“The Beat Up,” “The Bitch,” “The Character Assassinator,” and “The Mercenary” are all names my clients have given to their Inner Critics.
You can tell by their titles just how vicious and powerful these parts are.
Working with clients who struggle from the impacts of trauma and early trauma, I haven’t met a client yet who doesn’t have shame wired with their trauma. Unfortunately, shame and trauma almost always go together. As such, one aspect of healing from trauma definitely involves befriending your Inner Critic and learning self-compassion.
The Common Struggle: Relentless Self-Negation
Trauma or no, everyone has an Inner Critic. The Inner Critic is this nagging voice in your head that spews venom and self-doubt into your every moment. For folks healing from trauma, this voice has the power to inhibit your actions, emotions and sense of connectedness.
Your Inner Critic teaches you that you’re not enough, have never been enough and will never be enough. These kinds of thoughts literally change your body’s functioning: you will feel braced and breathless; have trouble thinking straight or focusing; feel paralyzed or collapsed; you may even start crying out of feelings of helplessness and powerlessness.
You’re not alone in this experience. And there is a way out!
Understanding the Link Between Trauma and the Inner Critic
This is where the Internal Family Systems (IFS) approach comes into play. In brief, IFS views your psyche as this big, complicated family with different parts playing different roles. And the inner critic? Well, it’s just one of those parts.
Did you know that the Inner Critic is often one of the first aspects of our psyche to come into development? The critic is designed to help you gain a sense of belonging and safety with your family by guiding your behaviors and thoughts that align with your parents or care-givers. It is there to protect you from rejection by helping you be like those who care for you.
Problems arise when unsafe conditions in the family ecosystem turn that Inner Critic into a bully versus a protective guide. Experiencing trauma forces that Inner Critic to gain strength and volume as your grow up, especially in homes lacking in compassion, patience, consistent attunement and meaningful care. In these homes, we often inherit our parents’ or caregivers’ legacy of unresolved trauma.
The Power of Internal Family Systems Approach
The beauty of the IFS approach lies in this one concept:
There’s no such thing as a bad Part.
Often, when I’m doing Parts work with clients and we identify their inner critic, most clients HATE this part of themselves and see the Inner Critic as nothing but a burden, obstacle and annoyance.
But here’s the thing—I’ve found that instead of trying to shut that voice up or get rid of it, it helps to try befriending and understanding this Part. Weird, right?
I often ask my clients: What do you think the function of this Part is? Their first response is, “Nothing. This Part just wants to torture me!” With further investigation, what I’ve found with clients a 100% of the time is that their Inner Critic is often trying to protect them from feeling challenging feelings that they might not yet have the capacity to feel.
When clients start to understand that their Inner Critic serves a protective function, shame begins to quickly dissolve and compassion for this Part and the hard work it is doing ALL OF THE TIME, comes on-line. So, instead of doing battle with this Part, they start to relate to and understand this Part better.
Befriending Your Inner Critic
So, instead of avoiding this part of ourselves, we learn to befriend the Inner Critic. We spend time with them, we try to get to know their world and what makes them operate as they do. We get curious!
Making friends with our Parts goes a long way towards increased self-compassion- THE ULTIMATE ANTIDOTE to shame and trauma.
Critical questions I often ask my clients when doing Parts work with them include:
- What is the function of this Part?
- What is this Part afraid will happen if they don’t do their job?
- How long has this Part been in your life? Why did it come?
- What does this Part need in order to either do their job better or to unburden the Part from all their relentless heavy lifting?
- What would this Part rather be doing if it didn’t have to always protect you?
Often, being able to cultivate a relationship with the Inner Critic by simply acknowledging its presence, can go a long way towards deep healing and increased self-compassion.
It’s not about getting rid of the Inner Critic altogether. That’s probably not going to happen. It’s more about befriending every aspect of our Self, understanding where it’s coming from and giving it a little compassion, we can keep the Inner Critic from hijacking us.
The Journey Towards Self-Compassion
Now, here’s the kicker: if you’ve been struggling with that Inner Critic lately, just know you’re not alone.
Befriending the Inner Critic is a journey, not a destination. It’s about understanding that those critical voices within us are often wounded parts seeking acknowledgment and healing. By adopting a compassionate approach, rooted in the principles of the Internal Family Systems model, we can begin to dismantle the power of the inner critic and pave the way for genuine self-compassion and healing.
So, take care of yourself, my friend. And remember, you’ve got what it takes to embrace the journey towards self-compassion.
If you’re interested, the book No Bad Parts, by Richard Schwartz, the creator of IFS, is a great was to start exploring healing.
At Somatic Therapy Partners, we specialize in treating anxiety, early trauma and trauma. Click here to schedule your free consultation.