“I can’t do it. . .”
“I’m not worthy. . .”
“I must be perfect. . .”
“I must not make a mistake. . .”
“I’m not good enough. . .”
“Nobody loves me. . .”
Any of this sound familiar?
Everyone has an inner voice like this. In traditional psychology it’s referred to as the superego, or more popularly known as the inner critic.
For many people it is the main source of immense and unnecessary suffering through shame, guilt, low self-esteem, and devaluation. The good news is that it can be fully understood and transformed into a source of inner support and guidance, instead of self-recrimination and judgement.
The inner critic serves as a kind of “false conscience.” It is built mostly through identification with judging, criticism, blaming and punishing attitudes from our childhood environment. Over time it becomes a harsh inner judge and a cruel source of self-punishment. Instead of being the light of true conscience, it develops into an inflexible part of the mind with harsh rules and commandments.
The inner critic constantly monitors, scanning you and other people’s perception of you. Whenever it detects something that it doesn’t approve of, it immediately judges and condemns you. As well as causing suffering in your day to day affairs, it can be a real problem in psychotherapy because it attacks you every time you uncover something of which it disapproves!
As a result of this many people engaged in psychotherapy can unnecessarily suffer. Or to avoid this suffering they may avoid experiencing important parts of themselves that the inner critic judges as “no good.” These parts are kept “off limits,” effectively blocking you from being fully conscious of yourself.
An essential part of psychotherapy, especially if you suffer from low self-esteem, guilt or shame, is to help you recognise your inner critic for what it is, and learn to effectively deal with it in ways that free you to reveal more of your true self. A good therapist will provide you with the support, understanding and methodology to do this, at your own pace.
This consists in learning to recognize and confront the assumptions and principles that keep your inner critic in place. At the same time, cultivating key antidotes to the self-judgement process: compassion, will, and strength. And most important, learning to disengage from your inner critic when it is most painfully active.
As we gradually become free from the inner critic and begin to experience ourselves more fully, we feel the confidence and the energy to let others see us as we are too. In time the harsh judgements and censorship of the inner critic are replaced with a sense of wholeness and a different voice emerges–that of your true conscience.
In this way, work on the inner critic becomes a pathway to your true self.
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