My Overactive Critic
If there is one person in the world who knows all my faults and shortcomings it’s me. I can see every little thing, every little blemish, every little faux pas, every little slight and read into it so much more. From our early childhood, we learned criticism from those trying to teach us, and we also learned to augment criticism with our own versions of self-control and commentary.
I was working with a client the other night who was complaining about how his overactive critic was always encouraging comparisons of himself to others – and of course, he was coming out as the loser. And the question he asked was why do I do this to myself and how can I get this voice to stop? By now you’ve probably learned that ignoring it doesn’t help – it just gets louder and more insistent, demanding that you pay attention to the warnings, the commentary, the critical disinformation that it is forcing on you.
We are habituated to controlling and being controlled starting from the time we are babies. We come into the world without any understanding of our surroundings, and those who are taking care of us and guiding us provide their commentary as a means for us to learn about what’s around us and how we interact with it. And because we are thinking beings, we absorb this commentary and add our own analyses. The funny thing is that our commentary can get stuck in time. We told ourselves when we were little that we couldn’t do something because it was too hard for us to physically accomplish, and here, years later, we are still telling ourselves the same thing. When we create these messages they come back at us from the past with no sense of time or how we have changed.
I find that when I work with clients to talk to the voice about why it is critical, the most common answer is to keep the client safe and protected. Protection to a 2 year old is very different from that for a 38 year old, but the inner critic has not progressed in time, thus the critical voice tends to be relevant for a child rather than an adult. And because it is stored subconsciously and is triggered by subconscious emotions and responses, there is nothing that causes the critical commentary to align with your current state.
So as we were addressing the critical commentaries that my client was suffering, we made a conscious decision to force the critic and the voice into consciousness. We started this process in a couple of ways.
The first was to do some EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) on the critic and how these negative thoughts and statements were habitual commentary that the client no longer needed or wanted, that the client is choosing self-love over self-condemnation, and this is a conscious choice because he loves and accepts himself as he is today. If you aren’t familiar with EFT, it is a wonderful tapping process that encourages you to be both mentally and physically present, and facilitates you in removing energetic blocks that keep you emotionally and physically stuck.
The second was to come up with a strategy that the client could use in the moment when the voice started in to bring the commentary to the conscious level, to do something physical to release any emotion before he did damage to himself, and to acknowledge that this was an old habit that he no longer wanted or needed. We went through a number of options including getting up, drinking some water, walking around, taking some deep breaths, and finally he settled on a simple form of bilateral stimulation. By simply tapping his knees alternately with the palms of his hands he found he was able to bring himself back into his body, eliminate the anxiety and tension he was feeling, and acknowledge his worth in the moment. And when he practiced this, he found that his tension lessened and the voice dissipated because it wasn’t relevant in his current physical environment.
So while we learned to be strict parents to ourselves, we also need to allow ourselves to grow up into our adult selves and reinforce that is our adult nature that now is and should be in charge of our behavior. And when the inner critic shows up to parent the baby inside us, we simply need to reinforce who we are today, what we want for ourselves, and how we are worth the success and happiness we are working to achieve. A little self-love and reinforcement of being present in our bodies can go a long way to create a new habit where the critic is simply a voice from the past to be dismissed without any emotion or further action needed.