Into every day a little criticism must fall.
This could be the motto of the part of us we might label “the inner critic”.
When we are listening to our inner critic, we may not feel much desire to go deeper in our connection with ourselves or go for our goals and dreams. We may hear messages like “I wouldn’t ask for that promotion if I were you – they’re just going to tell you ‘no’”, “He doesn’t like you – that is why he didn’t call you back”, “Nice try with joining a gym, but you know it isn’t going to help with your eating habits because you never change.”
From the outside looking in, the inner critic seems to have one function and one purpose only – to tear us down. The inner critic hates us – or so it seems. We may even catch ourselves wondering why we hate ourselves so much and what we have done to deserve such unkind messages that come to us so frequently from within.
And we probably wonder on an almost daily basis if the voice will EVER go away.
In Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, we dig deeper into the origin and role of our own inner critic. We also look at why our inner critic gets louder at some times than others. And we explore why our inner critic often appears to affect us more than the inner critic of those around us appears to affect them.
Let’s take an example. Imagine that you are a junior in college, and you have excelled in all of your undergraduate coursework. Your professors keep encouraging you to take more challenging classes – they can’t resist reminding you repeatedly of the straight-A’s you achieved in your first two years. They continually tell you that you have far more potential than you are tapping into. Every time one of your professors starts down this line of discussion, you hear a voice inside you that says, “They are only saying that because they don’t know you as well as you do. Remember that time in fifth grade when your teachers convinced your parents to let you try out for that middle school for ‘gifted’ children and you flunked the entrance exam? No need to go down that path again – you’ll just be setting yourself up for failure a second time”.
Here, all of the outside proof seems to show that you have every chance of success. Your professors even point out that some of your fellow classmates who are taking the accelerated program didn’t score as high as you did in their undergraduate work. But you think you know something your professors don’t about your chances for success.
Certainly your inner critic knows that you are afraid to fail again. You were very hurt the first time you were rejected after you stuck your neck and your pride out to go for what you wanted. You will never forget the sting of shame and the disappointment in the eyes of your parents and teachers. Your inner critic reminds you continually of how painful that experience was.
But – just for the sake of argument here – could it be that, rather than tear you down, your inner critic is actually trying to protect you – or at least protect that fifth grade inner child who still resides within you – from even more pain?
Students of IFS learn to re-examine and in time re-frame their relationship with their inner critic. Whereas in other therapeutic approaches, you may have been encouraged to ignore or overpower your inner critic, with IFS you will learn how to befriend it. IFS opens the door to ask questions you may never have considered before, like, “What can I learn from my inner critic?” “What service is my inner critic providing to me?” “What part of me agrees with my inner critic and why?” “How can I let my inner critic know that s/he is heard and respected so rather than standing in my way, we can work together to achieve my dreams and goals?”
In time, using the IFS model, you will be able to introduce your inner critic to its new best friend, your inner champion. The inner champion gives the inner critic a new lease on life – literally. When the inner critic tells you, “You must be crazy to believe you are as smart as Professor So-and-So claims”, your inner champion will say, “You ARE that smart. You just got scared before when you took that entrance exam. So this time we will practice some relaxation exercises before tackling this new challenge before us. It is not how many times you fall down, but how many times you get back up that matters. Together, we can do this!”
IFS offers us a new way of life through giving us the chance to look inside ourselves and see, not a collection of bitter enemies, but a close-knit and loving family that simply uses different communication styles to express their love for us. Each part of ourselves exists for a purpose. Each deserves a voice. Each requires closure for past hurts and disappointments. Each needs and wants love and connection. And each part loves us – in its own way. With IFS we learn to speak the love language of the inner critic, the inner child, and the inner champion, and then we are better equipped to help each part learn how to work together and enjoy life as a team.
If you are struggling with feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, discouragement, fear, anxiety, or depression in the face of the messages you hear inside you, IFS can help. At Southlake Counseling, we understand what it is like to feel like a house divided from the inside out. We have nearly two decades of professional expertise in guiding individuals through change and use the Internal Family Systems model to help achieve comprehensive health and well-being. To find out more about how IFS can transform your relationship with your inner critic and awaken your inner champion, contact us today at www.southlakecounseling.com.