Got a voice in your head?
A nagging, critical, belittling voice?
Or maybe it's a sensation of tension, at times crushing a part of your body?
This part of your psyche that criticizes us and saps our energy is called the superego, the judge within, or the inner critic.
Left to its own device, the inner critic is one of the biggest obstacles to joy, fulfillment and success because a superego on automatic pilot triggers a lot of unnecessary fear and shame. It's deeply disempowering.
The inner critic is a structure present in everyone's psyche and it's there to stay. No one is immune to it, although some people have a more intense inner critic than others.
Ironically, the inner critic's original purpose is to protect us. It indeed has good intentions! It wants to prevent us from making mistakes so that we do not feel ashamed, it wants to stick to familiar experiences so that we do not feel afraid, and it wants us to behave in specific ways so that we are respected and liked by others.
The inner critic's negative impact comes not from its intention, but from its way of fulfilling its intention. The inner critic was patterned into our nervous system by our genetics, life in the womb, caregivers, family and culture of origin and experiences during our early development, when we were incapable of making wise decisions on our own. At that time, it made sense to have a primitive system on automatic pilot to prevent us from hurting ourselves when we were exposed to physically or emotionally dangerous scenarios.
Over time, as we develop into autonomous adults, the primitive inner critic’s shaming and fear-inducing automatic reactions become misguided and/or overkill. In the name of “protection”, the inner judge prevents our adult selves from fulfillment and self-realization by keeping us small and powerless. It does not feel good, but we don't know what to do when we are attacked by a part of our own mind.
So what to do?
SInce the superego is a natural part of ourselves and not going anywhere, the best way to deal with the inner critic is to first accept its existence and seek to understand it better. Rather than trying to shut the voice up by yelling back at it or by numbing ourselves from it by engaging in various unhealthy behaviors, it's more effective to be curious about that part of our psyche, start a dialogue with it and discover if we can team up and develop a healthy collaboration with it.
After all, even if it does not feel like it when we are under a vicious attack, at its roots the inner critic is on our side, so it will cooperate better if it is fully acknowledged and accepted. Compassion always work better than silencing or retaliation : )
Eventually, our inner work leads to upgrading our primitive inner critic to the role of a wise ally able to fulfill a more sophisticated function than nagging, criticizing or crushing. Disempowerment turns into a reclaiming of our personal power.
- What kind of inner critic am I dealing with? How intense is it? How does it show up?
- When does my inner critic tend to get activated?
- How do I tend to respond when I'm under attack from the inner critic?
- What could I do differently when my inner critic is acting up?
- What kind of support do I need?