A case story about the inner critic
Mia is a good looking woman in her late 30s. She is married and is socially well adjusted person. She came to coaching complaining about a lack of a deep meaning in her life. She explained that she has a good but boring working place, that is "somehow OK" and makes really good money, but does not fulfill her. She says, she is not unhappy in her life and marriage, but also not really happy. In the background, there is all the time a feeling as if she is "missing something", but she can't say what, as everything in her life seems "quite OK".
After some time of investigation, it became clear that Mia has been stopping herself from wanting anything that could include risk, passion and enthusiasm. Her working place is stable, but it but doesn't inspire her talents, so she is not fulfilled. She is every time pulling back when she is about to use her true potentials. In those moments she feels kind of "frozen" and stuck. While she is secretly dreaming of starting her own business, she doesn't even dare to name this wish to anybody else. Rather she immerdiately critisizes herself for being "a dreamer" and wanting to leave such a great position at work, that she has now.
In one of the sessions Mia remembered the voice of her father telling her to be "realistic". This memory unfolded a situation from her childhood, when she was about age 7. Mia was a girl full of enthusiasm and aliveness. She loved horse riding and dreamed of being a great horse rider, winning some of the greatest competitions. Her father was afraid that her enthusiasm might have been followed by a huge disappointment, so he told her to better be "realistic". He explained that for great competitions one needs to have much more talent and to pracice way more than Mia could ever manage (cause her riding school was too far away). Mia got her father's "message" that she is not good enough for "big things" and that risking means gettig disappointed, so she completely stoped horse riding and cut herself from her dream. Every time Mia would dream of living any passion, the power of her enthusiasm would make her father afraid, so he kept on telling her to stay "realistic" and "on Earth". Finally Mia internalized his voice and was calling herself "a dreamer" every time she would wish to use her potentials with enthusiasm.
THE INNER CRITIC
The inner critic is internalized personality of outer authority from our childhood, that we were in some way dependent on. Mostly these are our parents, but that can also be religious or social values. Parents want their children to be happy and succesful in life, well adjusted and accepted in society. Parents have their own ideas how that should be achieved and get afraid if the child is not showing the results they would like to see. So they start critisizing the child, thinking that this is the way for the child to approve. For the child, that is dependent on bonding to his/her parents, it is too painful to face the feeling of not being loved, accepted or even being humiliated. It is easier for the child to believe that the parent is right, to think that he/she is "bad" and not good enough, so the bonding to the parent can stay intact. For children, bonding means safety and survival. It is the most important need of a child.
I have met many people who believed, that without the inner critic they will never improve. But just opposite is the case. It is possible to "improve" in the opinion of the inner critic, but the more we do it, the more we identify with that separate instance inside of ourself, that is hurting us and that is hard towards our core, our more real self. The bridge of the inner sepparation is not healed by "improving" - on the contrary. No beauty can unfold when it's threatened by a gun.
There are many reasons why the way of the innner critic can not work out well. Here is a review of some basic qualities, compared to the attitude of self-love, compassion and true acceptance of ourselves:
- based on fear
- causes inner split and separation, inner war
- causes low self-esteem, which stops us from inner growth
- is not interested in who we really are, but who/how we are supposed to be
- wants (unrealistic) perfection, it's never "good enough"
- focused on problems and lack
- subjective and humiliating
- sees things linear, either black or white
- causes harm and violence, inside and outside
- never trusts, is afraid of risks
- based on mind
- focused on past and future
- based on compassion
- causes inner wholeness and peace of heart and mind
- brings acceptance and trust, which empowers our inner growth
- is only interested in who we really are and what we really feel and want in life
- wants authenticity and (realisitc) "good enough"
- focused on resources
- objective and supportive
- sees things in all colors and dimensions
- brings self-regulation and peace, inside and outside
- has trust, supports us to try new things
- based on heart
- focused on now
FROM INNER CRITIC TOWARDS SELF-LOVE
The transformation of the inner critic is possible. These could be the overall steps:
- Talking to the inner critic, to descover its nature. Here you can recognize how hard it is on you and what kind of beliefs it is based on. In this process the critic becomes visible as a separate entity (personified being outside of your body) and moves away from your core, so you don't feel completely identified with it any more.
- Allowing the feelings that you had felt as a child, facing the essential fear you were trying to escape. Allowing grief. If it is too hard to face the feelings, you might need to do some resourcing first and find inner allies that support you on the way.
- Strengthening the vessel of Self-Love, that can comfort the inner child. Sitting in the space of compassion and love, holding parts of yourself that need to feel safe and seen for what they really are and what they really feel.
- Having Self-Love as your new positive parent, you can look at the inner critic with more distance and investigate its roots. You might recognize that it is based on fear, that was originally not yours (but your parent's) and that it was trying to protect you. Tell the inner critic that you hear and see its fear. You might notice, that the inner critic will start to change.
- Check out if you really need the kind of protection your inner critic was making. Find out what was your real need as a child. Now you have a wider range of options (where before there was only black/white absolute "truth" of the inner critic). Thank the inner critic for trying to protect you and give it a place it should have - for example as one possible option, that you might or might not consider.
- Make new decisions with a good feeling about yourself, having your inner allies and Self-Love as an everlasting resource on your side.
- Do the whole process again and again, whenever the inner critic appears. Re-parenting yourself is an exercise!
In Mia's case the work with the inner critic lead first into a big "discussion" between the inner father's voice and Mia's true wild nature. She came to the edge of feeling fear of rejection and aloneness. By being supported by her inner allies, who had trust in her, she could embrace her inner child with love, she could grief and then finally free herself from the grip of the inner critic. She could then recognize her impulsive nature, that was locked inside for such a long time. Mia enjoyed its fire-like quality, while at the same time she understood that it could bring her into troubles, that her father tried to protect her from. Making new decisions in life meant for Mia to be curageous this time and to follow her enthusiastic nature. She was aware of possible problems, but she wanted to risk anyway and to learn to integrate her inner fire in the best possible way, so it does not hurt her. The more she could allow the wild power inside of her, the happier and more fulfilled she was. Mia could also thank the "realistic" inner critic and was ready to listen to its opinion in making important decisions. Finally she did quit her job and started her own business, with passion and contagious enthusiasm, that brought her success. Her transformed inner critic became a friend, who could point out when she was making too much risk. She learned to integrate it in a way that was supporting and not hurting any more. Mia felt more whole and at ease with herself. By living her passion and vocation, her life got a meaning she was looking for.