Dealing with the Inner Critic

We all have one: that ego or inner voice that judges all our behaviors and actions. Perhaps yours tells you that you are embarrassing or stupid or ugly or unlovable or…….? (Feel free to add your own particular brand of self-punishment here!)

When most people come to therapy they eventually get to a point where they can acknowledge this inner voice. I mean let’s face it. This is the part of us that drove us to therapy in the first place.

It’s crucial however to discern between the different voices, as we usually have at least two inner critics: the adult version that monitors our behavior in a functional and useful way, and the ‘young’ version that represents our insecurities and fear of rejection. Or as I like to call them, our Suspicions of Selves (SOS).

The adult version is much easier to negotiate with, as it is mostly a thinking process that comes relatively late in our psychological development. It allows us to adapt morally, and does so frequently, through a process of thinking, discussion and engagement with others, with the ability to feel without being overly reactive.

[pullquote_left]The ‘young’ version is the one that gets us reactive and all in a tizzy, and is far less easy to understand or engage with. This is because it’s our ego’s defense.[/pullquote_left]

We all have a natural drive for togetherness and individuality. “Togetherness” meaning that human need for connection, and “Here”(within the context of the article) meaning with our caregivers. And individuality, which is that force to expand and become who we are. As a young child we are completely dependent, and it’s a biological imperative to survive.

Therefore when a choice has to be made between individuality (being who I am) and togetherness (being connected to my parents), a child will sacrifice self in favor of togetherness (because abandonment means death)

This is how we take on those suspicions about our selves.

We start to learn very quickly to adapt our behavior while sacrificing self to make ourselves more lovable to others, or at least to get the “kudos” that we need for our psychological survival. We learn through this process: which parts of us we believe are acceptable and which parts of us we need to keep to ourselves.

We start to internalize the judgments of others in order to make sure that our behavior gets us the “kudos” that we think we need. This develops the inner critic or ego, which keeps us in check in order to keep us safe and get us love. We pretend to be someone we are not in order to maintain connection and survive.

That ego voice or inner critic will often be harsher on us than anything we experience from the outside world.

We will never absolutely rid ourselves of this ego voice: it is an integral part of our psyche. If we argue with it, tell it to go away, it becomes more entrenched and more firm in its mission to protect us from the big bad world. We need to develop a relationship with it, understand its motivation, be respectful of the way it has taken care of us and quietly sit it in a chair when it wants to jump up and down and grab our attention.

If we stop, sit and listen there’s an important message that the inner critic is telling us. And that’s how to evolve…..