Harsh, hurtful, degrading – they all describe the all-too-powerful words that can come from our “internal critic.”
We all have a critic, although the ferocity and loudness varies. As a clinical social worker, I often get a front-and-centre view into how universal and common the internal critic is in our minds.
“You’re so stupid and useless”
“You can’t do anything right”
“You’re so ugly and fat”
“You’re just not good enough”
Often, my most compassionate and caring clients will say these things, not to others but to themselves. Simply put, the critic is one “part” of our personality. These parts make up an internal system designed to work as a team to help us make decisions, keep us safe and progress in life.
The cohesion and integration of this team varies depending on our life experiences and relationships. Our attachment to our caregivers, successes, failures, mistreatment, trauma and adverse life experiences, all impact the growth of our internal system.
Fortunately, the critic isn’t the only part of our personality. Others we often see are the “professional,” “nurturer,” “adult,” and “child,” to name a few.
With my clients, I often reference my “rebellious teenager,” a part that most mornings tries to get me to skip work and sleep in. It takes a lot of energy from my “professional” part to get me out of bed, but this pales in comparison to the energy we consume battling our critic.
Through therapy we can begin to identify and understand the core negative messages from the critic. We often learn the critic generally has good intentions for us. It wants us to be happy, successful and safe but takes an approach that actually leaves us feeling stuck, insecure and unmotivated.
So what do we do about the critic, and how do we make it more friend than foe?
My first recommendation is to practice mindfulness and to just notice it. Speak the critic’s words out loud, write them down, and separate the critic from your core self.
By making contact with the critic we can begin to understand how irrational and misguided it is. When we work on building up other supportive parts of our system we can then add in positive affirmations, calming and motivational messages, which help in quieting and even befriending the critic.
Lastly, by increasing our capacity to have compassion, kindness and empathy for ourselves, we can work towards self-acceptance.
If being kind to yourself is a foreign concept, just think of something your nicest friend would say. Ask yourself, “What would _____ tell me in this moment?”
If that doesn’t work, and the critic continues to pester you, just repeat after me: “So you remember when I asked for your opinion critic?
Yah, me neither, so take a hike!”- Sincerely, the Rebellious Teenager
Matt Barnes is a Clinical Social Worker and psychotherapist at Southwest Counselling Services in Sarnia.