Matthew Harwood

Jungian Analysis, Psychotherapy, Internal Family Systems

Working With ‘Inner Critic’ Parts

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is an excellent way of working with ‘Inner Critic’ parts. These are parts which often feel like internal voices or judging parts. They tend to hurl verbal ‘missiles’ at us and say things like:-

• ‘You’re no good!’  ‘What makes you think that you can go back to work and start a new job?’
• ‘You’re just a lazy so-and-so!’  ‘You’ll never make anything in life.’
• ‘It’s no wonder your relationships always go pear-shaped.’  ‘You’re ‘unloveable!’
• ‘Some people are so fundamentally flawed that they can never get healing.’  ‘Maybe you’re one of them?’
• ‘Here we go again!’  ‘This is bound to go wrong – just like it always has in the past!’

Some people call this kind of part the ‘Judge’, or the ‘Inner Prosecutor’, or the ‘Saboteur’. Sometimes it wears the clothes, and adopts the voice, of father, mother, or a teacher from schooldays. We all have at least one ‘Inner Critic’ part and, for many of us, such a part has a tendency to diminish us, to drag us down, and to hinder us from achieving our full potential. In some extreme cases, it can even ruin our lives.

The ‘Victim’ & the ‘Defender’

Whenever there is an ‘Inner Critic’ part within the system there is always another, more hidden, part around: namely a vulnerable, little, fragile part which we could call the ‘Victim’.  It is the victim of the ‘Inner Critic’s’ attacks, and, more often than not, it quietly bleeds, unseen, beneath its withering blows.

And sometimes there is a third part around: a ‘Defender’ part which vainly tries to challenge the ‘Inner Critic’, to stand up to it, and to tell the ‘Victim’ part that it’s not so bad after all.

The IFS Approach

This may sound surprising given that the ‘Inner Critic’ so often appears as something powerful and dominating, and even malicious.  But the IFS approach is to treat the ‘Inner Critic’ just like any other ‘part’. In other words: stop treating it as an enemy, try a more friendly approach, get to know it, and then work hard to build up a relationship of trust. Ask it to stop spewing out its missiles for just a few minutes and then move the conversation to a deeper level.  In particular, try to find out why it thinks it’s so helpful to do what it does.

More often than not its behaviour is actually a response to fear. Frequently it turns out that the ‘Inner Critic’ is actually trying to protect another hidden and wounded part of ourselves (an ‘Exile’ part in IFS language) which desperately needs us to bring it some love and attention and healing. Heal the ‘Exile’ and the chances are the ‘Inner Critic’ will recognise that it longer needs to go on doing what it does. Parts can never disappear; but they can change roles.

Some people can do this work on their own. But these ‘Inner Critics’ are quite tenacious. Most of us (myself included) find that we need a facilitator to help us to make the right kind of connection, and to build up the right kind of relationship, in order to persuade it to reveal its hidden agenda.

Some schools of therapy try to teach us to deal with our ‘Inner Critic’ by telling it to ‘shut-up’, to ‘go away’, or even to ‘f…. off’. But these tactics hardly ever work – or not for long. A much more fundamental approach is required.