I'm Erica, a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with a private practice in Los Angeles that specializes in treating anxiety disorders.
In my practice, it’s common to have clients come in suffering from relentless negative self-talk, which I refer to as our ‘Inner Critic.’ Our Inner Critic is often responsible for self doubt, low self esteem, performance fears, obsessive thinking, and more. To combat these thought patterns, it isn't always enough to play the “we are not our thoughts,” mantra on repeat, or simply suggest replacing negative self talk with positive self talk. The results of such attempts are usually only temporary. Instead, I utilize parts of a theory from the Internal Family System (IFS).
IFS is “a form of psychotherapy that focuses on a client’s internal “parts” and “Self.” In IFS, the mind is considered to be naturally made up of multiple sub-personalities or families within each individual’s mental system. These sub-personalities take on different roles, such as an inner critic or inner child, and consist of wounded parts and painful feelings like anger and shame.”
IFS provides a framework for understanding that your Inner Critic is only one part of your psyche and encourages you to transform it into an inner resource that helps and supports you.
What it means to be in our optimal state
As human beings we consist of many parts that make us whole. As much as possible we want to be connected to our Self—also referred to as our "authentic self" or "center"—which happens when we are in a state of calm, curiosity, connectedness, and compassion. But throughout the day we have to contend with the many parts of us, some of which are functioning well, and others that might be in pain—like our Inner Critic.
With the right guidance and therapy, there are steps you can learn to communicate with your Inner Critic, understand it, and gain control of your thoughts.
How to Communicate with Your Inner Critic
- With proper breathing, bring your attention to your body.Where in your body can you feel your Inner Critic? What physical sensations does it bring up? Does its voice sound familiar? Does it remind you of someone from your past or present? Take note.
- Meet your Inner Critic with curiosity.When you catch your Inner Critic poking its head through your thoughts, try to take a step back and observe its patterns. How often does it show up? What kind of negative statements does it throw at you when you make mistakes? Does it worry about being judged by others? Does it tell you to avoid new places or situations? How much of your day takes place in a stream of negativity?
- Ask Your Inner Critic Questions."What do you fear may happen if I don't listen to you/take your directions?""What is your intention behind the critical things said to me?""What is it you'd like me to know?"
- Acknowledge and Befriend Your Inner Critic.The Inner Critic is a “part” that developed to protect us from vulnerable feelings like loneliness, abandonment, rejection, or shame. It thinksit’s protecting you by making you hyper aware and judgemental of everything you do, but it actually just causes harm.It's important to acknowledge whatever comes up when you ask your Inner Critic questions.. Try saying, "I hear your concerns and how you think you're trying to protect me from __ (hurt, abandonment, rejection, shame) but I no longer want to live in fear. Your criticism is no longer protective and I can face this challenge without you."
All Healing Takes Patience and Time
This is deep inner healing work. It will take time to develop a relationship with the many parts of you that have developed to try and keep you protected from feelings of vulnerability. Expect to feel a certain discomfort when speaking to yourself this way as it is likely an entirely new way of meeting your Inner Critic. It's important to go slow and treat yourself with compassion. The goal isn't to get rid of your Inner Critic but to transform your relationship to it so it becomes useful instead of harmful.
- Schwartz, R.C. (2001). Introduction to the internal family systems model. Trailheads Publications.