I have a gallery of the inner critic that I can identify when they start talking. I call them my “tea party ladies” inspired by a fellow, who called his different inner critic voices his ”knights around the round table”.
One of my critical ladies has the nickname “the lady with the tight hairball” – she’s a tough one. Being extremely judgmental and telling me that I’m not good enough. Then there is “the express train lady” – she tells me to hurry. When I’m not aware, they sometimes paint my day with dark colors.
Despite the frustration and shame, they cause, each inner critic is trying to help or protect, in their distorted way. There is a huge difference between knowing that intellectual and experiencing it in body and mind with awareness – in action. And that is where the journey starts if you want to change the way you might be hunting down yourself – blindfolded.
First steps to befriend yourself; notice what emerges
It begins by noticing what is going on; the words, the sentences you use, which feelings your attitude stirs up, and how it affects your body.
Be aware; if you become judgemental by blaming yourself, it can be a drain without end.
Step one is observing what happens. Step two is noticing what you do with what you experience – a kind of met-awareness. Being a trained inner critic, you might use your observations, as evidence of you being a failure.
“See what ugly thoughts you have about yourself – you would never treat your friend or a child like that – you are so fucked up”.
Don’t get stuck in the fucked
There is a lot you can do to turn that giant supertanker – that killer critic around. The question is if you really want to do the work. The tricky part is that being your own worst enemy – can feel like the safest place to be. Knowing what is, can feel like a better choice, than turning towards and staying in the unknown.
It’s a question of trust – do you trust yourself to be your best friend? A friend that support you in ups and downs – see you and respect you and your wilderness?
The mad monster
I had a client the other day. She had a terrible stomach ache, was anxious, and could barely sleep; it had been that way for as long as she could remember. At one point during the session, she shared what the inner critic voices tell her.
“You’re not good enough. You are worth nothing. Go lie in the corner and eat some pills. You are so ugly. Inept, stupid, useless. You just need some knocks – some kicks”
During the session, it became clear to her, that this mad monster, as she called the voice, is always on her back and that she believed every word it said. What she also realized was that she loves being the mad monster which to her is normal but scary because she feels empowered and in control.
Part of what she does is confirming her reality; her story that she is worthless. The inner horror prison feels safer than freedom. A kind of distorted: Better safe than sorry.
After she had seen and experienced how she swings between the roles of being a victim and a persecutor, she looked up at me and had a wide smile. From the depth in her stomach came a burst of wonderful laughter. And she said – “I thought I couldn’t be angry.”
She uncovered the anger that had been playing under her nose for very many years – passive on the outside and aggressively beating her up on the inside. My guess is, that some of her next steps will be transforming that invisible and powerful energy to rise from the corner and say,
“Enough is enough now mad monster. I don’t trust your blindfold anymore.”
Do as Gandhi – Invite The Enemy For Tea
When you catch yourself believing in what the critic says, you can try different strategies to unarm without resisting. Picture your critic speaking and start a kind of inner dialogue by saying the phrases below;
I hear you and you are welcome. You can stay for as long as you remain calm and quiet!
Oh yes, you are right, I am not perfect, and I don’t want to be either.
I respect your concern. Trust me, I’m grown up now, I will take it from here. You don’t need to worry.
Tell me, what it is that you want. What are you trying to help me with?
We are in this together, let’s figure a way out. I can’t take proper care of myself when you treat me like that.
It can get too much for everyone
In paralyzing or overwhelming inner situations, dialogue doesn’t always help. When you judge yourself so hard that you can’t stand being inside your body – What is your escape strategy? Is the panic room where you go trying to escape from yourself a place where you rest or stress yourself the more?
You do have a choice just as everybody else; so if you can’t break the chain of shaming behavior then get help! We all can’t and aren’t supposed to manage everything alone.
Be welcome at my tea table – I want you there!
If you don’t want it, you have got it. If you aren’t willing to have it – you will.
That counts for the inner critic and other feelings including your anger, fear, and desire. The moment you try to reject it, the tension grows; and this is an important phase because that’s all you, which is okay too.
Here is an example; I sometimes feel so angry at those critic tea party ladies in my mind, so I roar back and tell them that I won’t let them reduce or minimize me. It then happens that I feel shameful, because I tell myself, that I should calm down, sit in acceptance, and talk nicely to them. That’swhen the party gets really complicated.
Then the tea party ladies have tricked me.
Then I belief the tea party lady that says, I’m too much being ridiculously angry.
I then believe in the voice saying;
“calm down dear, don’t make a fool out of yourself, what might the other ladies think about you? Isn’t it time that you grew up and stepped into adulthood? Behave now, you are very unlovable, you will end up alone like that. Imagine how the world would be if we all walked around behaving like you, think of Gandhi – he knew how to master his anger”.
When I’m in my Kali* mood I stand up for myself and thunder back.
“… stupid lady, maturity is being able to be with what is; daring and being able to contain ambivalence, old fool. And then I stamp like a child being frustrated, stubborn, and angry trying to learn something new”.
Kali is a Hindu goddess. In Kali’s earliest appearance, she is a destroyer of evil forces; she is seen with death skulls hanging around her belly.
Some might say that I should meet myself with love and kindness instead – that’s a good one and nice when it happens. And there is what there is. Be aware when your intellect is another critic undermining your feelings and body.
So, go with it boys and girls – knights and ladies. Go practice. It’s like a muscle you start to train – an awareness muscle. And life is practicing all along, don’t get too old for that.
Get the critic out to get closer
If you want inspiration to map out your critics, you can find a description of 7 types of inner critics that people typically are troubled by underneath here.
If you want to go further than staying in your head, I can recommend:
Drawing, painting your inner critic – the figures
Form them in clay or play dough, or with wire, wood
Write poetry, write on your mirrors, write a letter
Move like them, mimic their faces, dance like them
Scream, whisper, talk to them and with them underwater, into a garbage can, to a recorder on your phone…
Investigate in getting to know your inner critic and your relation.
The Seven Types of Inner Critics inspired by Jay Early
Jay Early outlines seven types of inner-critic and gives a simple definition of it: “The Inner-Critic is the part of you that judges you, demeans you, and pushes you to do things. It lowers your sense of self-worth and makes you feel bad about yourself.”
This critic tries to get you to do things perfectly. It sets very high standards for the things you produce and has difficulty saying something is complete and letting it go out to represent you. What you do is never good enough.
It tries to make sure that you fit in and that you will not be judged or rejected.
Its expectations probably reflect those of people who have been important to you in the past.
This critic tries to control your impulses: eating, drinking, sexual activity, etc.
It fears that things get out of control at any moment.
It tends to be harsh and shaming to protect you from yourself.
It is motivated to try to make you a good person who is accepted and functions well in society.
This critic wants you to work hard and be successful.
It fears that you may be mediocre or lazy and will be judged a failure if it does not push you to keep going.
It’s pushing often activates a procrastinator or a rebel that fights against its harsh dictates. It can cause over-striving and workaholism.
This critic tries to undermine your self-confidence and self-esteem so that you won’t take risks.
It makes direct attacks on your self worth so that you will stay small and not take chances where you could be hurt or rejected. It makes you feel worthless.
It is afraid of your being too big or too visible and not being able to tolerate judgment or failure.
It makes pervasive attacks on your fundamental self-worth.
It shames you and makes you feel inherently flawed and not entitled to basic understanding or respect.
This most debilitating critic comes from early life deprivation or trauma.
It is motivated by a belief that it is safer not to exist – It believes you shouldn’t exist.
This critic is stuck in the past. It is unable to forgive you for wrongs you have done or people you have hurt.
It is concerned about relationships and holds you to standards of behavior prescribed by your community, culture, and family
It tries to protect you from repeating past mistakes by making sure you never forget or feel free.
This critic tries to get you to fit into a certain mold based on standards held by society, your culture, or your family. It attacks you when you aren’t and praises you when you are. If the mold doesn’t fit who you are, it constantly makes you feel inadequate.
It wants you to be liked and admired and to protect you from being abandoned, shamed, or rejected.
The Conformist fears that the Rebel or the Free Spirit in you would act in unacceptable ways. So, it keeps you from being in touch with and expressing your true nature.
Who are you – when the fighting and drama stops? When the persecutor, victim or maybe a rescuer steps in the background? What kind of story might evolve from the front scene?
When the shift happens
By cultivating and growing awareness, you might one day be surprised, that the inner drama and scenery have slowly changed their characters. The more you befriend the inner critic, the more your perception will somehow tilt over, and the figures will start talking and behaving differently.
When the shifts happen, the caring typologies step forward and are more in the foreground. When you see them, then name them too.
Opposite the tea party ladies, I have the fairies; one of them is called “Enough”. She reminds me, that I’m enough, that I have enough and always will have enough. Another fairy is called “Feather” and she tells me that I’m always on the right track no matter what happens. It’s such an undramatic bliss when they are around.
Afternote to further thoughts
Pain and pleasure are intertwined biological and psychological emotions and they both release ‘bliss chemicals’.
Pain can also make us feel more justified in rewarding ourselves with pleasant experiences.
Pain drags us into the moment and after pain, we are more alert and attuned to our sensory environment – less caught up in our thoughts about yesterday or tomorrow.
Just the thought and threat of pain can produce a feeling of pleasure.
Listening to your inner critic and causing pain to yourself can be a kind of addiction where you seek pleasure in complex ways.
I will kindly finish by referring to the hedonic paradox.
The Hedonic Paradox(also called the Pleasure Paradox) states that if you seek pleasure or happiness for the sole purpose of achieving it for yourself, you will fail. Instead, you must pursue other goals that will bring you happiness or pleasure as a side-effect.
When you do the same maneuvering again causing yourself pain it might be a kind of repetition compulsion or unfinished gestalt. Maybe longing for something that neither pain nor pleasure can give you.