Did you know there is a part of every one of us whose job is to make sure we don’t change? In other words, it’s this part’s job to make sure we stay disempowered, limited, stuck, and immature.
Most of us don’t know this because this part is hidden. It’s in disguise as the part of us that “knows everything” about what we (and others) should do, how we (and others) should be, and when we (and others) should do something. In fact, this part of us seems to know it all. And because it seems to have all the answers, we mistake it for the voice of reason, the voice of truth, or even the voice of God. But it’s not. So what is this part, how did it get there, why does it cause so much trouble, and how do we get rid of it?
What is it? This part is called the inner critic, inner judge, or in more technical terms, the superego. It’s one of the many parts of our personality that influences our actions, relationships, and how we feel about ourselves. It’s the voice of our parents and it will keep us stuck, limited, depressed, and frustrated until we learn to recognize it for what it is and develop the skill to deal with it. We are probably under an inner critic attack when we feel melancholy, listless, overwhelmed, dead serious, and self-destructive.
How did it get there? It develops very naturally and necessarily when we are children. Kids are impulsive bundles of energy and they have no idea how to appropriately navigate the world safely. They need to have an internal set of instructions about what to do and what not to do until they understand more about the consequences of their actions. So the voices of our parents are automatically internalized, like a permanent recording, so we learn not to touch the hot stove, not to run in the busy street, and not to poke Suzy with the sharp thing. This is easy to test in your own experience. If you take just a moment to listen to the voice in your head that tells you what you should do or should not do, it will sound like the voice of your parents. Now if each of us just simply learned it was better to do one thing than another, the superego wouldn’t necessarily cause us much trouble as adults. However, that’s not what happens. From normal human imperfection, we usually receive judgments about our value and goodness with the lesson that we learn. For example, if I innocently run into the busy street and scare the daylights out of my mother, she may react with, “Don’t run into the street, what are you trying to do, kill me?” Or “what are you an idiot?” So not only do I learn it’s bad to run into the busy street, but that I must be bad and uncaring for doing something that almost killed my mother. So the lesson comes with a judgment about our value that isn’t necessary for us to get the lesson and has far reaching negative consequences for us.
Why does it cause so much trouble? As adults we continue to judge ourselves as a good girl or boy if we do this and bad if we do that. We are so conditioned to see ourselves and others as good or bad that it may be hard to believe the value judgment is unhelpful. Nonetheless, it’s true. Behaviors may be good/bad, healthy/unhealthy, profitable/unprofitable, but people don’t need to be judged in that same way. The inner critic never grows up, never evolves, and never sees us accurately in our strengths and abilities. It only knows how to judge and to say the same old things it’s always said, like a broken record. When it judges our value positively we feel good. When it judges us negatively we feel bad. Because it never grows or evolves, it doesn’t keep up with our growth and evolution. And if we listen to it and rely on what it says, it will actually keep us from growing. Everything it says is based on the distant past and has nothing to do with the present.
Even worse is what it does to your energy level. Where do you think the inner critic gets its energy to attach you? From you! Next time you are feeling particularly depressed, low energy, or negative, check in and see what kind of thoughts are going through your mind. Most likely the inner judge is using all your energy to attack you for something from the past or some concern about the future. That’s why you feel lifeless. The good news is you are much more capable and strong than you might think you are. The bad news is you have to take on this monster in order to realize your full potential. The key to moving beyond our stuck places is to bring awareness to what we want (our goals) and where we are now (the present moment). In this moment – not in the future or the past – is where we have the power to work through the obstacles to our success. The inner critic will have us avoiding the present at all costs. It will have us looking at what we should do in the future or should have done in the past, making it impossible for us to grow to a new place in the present.
How do we get rid of it? The best way to get rid of the inner critic is to stop it from using your energy to attack you. When you learn how to do this, you can reclaim your self esteem, courage, and positive energy in an instant. It is quite a remarkable skill. There are more than a dozen ways to stop the inner critic. Here I’ll give you the two most powerful as your practices for this week.
1. Become aware when you are under attack by the inner critic. Actually say to yourself or someone else, “I am criticizing myself.” Often just shining the light of your awareness on the truth of the situation is enough to make it stop. This is no easy thing if you are waist deep in an attack.
2. Take back your energy by yelling at it. This is where you harness all the aggression you can muster and direct it toward that voice. You can swear at it, imagine it blowing into a million pieces, or scream at it to leave you alone and never come back. The more often you practice this the more quickly it will go away.
With either method you will feel an immediate internal shift of more energy, lightness, humor, and happiness when you’ve successfully stopped the attack.
By Dr Rebecca Coleman