The Inner Critic Is a Big Bully
Part 1: This critic is the voice of figures from our developmental years.
Posted May 22, 2021 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma
Linda: The voice of the critic is the internalized voice of any significant figures from our developmental years, primarily mother and father, but it can be a teacher, someone from the clergy, a sibling, or any other person that was significant in our socialization. It’s as if the remarks that they made got recorded on a tape, and continue to play 20, 30, or 40 years later. It is wasted energy to blame those people who attempted to do what they could to prepare us for adulthood. That is a part of the past; we are the ones who are responsible for keeping the debilitating messages going in the present moment.
It is the inner voice in our minds that is constantly making critical remarks such as “You can’t do it; you’re going to fail. Who in the hell do you think you are to have a nice home, a good relationship, a good-paying interesting job?" Or “You’re never going to be any good at this, don’t even try.” The critic insults us at every turn. We continue the fine tradition of voicing our lack of confidence in ourselves by allowing this constant negative commentary.
We may have fantasies of killing the inner critic, but we cannot kill it, as much as we might like to. But there are ways to see to it that this condemning voice does not hold us back from what we want to do. The critic is often bloated with power, a big bully, and needs to be put in its place. When we square off with the critic, it will get louder and bossier, fearing that it will lose its dominant position.
The critic robs substantial amounts of our productive energies with repetitive negative remarks: “You are not enough. You’ll never be able to have what you want, because you are not smart, ambitious, attractive, focused, and creative, etc. Or it tells us: “You are too much. You’re too self-centered, sensitive, selfish, needy, hard-hearted, lazy, and on and on." It makes remarks: “You can’t; you’ll be sorry; it’s going to cost you, you’re not up to it.”
The critic is attempting to protect us from disappointment; it attempts to restrict us to a comfort zone that is so narrow it does not allow us to be a risk. It is the negative voice of the critic that paralyzes us from making changes in our relationships and in our lives.
We sometimes attempt to deal with that critical voice inside our heads by ignoring it. But if we do not actually hear what it is saying, we are more strongly influenced by it. Once we actually bring the yammering of the critic to consciousness, we can see that there may be a bit of truth in what it is saying, but only a bit. We can see the preposterousness of the exaggerations that it uses to frighten us.
There is no possibility of snuffing out the critic completely; but with a firm commitment, we can turn down the volume. Those of us who have a hyperactive critic will have many opportunities to practice asserting the truth of our deeper self. With many repetitions of facing off with the critic, we can over time mute its bullying voice.
We buy into the authoritative way in which the critic speaks to us, which keeps our self-esteem low. It is the condemning voice that makes us feel unworthy of having a loving relationship. The inner critic restrains us from asking for what we want. And the critic prompts us to settle for no relationship at all or one that is dissatisfying, saying that is all that we have a right to expect. The voice of the inner critic keeps us in dependent patterns, sacrificing ourselves to hold on to a relationship no matter what disrespect and neglect are shown to us.
When we actually take on the critic, our relationships begin to change. When our sense of self begins to rise, and we assert our needs in the relationship more, there is a systemic change. Any change, even ones that are healthy and positive, can threaten others around us. They are used to our being a certain way and can feel unsettled as we grow. That's when we may hear criticism from outside ourselves as well, which gives the critic the ammunition it’s been waiting for: “See, I told you so.”
This is to be expected and is why growth is a process of two steps forward and one step back and three steps forward and two steps back. We cannot ascend in consciousness in a steady upward linear fashion. The old habituated patterns of being unconscious are tremendously strong. Even when our commitment is firm, we will still have to contend with both inner and outer resistance.
There are other parts of us that can see through the manipulative tactics that the inner critic uses to keep us in our place; these parts can dialogue with the critic and stand up to it. I call these voices my inner sweetheart and queen. These strong confident parts of myself believe in me. They will gently, but firmly speak with quiet certainty. They address the bully and tell him that he is not going to stop me from risking and accomplishing those things that are important to me. The critic doesn’t give up easily but it eventually will quiet down. It’s a challenging process for many of us, but well worth the effort. Don’t take my word for it. Find out for yourself.