining weight, being angry, being needy or vulnerable, or being strong and visible. It might also be afraid of your being sexual, feminine, artistic, introverted, or emotional. The definition of what isn’t acceptable varies from one Critic to another, but they all believe that if you violate these standards, you will be ridiculed and excluded by your family, friends, or a group that is important to you. So they attack and shame you whenever you do anything that strays from the mold.
Some Critics are primarily trying to get approval, attention, or admiration from people who are important to you. Perfectionists and Taskmasters believe that if you are perfect or very successful, you will gain the attention you have always wanted. Molders believe that if you fit the mold of who you are expected you to be—outgoing, intellectual, caring, beautiful, dutiful, or whatever is most valued by your parents or subculture—then you will finally get the love you so desperately need. They may want you to get approval from your boss or your boyfriend, but their need for approval from these people actually stems from a need for approval from your parents or childhood friends.
These Critics push you to be a certain way, and they may even reward you when you succeed. But they certainly attack you when you don’t succeed.
Some Critics try to stop you from doing things that are harmful to yourself or others. An Inner Controller Critic might want to keep you from overeating or abusing drugs, or perhaps to stop you from flying into a rage or acting impulsively. A Guilt Tripper Critic might want to stop you from doing anything that causes another person pain, such as forgetting someone’s birthday or inadvertently saying something hurtful. If you do something like this, it attacks and shames you to try to keep you from doing it again.
Keeping You Safe from Attack
An Underminer Critic may be afraid that if you are powerful or confident, you might put yourself out in the world. You might take risks such as writing an article, asking a woman for a date, or speaking up at work. This Critic is afraid that taking these actions will put you in harm’s way. So it criticizes you to keep you scared and small so you will be safe. It wants to make you submissive so you won’t assert yourself and put yourself in danger. When someone attacks you, a Destroyer Critic might blame you for it in an attempt to get you to change yourself rather than standing up to the person and triggering more attacks. For example, if your supervisor at work dismisses your ideas, your Critic will say it was your fault rather than seeing that he was overloaded with work and not paying attention. This self-blame also allows you to stay attached to the person, your supervisor, so you won’t be alone. Even though the focus may be on current life relationships, the Critic’s motivation ultimately goes back to keeping you safe and connected to your parents.
Your Critic’s Positive Intent
Do you have any sense of what the positive intent is for 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, you might have some intuitive guesses about its intent. Please take some notes on this, and if you feel like sharing them with the class, click firstname.lastname@example.org.