an IFS-based approach to the
The inner critic, as well as other parts of us that monitor, evaluate, and judge according to strict standards, can be responsible for a great deal of our mental, emotional - and sometimes physical - suffering.
We find the activity of the inner critic almost always has a significant role in depression, anxiety, addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, chronic pain, eating disorders, PTSD, ADHD, relationship issues, perfectionism, feelings of low self-esteem, and much more.
Therefore, the influence of the inner critic is pervasive. It can be obvious to us, or its effects can work in more subtle ways.
In our mind, we can notice the inner critic in our automatic thought patterns, and the way we negatively talk or judge ourselves - or - the way we negatively talk to and judge others.
In our feelings, we can feel its presence through our fear of being attacked by it, by the shame and deficiency it can make us feel, and the general rigidity, pushiness, or aggression of the critics agenda.
In our body, the inner critic can show up as various tensions, body armor, headaches, aches and pains.
Many therapies and therapists demonize the inner critic and turn it into an enemy. While "pushing against" the inner critic can create some meaningful separation from it, it does so at a cost, and taking this general attitude towards the inner critic is a misunderstanding of the nature of the critic, as well as the various other parts of us that form in reaction to it.
However, when we turn against the critic, we create an inner conflict which we are bound to lose because we can’t defeat or banish a part of ourselves. If our inner critic is mean or hostile, we must learn to set firm boundaries with it, and we must be skillful in applying various antidotes to it when it gets triggered. At the same time, the most essential ingredient needed for healing the inner critic is understanding.
Understanding our inner critic means that we bring curiosity to what it is, what it’s trying to do for us, how it came into its role, and what it would be afraid of if it stopped attacking us. One of Internal Family Systems Therapy core principles is that all parts of us - without exception - have a positive, protective intention for us, but that some parts of us become extreme when they are burdened with difficult experiences from the past.
The novel healing factor that most therapies don’t have access to when working with the inner critic is what Internal Family Systems calls “Self”. It is the Self that innately has the capacities needed to successfully navigate the inner critic, such as curiosity, confidence, and compassion. We don’t need to artificially “generate” these qualities by ourselves if we don’t feel them towards the critic. These qualities arise spontaneously when we access Self, or Self-energy.
What’s needed, then, is to access Self, and we do this through the process of Internal Family Systems therapy, as well as through other body-based therapies. It is only when we relate to our inner critic from Self, that the critic will begin to relax, disarm, and reveal more about itself, and open up opportunities for healing a painful inner conflict that we all deserve to be liberated from.