Inner Critic

One of the greatest stressors is the inner voice that constantly criticizes. This aspect of human personality is called the ‘inner critic’, the ‘judge’ or the ‘super ego’. Usually, it is impossible to satisfy. We are “damned if we do, and damned if we don’t”. Learning that this harsh voice does not speak the truth is one of the most important steps into healing.

Any time we hear something that sounds like an inner critic’s attack, it is helpful to ask three questions about what the voice is saying:                                                                                                    1) Is it true?                                                                                                                                          2) Is it helpful?                                                                                                                                    3) Is it kind?          (adapted from J.Krishnamurti, At The Feet of the Master) If what you’re hearing doesn’t meet all three of these criteria, you are under superego attack. Even if some percent of what you’re hearing is useful, the whole message will undermine or sabotage your healing and drain your vitality. This happens because the inner critic actually serves to keep our oldest defenses in place. It arose in childhood to try to keep us safe in confusing or dangerous situations. Those old defenses are often maladaptive coping strategies.  They become part of what stresses us and need to be dismantled. But these changes often feel threatening to our familiar sense of self and the inner critic can slam us for making changes that, while beneficial, tend to undermine the old structures that tried to keep us safe even as they kept us contained, numb, anxious or angry. Letting go of old defenses and problematic coping strategies can shake things up enough that the old ‘guardian at the gates’ goes on the warpath.

Allies for dealing with inner critic/superego attack:                                                                              see the stress cycle map:  Stress REACTION vs Stress RESPONSE cycles: I find it helps when we understand what we’re aiming for and how to shift from stress reactivity to stress responsiveness — to increase resilience, support healing and speed recovery.

My personal favorite is  Getting Unstuck Breaking Your Habitual Patterns & Encountering Naked Reality by Pema Chödrön .  Sounds True recordings has a large selection of her recorded works: . I find listening to her voice full of humor and compassion helps me out of the harshness of my own inner critic, which has contributed greatly to the stress underlying my autoimmune thyroid condition.

Exploring Sacred Emptiness by Stephen Levine is also available from Sounds True as a digital download. The “soft belly” meditation is an opening into merciful awareness so often missing when the superego is on the attack.

In my clinical experience I have often seen that shame alters physiology. In Chinese medicine, this is called “binding entanglement of Liver qi”. It disrupts the Heart Spirit and drains the courage of the Kidneys (adrenals). Often, we work our way toward healthy life styles only to find that the inner critic, working through shame, can sabotage great progress.  So shame is something we need to face, the way we would the monsters in a nightmare. Then we find the richness of our being that has long been buried and overwhelmed by the inner critic.

Soul Without Shame: A Guide to Liberating Yourself from the Judge Within by Byron Brown is an excellent book to start with.

Healing the Shame that Binds You by John Bradshaw.  “This classic book, written 17 years ago but still selling more than 13,000 copies every year, has been completely updated and expanded by the author.”I used to drink,” writes John Bradshaw,”to solve the problems caused by drinking. The more I drank to relieve my shame-based loneliness and hurt, the more I felt ashamed.”Shame is the motivator behind our toxic behaviors: the compulsion, co-dependency, addiction and drive to superachieve that breaks down the family and destroys personal lives. This book has helped millions identify their personal shame, understand the underlying reasons for it, address these root causes and release themselves from the shame that binds them to their past failures.”

The Emotional Freedom Technique also can be helpful in confronting and disempowering the inner critic’s hold: