Matthew Harwood

Jungian Analysis, Psychotherapy, Internal Family Systems

Befriending a Dragon takes courage & determination.

Working With Your ‘Inner Critic’

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is an excellent way of working with an ‘Inner Critic’. These is a part which often feels like an internal voice or a judging part. It tends to hurl verbal ‘missiles’ at us and says 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 that’s you?’
• ‘Here we go again’  ‘This is bound to go wrong.  Just like always!’

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 a father, a 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.

R Schwartz interview on ‘Understanding Our Inner Critic’ (6 mins)

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’. Typically such a part feels things like: full of shame, incompetent, unworthy, unloveable etc. 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

Some schools of therapy try to teach us to deal with your ‘Inner Critic’ by telling it to ‘shut up’, to ‘go away’, or to ‘back off’.  But these tactics never work – or, hardly ever, and not for long.

Bludgeoning  your ‘Inner Critic’ doesn’t work!

The IFS approach takes as its starting point the knowledge that, however sabotaging, the ‘Inner Critic’ is being in reality, it actually believes subjectively that it’s trying to help.  So, instead of 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 on to a deeper level.  In particular, try to find out ‘why?’.  Why does it think it’s so important to do what it does?

More often than not the ‘Inner Critic’s’ behaviour is actually a response to fear. Frequently it turns out that the ‘Inner Critic’ part is actually trying to protect another hidden and wounded part of ourselves. In IFS we would call such a wounded part an ‘Exile’.  Most ‘Exiles’ get wounded in childhood, and then get frozen in time.  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 ‘Inner Critics’ can be very strategic, and very tenacious. Most people need a therapist to guide them through the process.

SEE ALSO:    Internal Family Systems (IFS)