Hope and the Inner Critic

I have been thinking a lot about hope lately.

A while ago, I had the opportunity to invest in a possibly foxy, possibly foolhardy currency scheme. My conservative parts won out: I declined. The result was that I got on the mailing list of investors and have been privy to the ups and downs of the easy money world. The only part of me that can benefit from tracking this information is my Inner Critic, who audibly salivates at the opportunity to call me a chicken-hearted fool for missing out. Over the years, I’ve had clients who live in this world: gold, silver, oil, gas, tech secrets, stock tips, start-ups, and so on. I’ve watched the impact of hope and disappointment on their moods, relationships, views of the external world, and inner systems.

In IFS, we often think of ourselves as “hope merchants.” Our presence as therapists who hold Self energy impacts the system by providing a different view from the prevailing internal logjam. We offer an opportunity to see things differently. It is often experienced as an infusion of hope.

Firefighters-those parts usually associated with addictive behavior or rash, impulsive actions-can only be wooed into contact with an offer of hope. They don’t resonate with logical reasoning the way our more strategic managers do. We tell firefighters that we know we can fix things, that we have a way to make things better. We say that if they trust us, we’ll show them how to stop hijacking the system and getting everyone in trouble. A hopeful thought!

Some spiritual teachers caution about hope. I think there is concern about the tendency to escape and deny the reality of a current situations by skipping off to the future.  They point to the existence of a part that always thinks that things will be different if I am just  not here in the present moment., If i only could loose the weight, get that job, find true love, then I could relax. That part seduces us to believe that things will be different next time, even with the same behavior, mindset, and social context. “This time when I go out with the boys, I’ll just have a soda.” It resists the surrender phase of being in Self, facing what is, and being in the  moment.  I think it is important to name those parts and give them a seat at the table.

The hope that I am aware of is repeatedly echoed by people who have been introduced to IFS and our Inner Critic work and, most recently, by people who have been exploring the cluster of eating-related parts. When I teach people that the incessant cacophony of self-demeaning thoughts, rebellious attitudes, demanding children, or dense fog in their heads is reliably identifiable parts that can be named, separated from, and negotiated with, they are excited and hopeful. They dare to believe that getting to know the Food Controller, the Rebel, the Indulger, and the Foggy Part can actually get them out of their cycle of dieting, bingeing, and hating themselves.

For years now, we have been told that identifying the seven types of Inner Critics has brought clarity to internal experience. The act of identifying the Critic as a part, and not a terrible secret truth about oneself, releases people from a self-imposed prison. We often hear, “Oh, I see-that feeling that I am bad, lazy, or worthless or shouldn’t dare to dream is coming from a part of me. I have always assumed that was who I was.” This mindshift helps them move from hopelessness to curiosity, and then, with understanding, toward compassion for their parts. This is the beginning of healing.

So I watch the function of hope. I notice that people buy lottery tickets and self-help books, do spiritual practices that require time and discipline, invent things in their garages or on their computers. And yes, I see people go from one thing to another just to keep hope alive. But I do think there is something very human about believing we can impact our fate or be proactive in shifting our experience-that tomorrow could be better. It stirs our juice, gets our brain chemicals flowing. I personally want to land in the field of helping fulfill some of those hopes and to support people with the tools I have to find their way in making things brighter.