NYC Psychotherapist Blog

power by WikipediaMindmap

Friday, April 5, 2024

Making Friends With Your Inner Critic

In a prior article, What You Resist Persists, I discussed how resisting what you don't like about yourself only makes it stronger.

Making Friends With Your Inner Critic

In the current article, I'm focusing on how to make friends with your inner critic.

What is Your Inner Critic?
As I mentioned in Overcoming the Inner Critic, no one is born with an inner critic. It usually develops at a young age.

Children internalize the negative messages they receive from their parents and other authority figures in their life.  

Most of the time, these messages aren't meant to be damaging, but they might be delivered in a harsh or punitive way and they are internalized by the child as meaning there's something wrong with them.

How the Inner Critic Develops

For instance, many well-meaning parents think they're motivating their children by comparing them unfavorably to older siblings, "Why can't you be more like your older brother? He gets all A's in school. Why can't you get all A's?"

Instead of motivating children, this kind of message gets internalized as "I'm not good enough" or "My parents don't love me as much as they love my older brother."

If children hear these kinds of messages repeatedly, they develop an inner critic who acts like a bully and who continues to give them negative messages about themselves even after they become adults.

Why Would You Want to Befriend Your Inner Critic?
When most people encounter a negative thought or feeling, their first inclination is to push it away because it's so unpleasant and emotionally challenging.

While this reaction is understandable, the problem is that, as I mentioned in an earlier article, even though you might be able to temporarily push away negative thoughts or feelings, you will only strengthen these feelings over time by trying to suppress them.

Although it sounds counterintuitive, the inner critic isn't trying to harm you--it's trying to protect you from harm.  

In other words, from the perspective of the inner critic, its intent is defensive. Just like parents might have thought they were being helpful by comparing their child to a more accomplished older sibling, the inner critic is trying, in a maladaptive way, to help you.  

So, for example, your inner critic might tell you, "You're too dumb to apply for college so don't even think about it" or "You're not good enough to audition for that play, so don't even try."

From the inner critic's perspective, it's trying to protect you from being disappointed or humiliated, but it's going about it all wrong.  Instead of protecting you, the inner critic crushes your spirit.

Since the inner critic is a part of you, you can't just get rid of it, but you can develop a dialog with it to acknowledge its good intention and then gently ask it to step aside.

How Can You Make Friends With Your Inner Critic?
  • Acknowledge and Accept That Your Inner Critic is a Part of You: Since resisting and suppressing your inner critic only makes it stronger, you can start by acknowledging and accepting that your inner critic as a part of you now--regardless of how it first developed. At the same time, remember that your thoughts and feelings aren't facts no matter how strong they are and how often they occur. Accept your inner critic and, at the same time, don't give it power.
Acceptance and Self Compassion
  • Differentiate Your True Self From Your Inner Critic: After you have acknowledged and accepted that your inner critic is a part of you, you become aware that it's only one part of you. It's not all of you who are. There is a deeper part of you, which some people call your true self or, as it's called in Parts Work, your core self (see my article: How Parts Work Helps to Empower You).  According to the Internal Family System (IFS), one of many Parts Work models, your core self is the part of you that is:
    • Curious
    • Creative
    • 'Calm
    • Confident
    • Clear
    • Connected
  • Practice Self Compassion
  • The inner critic is often a young part of you that holds unresolved trauma. Rather than criticizing or suppressing the inner critic, show self compassion. When you practice self compassion, the inner critic tends to soften. So, when you get negative messages from your inner critic like, "You don't know what you're doing. You're a failure," respond with kindness by telling yourself, "I'm worthy of love and compassion and I'm doing the best I can."  Then, gently ask the inner critic to step aside.
Get Help in Therapy
Unresolved trauma often shows up in the form of an inner critic.

If you're struggling with unresolved trauma, seek help from a licensed mental health professional who is a trauma therapist.

Freeing yourself from your traumatic history allows you to live a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples and, as a trauma therapist, I have helped many clients to overcome unresolved trauma.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.