“Every criticism, judgment, diagnosis, and expression of anger is the tragic expression of an unmet need.”
― Marshall Rosenberg
Many people have an inner critic. For some, it may insist you’re a fraud and won’t be successful in life no matter how hard you try. For others, it may replay your conversations with others and convince you you’ve humiliated yourself. Regardless of what your inner critic tells you, it is likely to be rooted in painful feelings of shame and unworthiness.
Some therapists view the inner critic as a “bully” or “irrational,” and therefore recommend fighting back and disproving it. This approach suggests reminding yourself of the “facts” of the situation to dismantle whatever the inner critic is telling you, and replace it with more reasonable thoughts. Without a doubt, there is value to this approach, and at the end of the day, if it helps you lead a more confident, fulfilling life, stick with it!
At the same time, pushing back on one’s inner critic can sometimes create feelings of inner conflict or inauthenticity. In such cases, another way of responding that may be more helpful is to befriend your inner critic.
Why would one want to befriend a part of themselves that has been so mean and discouraging, you might ask? In my experience, there is actually much to learn from and appreciate about your inner critic, if you take the time to understand its intentions.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that you believe the insults and assumptions your inner critic throws at you. Instead, it can help to consider how your inner critic may be *trying* to help you. Below are some examples to consider.
Your inner critic may be trying to motivate you to do what you’ve learned earns you acceptance, love, and belonging. If you have a history of receiving positive feedback for being a "helper," selfless, and kind, for example, you may find that your inner critic has a lot to say about the idea of saying "no" or prioritizing yourself over others. By accusing you of being selfish, rude, or disloyal in these moments, your inner critic may be trying to encourage you to rigidly stick with what it trusts will maintain the approval and praise of others.
Your inner critic may be trying to protect you from experiencing criticism or rejection by beating others to the punch, so to speak. For example, if you grew up with parents who withdrew from you when you expressed your emotions, your inner critic may tell you that you’re “too sensitive” or “overly emotional” in an attempt to prevent you from losing connection with your parents.
To understand your inner critic’s motivations, consider asking yourself these questions:
How has it served me to do or believe whatever my inner critic is telling me?
What might my inner critic fear will happen if I don’t listen to it? Why might that be?
How might my inner critic be trying to protect me or help me?
When did I first notice my inner critic?
When do I notice my inner critic coming up the most?
Have I heard what my inner critic is telling me from someone else in my life before? How do I feel about myself when I’m with that person?
Once you understand your inner critic’s intentions, you can offer it the compassion, gratitude, and reassurance it likely needs. By acknowledging and soothing your inner critic’s fears and needs, this can shift your relationship with it and encourage it to loosen its grip on you.
For someone whose inner critic pushes them to deny their needs in the service of others, they may respond by saying something such as, “I know you just want me to feel liked. I want that too. I can be liked and take care of myself too.” In the case of the individual whose inner critic insults them for being “too sensitive,” they may respond to their inner critic by saying something like, “It’s okay, I know you’re scared and don’t want me to feel alone and rejected again. I can handle this, though, and I deserve to share my feelings.”
The inner critic, in my opinion, often means well, but is poor in its delivery. Rather than arguing with it or letting it control you, try turning your inner critic from your foe to your friend. Great healing can result from letting all of our parts feel seen and heard.
If you'd like support with your inner critic, please feel free to contact me today.
This blog post draws from concepts from Internal Family Systems (IFS). To learn more about IFS, click here.
Katie Virga, Associate Marriage & Family Therapist #113323
Supervised & Employed by Alexis Donato, LMFT #44732