The Self-Critic

Most of us have an inner voice which lets us know when we’re doing badly, hurting ourselves or others.  We often develop this part unconsciously from how our parents interacted with us.  Sometimes this voice or knowing is blaming and judgmental, labeling all of us as defective rather than focusing on specific mistakes.  This part is often confused in its strategy, thinking that beating us up is helping move us towards our goals. This must be addressed but it’s not a case of getting rid of that part.  Working with this critic often consists of dialoguing with the part, asking what the motivation is, and asking that part how is it doing with achieving its aims.  Another question is where the criterion of success comes from – often there is confusion between perfectionism and what’s “good enough.”  Most of these critics try the same strategy of beating us up, over and over again and will admit that they are not getting anywhere positive.  Many will be open to adopting a new strategy, like transferring jobs, which consists of using its discernment to notice internal or external trouble and notifying the person’s executive functioning of the danger, rather than calling us names.

There is one exception to welcoming the part and reframing its role, which is an introjected self-critic.  An introjected critic does not have our best interests at heart – it has a separate agenda.  Often it is more concerned with what people think and how the person looks to others, rather than a person’s well-being.  These are like splinters which need to be removed.  As a foreign object, it isn’t really a part of me, although it looks and acts like one – and it needs to be told to leave, that it is not welcome.  Sometimes a ritual is effective in dismissing an introjected critic, and sometimes external help is useful.  The most important factor in getting the introjected critic to leave is that the client is completely committed to removing it.  It’s important to recognize that this is a foreign object trying to hurt you, and have no part of you objecting to its removal.  The idea that I won’t be motivated without this part prodding me is an example of a typical blocking belief that will keep the critic around.

Sometimes people will have both types of critics, mixed up together.  Using the Gestalt technique called a two chair dialogue, we gain visibility and clarity of what motivates the critic, which type it is, and how to negotiate appropriate agreements.