When our inner critic shows up, it can be hard to talk it down or reason with it. This part of our personality can be fierce, harsh, argumentative and stubborn. This critical voice tends to be judgemental and demeaning. Internal Family Systems therapy has helped me change the way I view my own perfectionism, shame, and other critical parts. This doesn’t mean I’m always at peace when these parts of my personality show up. However, IFS helped me recognize that all of my “internal enemies” are here for a reason. Once I am able to understand why they are here, or what triggered them, I’m then able to negotiate for some space.
IFS uses a variety of techniques to help us externalise these difficult parts of our personality. By creating a bit more space, we can work to understand these inner critics without becoming overwhelmed by their words. We learn about the history of these parts, how they learned to do their current roles, and what they are fearful will happen if they no longer did these tasks. When the relationship with our critics start to heal, these parts no longer have to protest, judge, or demean you as intensely.
Working with an inner critic can take time, practice, and sometimes, support from a clinician. In the meantime, I hope the following quotes help you start to shift the relationship you have with your own internal voices. These quotes are wonderful reminders that there is more to us than our inner critics, anxieties, perfectionists, and other challenging parts. These lines help us recognize that our critical inner voices were shaped based on early life experiences. Finally, these quotes remind us that we can separate from our thoughts. I hope they bring you some comfort.
I find the most aggravating thing anyone can say to a person when they’re feeling lousy is “be positive”. If it were that simple, we would have done it by now. Instead, the most freeing thing we can do is to accept that we are suffering. Like anyone else who is suffering from a critical voice, it is hard and it can be unpleasant. What often happens is that we try and stifle this critical voice and pretend it does not exist. This is understandable since we don’t typically like what it is telling us. However, ignoring this critical voice exists does not make it go away. Shoving it down to the deepest crevice of our mind usually creates backlash.
What would it be like to actually accept that this critical voice exists? If you allowed this acknowledgement, what might change for you? Would you be able to reach out for help? Would you provide yourself more forgiveness when you react? Is it possible to start changing your view of this voice? Rather than being surrounded by shame or denial for having this inner critical, acknowledging its presence and intensity can allow you some space to proceed.
IFS helps us look at our inner critic in this externalized fashion. Think of your inner critic as if it is a loud, angry, temperamental child. There are many ways you can address this kid (e.g. screaming back, trying to convince it to stop, ignoring). None of these strategies actually help you understand why that kid is pissed off, or what he/she needs from you to feel calmer. Instead, can you become curious about this part of you? Can you let go of the agenda to make it stop yelling, and instead, be a soothing presence so that it can actually talk to you.
When you start to hear this critic, pay attention to other parts of you that may show up. How do you feel towards this critic? This question gives insight as to other parts of you that may be present. For example, there may be a part of you that does not like the critic, a part that is afraid of the critic, and a part that wants to give up. These various parts emphasize the existence of an internal system of parts. Typically, when an inner critic starts to speak, other protective layers pile up in order to protect you. This is like trying to talk to one angry, temperamental child in a classroom full of angry, temperamental children. No wonder our internal systems feel so overwhelmed when we try and do this work.
Our inner critic often focuses on telling us that there is something fundamentally wrong with us. This quote helps us recognize that there are so many influences that shaped us. Our history, our family of origin, our culture, and many other influences have helped to create this inner critic. In order to access your real core, it’s important to recognize that there are often wounds that get in the way. Once these wounds are addressed, we are able to have access to our true selves.
Life throws all sorts of difficult circumstances at us. We learn to cope in the best ways given the resources and skills we have at our disposal. At some point in time, your internal system learned that it needed a critic. This doesn’t mean that the inner critic is fair or kind or effective. However, it is what your system felt was needed to help you survive a difficult moment. When I think my inner critic as a young part of me that learned it had to criticize in order to protect me, I’m am better able to stay with that emotion. I am more open to validating its concerns, and thereby understand what it needs from me in this moment to feel safer.
Mindful observation is wonderful because it is so effective. However, many of us avoid mindfulness because it’s hard work to separate our emotional ties to a thought. When our inner critic gets loud, it’s easy to get swept up by its intensity. The idea of mindfully observing thoughts is being able to recognize that a thought is just a thought. There is nothing powerful about it. It is merely a phrase that comes to mind, which will be replaced by another thought in a few seconds.
Rather than mindfully observing, we often get hooked by the story of a thought. For example, if I wake up with a enormous zit on my nose, I’ll have a really hard time letting this thought go. I may have a train of thoughts such as “Crap! What the heck is growing on my face?… No one will be able to hear me talk, they’ll be staring at this monstrosity on my nose… Can I just hide in bed?” The alternative to being in my thoughts is to step back and acknowledge that it is just a thought.
Whether it’s an inner critic, anger, or any other difficult emotion, there is a huge shift in our internal system when we can recognize our part’s protective intent. If I can separate from the emotions tied to my zit-induced panic, I can appreciate that this thought comes from a place of wanting to present well. I understand that I would like others to have a positive opinion of me. Instead of my usual patterns, I can then provide self-compassion to this part of me that feels insecure. I can let this part of me know that I understand that it has my best intentions. With help from some IFS techniques, I can ask permission for this insecure part to step back, lower its intensity, and watch as I carry out my day despite walking around with the mother of all zits.
I want to leave you with these parting words. It takes time and effort to heal. You are doing your very best given the resources you currently have available. If you are curious about your inner critic, or wanting to shift your internal relationships, please reach out.