by Linda-Ann Stewart
Are you constantly putting yourself down? Do you ever tell yourself demeaning statements like: “You can’t do that,” “What’s the point,” “You don’t deserve anything,” “You’re so stupid.” Do you feel guilty when you do something as innocuous as spill a glass of water or drop a cookie on the floor? If so, you have an active inner critic.
Your inner critic or judge is an aspect of your personality that echoes what the authorities in your life said to you when you were younger. My fourth grade teacher berated the class with “You’re so stupid,” until many of us believed the lie. A friend’s father convinced her that she was worthless. One of my clients was told that she was responsible for the happiness of her entire family.
These are all false ideas that are accepted by the person because of the authority of those who stated them. As we grow up, we internalize the concepts as our inner critic. It takes over the role of the critical people from our youth and it repeats their messages over and over. In adulthood, those we’re close to and respect can trigger the critic’s voice and add to the messages.
The inner critic holds you back, makes you doubt yourself, lowers your self-worth, and undermines your self-confidence. It judges your behavior by someone else’s standards and reaffirms that you don’t measure up to their unreasonable expectations, and makes you feel guilty for failing. My clients have said that they don’t feel like they’re “enough.” That nothing they do will be good enough, or that they can’t fulfill what they believe is expected of them.
What Your Inner Critic Is Trying to Do
Believe it or not, this aspect of your personality is actually trying to help you. It accepted the attitude from the people you were dependent on to try to protect you from their disapproval. If a child spills his milk, and cries from fear of punishment, then his mom generally will reassure him and just wipe it up. He’s accepted his responsibility, since he’s showed his remorse, so mom figures she doesn’t have to chastise him. By feeling guilty, he’s protected himself from being sent to the corner.
A child will emulate the attitudes of the caregivers around him to try to fit in. Because if he doesn’t get accepted by the clan, then he’s shunned, abandoned either physically or emotionally, and that means death to a child. Even if the child rejects the attitudes of the caregivers as unreasonable, he will still have soaked them in before he was old enough to recognize their unfairness.
So your inner critic is still trying to keep you safe. However, it’s trying to protect you from an environment that you left long ago. You no longer need the approval of your caregivers in order to survive. You have the ability to say “no” and have it stick. If you’re in an unfriendly situation, you can now leave. Even if it’s difficult, you can still leave and you will survive. You inner critic is responding to conditions that you’ve outgrown, but this part of you doesn’t realize it.
How to Work with Your Inner Critic
Instead of fighting against your inner critic, or knuckling under it, you can begin to re-educate it. Its true role is to help you, protect you, to encourage and nurture you. If it realizes that you’re a big person who’s living in a different environment, with the ability to take responsibility for yourself, it will generally begin to reduce its nagging. You can let it know that it needs to update its responses so that it actually helps you in your present day conditions.
Once it begins to understand its true role, and uses its energy to help you in the now, you’ll notice a tremendous improvement. You’ll have more self-confidence, feel better about yourself and be more productive because you won’t be second-guessing every little thing you do. You won’t be fighting against yourself anymore, and your whole inner being will be on your side.
The critic within me no longer needs to protect me the way it did when I was a child. I now have the knowledge to protect myself. My inner critic now recognizes this and updates its protection so that it serves me in my current life. It now fulfills its true role to help me, encourage me, and nurture me.