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Confronting the Critic Inside You

Having a conscience is an important part of being human. Our conscience convicts us when we are tempted or have done something unethical or illegal. It is built with a world of beliefs and reinforced by hundreds of thoughts that we experience as “shoulds.” You should be nice to your sister. You should get a job. To the extent that our beliefs and thoughts are healthy our conscience serves us well and we are wise to take heed to what it tells us.

In reality none of are completely healthy in our thinking and we have many beliefs, we may not even be aware of, that cause us problems. To the extent our beliefs and thoughts are not true our conscience turns on us and becomes an inner critic attacking our self-worth and self-esteem. 

Matthew McKay, in his book Self Esteem says, “Everyone has a critical inner voice. But people with low self-esteem tend to have a more vicious and vocal pathological critic. The critic blames you for things that go wrong. The critic compares you to others – to their achievements and abilities – and finds you wanting. The critic sets impossible standards of perfection and then beats you up for the smallest mistake. The critic keeps an album of your failures, but never once reminds you of your strengths or accomplishments. The critic has a script describing how you ought to live and screams that you are wrong and bad if your needs drive you to violate his rules. The critic tells you to be the best – and if you’re not the best, you’re nothing. He calls you names – stupid, incompetent, ugly, selfish, weak – and makes you believe that all of them are true.  The critic reads your friends’ minds and convinces you that they are bored, turned off, disappointed, or disgusted by you. “

Four Things that Make the Inner Critical so Lethal.

  1. The self-attacks always seem reasonable and justified. This is due in part to the fact that your or maybe your parents have said them for so many years it seems natural.
  2. We always believe the critic no matter have distorted the voice’s comments are.
  3. The critic is more poisonous to your psychological health than almost any trauma or loss, because trauma and loss go away with time, but the critic is always with you.
  4. Although the critic seems to have a will of its own, its independence is really an illusion. The truth is that you are so used to listening to it, so used to believing it, that you have not yet learned how to turn it off.

Through counseling you can learn to rethink the beliefs and thoughts you have lived with for so long and restructure your beliefs so they are based on truth and not lies. You will learn that you hold onto these beliefs because they serve a purpose in your life, but the means to the purpose are self-destructive and there are other ways to accomplish the same goal that are healthy.

How can these beliefs serve a purpose? I have counseled people who do things that intentionally undermine a relationship, such as getting unreasonable angry with a person for a minor issue. When we examine what was going on, the client realizes they are afraid the other person might reject them, so they put the other person on defense before they can attack them. None of this is done with fore-thought; nevertheless the behavior has grown out of years of unhealthy beliefs, that has left them insecure and unable to maintain healthy relationships. And their villain is the critic that has made a home inside them.