Responding to the Inner Critic
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Graeme Orr MBACP(Accred), UKRCP Reg. Ind. Counsellor
9th March, 20130 Comments
Many people coming to counselling are conflicted by different seemingly incompatible feelings. People talk of knowing cognitively what to do but that emotionally they feel that they can’t do it. Perhaps they feel worthless and can identify that inner critic that has the loudest voice, but their deepest desire is to banish that critic from their lives. This internal incongruence can make issues and life very difficult to unravel and to move forward in a positive direction.
People become "stuck"; for fear of doing the wrong, thing they get stuck in inaction. They wonder about the possibilities and if they could make a difference but the risk just seem too great. The effect can become greatly enhanced if they feel that judgement will follow any action that they might take.
Some of the feelings may come from growing up where there was an experience of a critical parent that made you feel a particular way; for example, as though anything less than perfection was worthless. Perhaps it was a partner who treated you badly, not valuing or respecting who you were. The point here is that if someone tells you that you are worthless often enough you can begin to believe it despite all evidence to the contrary.
It is possible to work with these incongruent feelings and explore them without judging them. Helping you to both gain perspective and insight on these seemingly conflicting parts. Often we find part of the reason for fearing change is that we see ourselves through others eyes and we are in greater fear of their judgement than of our own feelings.
It was the essayist and philosopher François Duc de La Rochefoucauld who said “We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.” In his words there is a truism which will echo with many readers. The question is - can we dare to live? Can we dare to be the person struggling to get out?
Part of the process in tackling these issues is about challenging these different viewpoints, asking yourself if, at 5 years old, you could have broken up your parents’ marriage; or if getting a B in your Maths rather than an A was really such a bad thing. It is about being honest about your feelings; it is judging yourself to the same standards as someone else, not some higher standard. It is about recognising that your inner critic is useful; it tries to keep you safe, yet if it is allowed to take over it is just as unhelpful as if you had no inhibitions.
Many people tackle this through writing by writing down their thoughts and feelings, or writing a letter to their inner critic or their loved one (not necessarily delivered) to help each of the individual parts of themselves express their frustrations fears and hopes. Through this process you can discover yourself; you can begin to take stock of yourself and defend it from those things that do not sit well with you.
It may be easier to do this work with a counsellor, who can guide you through the process to support you and help you with perspective who can keep you on track through the hard bits. It is a difficult journey to undo the years of hiding from yourself and those multiple feelings, but it can be tackled and often is easier with a companion.
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