David Baxter PhD
Where Our Inner Critic Comes from and How to Tame Itby Debra Mittler, TinyBuddha.com
June 8, 2021
"Your inner critic is simply a part of you that needs more self-love." ~ Amy Leigh Mercee
We all have that critical and judgmental inner voice that tells us we’re not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, etc.
It tells us we don’t do anything right. It calls us stupid. It compares us to other people and speaks harshly about ourselves and our bodies. It tells us all the things we did or said “wrong” after communicating or connecting with someone.
Sometimes it projects criticism outward onto others so we can feel better about ourselves. Other times we try to suppress our inner critic through overachieving, being busy, and accumulating more and more things.
Sometimes it’s a protective mechanism that’s trying to keep us focused on our self-judgments so we won’t be authentic, because, if we are, we may be rejected and not get the love and acceptance we want.
But, by doing this, we’re creating even more pain and suffering because we’re disconnecting from and rejecting our own essence.
Just ignoring the critical voice doesn’t always make it go away. It may initially, but soon enough it will resurface if we haven’t healed/embraced our hurts, traumas, and wounds and shifted our internal patterning, which is where it comes from.
Have you ever heard the expression “What we resist persists?” Have you ever told an angry person to “just calm down” or a screaming child to stop crying? Does it work? Not when our energy is in a heightened state.
Why is someone angry? Why is a child screaming and crying? Because there’s something going on internally that’s creating how they’re behaving. There’s often an unmet need or pain that’s asking for attention.
Thinking a more positive thought to compensate can sometimes work, but sometimes it just creates an inner debate and mistrust in ourselves because deep inside we don’t believe what we’re saying.
As children, many of us were taught to suppress those “bad” feelings because if we expressed them, we may have been or were punished. Welcome to the beginning of the critical voice; it’s often a frightened part of us that’s wounded and asking for attention. It wants to be seen, heard, and understood.
My dad used to get really frustrated with me and constantly told me, “Damn it, Deb, you never do anything right.” Hearing that many times left an imprint in my subconscious. I started living with that interpretation of myself, and the critical voice kept me “in check” with being this way.
For me, the critical voice was my dad’s voice as well as the deep shame I was feeling for making mistakes and not doing things the “right way.”
I was holding in suppressed anger, sadness, guilt, unforgiveness, resentment, traumas, and pain that I tried to keep hidden with a smile on my face, but eventually it turned into a shame-based identity.
My inner voice criticized me whenever I fell short or wasn’t perfect according to society or my family’s expectations.
Just like when we’re triggered by another person, our critical voice is asking for our attention and guiding us to what needs healing, resolving, forgiving, understanding, compassion, and unconditional love.
When it comes to the surface, we’re experiencing an automatic regression; it’s a part of us that’s frozen in time. It’s a reflection of our unhealed wounds, which created ideas of not being enough or that something’s wrong with us. Basically, it’s a trance of unworthiness.
When we’re in a trance of unworthiness we try to soothe ourselves with addictive behaviors. It’s hard to relax because we think we need to do something to be better and prove ourselves, so, not doing, resting, isn’t safe.
When we’re in a trance of unworthiness it’s hard to be intimate with others. Deep inside we think there’s something wrong with us, so, we don’t get close because they may find out and leave. This keeps us from being authentic because we don’t feel okay with who we are.
Deep down I felt unworthy, unlovable, and undeserving, and the critical voice showed me what I was feeling and believing. I didn’t feel safe in life or in my body. How could I? I was living with so much hurt, pain and shame inside.
The critical voice is often stronger for those of us with unhealed wounds and who are hard on ourselves, and it tries to get us with shame and guilt. We’re always looking at ourselves as the “good self” or “bad self,” and if we’re identified with a “bad self” we’ll act in accordance with that in all areas of our life.
If we’ve become identified with the critical voice, it’s who we think we are; it just seems normal. And when we start to be more kind and loving it doesn’t seem right because our identity becomes threatened and our system registers that as danger.
That happened for me. Eventually I became identified with being a “bad girl” who’s critical and hard on herself, and, even when I started being a little kinder, more compassionate, and more loving I felt an angst in my body. It wasn’t familiar, and even deeper, it wasn’t okay for me to be this way. My survival was at stake, so I would automatically go back to self-criticizing and judging, without conscious awareness.
The critical voice didn’t only speak to me harshly, it also told me to do self-abusive things like cutting my wrists and face, starving my body or eating lots of sweets, and exercising for hours like a mad woman to get rid of the food I ate, whether it was a carrot or sweets, because I felt guilty.
Even after twenty-three years of going in and out of hospitals and treatment centers, taking medication, and doing traditional therapy, nothing ever changed, the critical voice had a hold on me.
It was a powerful force, and when I tried to stop it, it would get louder. It thought it was protecting me in a backwards sort of way; if it hurt me first no one else would be able to do so.
When people used to say to me, “Debra, you just need to love yourself” I looked at them like they were crazy. I had no concept of what that even meant because I had no experience of it.
What I’ve come to see with myself and those I assist in their healing is that the more we keep our deep hurts, traumas, anger, guilt, shame, and pain hidden, the more the critical voice chimes in.
And, for some, like me, it seems overpowering, so we try to find relief through smoking, drinking, eating, or being busy, and/or we experience severe depression, anxiety, or self-harming.
When we’re consumed by the critical voice, we’re disconnected from our true essence, and when we’re disconnected from our true essence, the love within, we feel a sense of separation; we don’t feel safe with ourselves or others, and we don’t feel lovable for who we are, as we are.
This is why many people can change, be happy for a day, but then go back to their critical and/or judgmental ways. Our automatic programming, stemming from our core beliefs, kicks in. It’s just like an addiction, and in a sense it is.
We can try meditating, deep breathing, and positive thinking, but, unless we address the underlying cause, we’re likely to keep thinking the thoughts our internal patterning dictates. They come from a part of us that doesn’t feel loved or safe.
So, what do we do when the critical voice comes to visit?
What do we do when it’s what we’re used to, and it just happens automatically?
What do we do when we don’t know how to be with ourselves and how we’re feeling in a kind and compassionate way?
What do we do when we have no concept of what it even means to experience self-love or ease in our bodies?
First off, please don’t blame yourself for how you’re being. Awareness isn’t about judgment, it is about kindness, compassion, and loving.
Working with and healing our traumas, where the critical voice was formed, is key in shifting our internal energy patterning. Many people call this inner child healing and/or shadow working.
This is a soft and gentle process of moving through the layers of trauma with compassion and love and making peace with our protector parts.
Through inner child healing we can shift and transform that “negative” patterning and how the energy is flowing in our body. We can help that part of us who’s frightened, hurting, and maybe feeling separate have a new and true understanding so we can feel loved and safe in our bodies.
When we pause and take a deep breath when we first hear or sense the critical voice it allows our nervous systems to reset and helps us come back to the present moment; this allows space for compassion, healing, and investigation.
Why do I believe that?
Where did I learn that?
Is it true?
How does my higher self see this and me?
Does the critical voice totally go away? No, it may still chime in, it’s part of being human, but once we realize where it’s coming from and heal/shift that energy pattern, more love can flow though, and we can experience our truth. When we learn how to be our own loving parent and meet the needs our caregivers didn’t meet when we were children, the critical voice often softens.
Remember, the critical voice is just a scared part of us who really wants attention, love, and a way to feel safe. When we no longer take it personally, when we’re no longer attached to it as our identity, we can offer ourselves compassion, understanding, love, truth, and whatever else we’re needing.
Life can be messy, and our thoughts can be too. This isn’t about perfection, this is about experiencing a deeper connection with our loving essence.
There’s a sweet and tender spirit that lives within you. This spirit is your deepest truth. This spirit is the essence of you. You’re naturally lovable, valuable, and worthy, you’re a gift to humanity, so please be kind, gentle, loving, and caring with yourself.