Ah the critic, such a persistent and conniving formation. This is the voice in your head that will not shut up if you have done something “wrong.” For some people this wrong thing is just simply living. For others it is asking out someone on a date. Or for others it is how their body looks, or what their voice sounds like. The critic really does not care what is helpful in you reaching your ultimate potential; its sole concern is survival.
Survival is the name of the game with this internalized part. It’s about keeping your head low, not standing out, getting by, and being a good girl or boy. Risk taking is not allowed, but then again if you aren’t adventurous enough then you will be criticized for that! I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t have this part to some degree or another.
But, it's not all bad we need to have the ability to be discerning. To know if work we have done is good enough, or if someone else is a good match for us. We want to be able to present ourselves in the world to get the job we want or impress the one we want to ask out. When it becomes paralyzing or oppressive than it has crossed the line from helpful to hurtful, which might be similar to what you experienced growing up.
What I have seen is that often these critical parts are internalized versions of family members or other authority figures from childhood. Their criticism could have been overt or subvert, but at some point we took it in and made it our own. We could not of advocated for ourselves as children and said, “That really hurts my feelings when you call me a crybaby, and I get scared when you say you're going to give me something to cry about so please stop doing that.” All we could do was try to get through the scary and bad feelings and hope they never happened again. This meant taking those critical and aggressive words from the adult and swallowing them, thus creating an internalized part that keeps us in line.
I have witnessed these internalized voices literally drive people to contemplating suicide and some completing the act. It can feel like an oppressive bully resides in your body and mind without any hope for escape. So before it gets to the point of no return here are some ways to approach this voice. And if it is so bad that suicide is an option, please reach out for help!
·First, you are not alone. Like I said above I have yet to meet someone who does not have this. Whether its critical of your body, your actions, or your very existence someone else has felt this way and has made it through.
·It’s ok to tell this part to shut the fuck up! I know we want to be very gentle in this culture but it's also ok to really put your foot down and create a clear boundary with this voice.
·Get curious about who gave you these messages, was it Dad? Mom? An older sibling? How about a church figure? Or teacher? See if you can identify the source and then speak directly to that part as if it is an internalized version of that authority figure. For example, when you feel the critic arise and beat you up for not having the perfect body you could say something like, “Ok Mom, I know you wanted me to look a certain way growing up because you were so sensitive about your weight but back off, I’m me and not you! Criticizing and disapproving of me never helped so stop!”
·Along with really feeling the anger towards this critical part you can also detach. This often comes about after you have worked with the anger for a bit and the voice becomes almost like a ghost, or recording. You start to notice it never says anything new or unique. That it is just an imprint from your past, without much truth in it. So notice it, touch into it for three breaths, then put your attention on your feet on the ground or your butt in the chair. It's not suppression but acknowledging the voice and then turning towards the rest of your life in this present moment.
My suggestion is if this part of your existence feels especially powerful reach out for some help. It’s ok to speak about this and find freedom from your history. There will be stages to navigate through, and the voice can get pretty strong, but it is worth it in the long run of your life. These familial and cultural patterns can become just that, something given to you by a confused family or culture, not the real you!
Karolina Walsh Psychotherapy
Providing psychotherapy, counseling, and support for grief, addictions, trauma, PTSD, relationship issues, and GLBTQIA.
“Karolina walks her talk, her ability to meet another in their capacities is sensational because she has done her own work” -Diane Israel
"An effective therapist needs to do at least two things: be compassionate and provide constructive feedback that actually changes the way people experience the world. I see many therapists who can do one or the other. I routinely watch Karolina do both..." -Patrick Weeg