We all have an inner critic. For some of us it's stronger than others, but we all have one.
In his book, Positive Intelligence, Shirzad Chamine talks about the inner critic as the "Judge", a universal saboteur - something that gets in our way, that sabotages our intentions and steals our power all in the name of keeping us "safe". It's a predisposition to exaggerating the negative and assuming the worst. It's hardwired into us as a survival mechanism. He says that it helps us to create a mental construct through which we can perceive the world and our experience of life.
Similarly, in the Enneagram personality system, we look at the inner critic as a defense mechanism, something that we take on early in life when we don't have context for the world and where we belong in it, or how to interpret events. We take on a multitude of defense mechanisms or self-protective patterns, and the inner critic is one of them. The challenge is that as we grow up and get more power over our lives and more context of the world and where we belong in it, we don't actively detach from these patterns or our inner critic. And then those patterns and that judge continue to run the show, even though they don't serve us anymore, at least most of the time.
Dr. Kristin Neff, researcher and the author of Self-Compassion, talks about the inner critic as stemming from our threat defense system. It comes from a desire to be safe because having DEFINITIVENESS GIVES US A SENSE OF CONTROL. We've seen this over the last year with the pandemic - a lack of definitiveness. And for those of us who have other self-protective patterns that layer on top of the inner critic and that are wrapped around safety, and certainty, it's been really challenging to find a sense of control.
The inner critic, in Dr. Neff's work, is shown to put us into fear response of fight, flight, freeze. What we need to understand here, is that our subconscious doesn't like change. Our subconscious wants CERTAINTY, DEFINITIVENESS, and CONTROL. And it doesn't know what is on the other side of change. Our limbic brain, which is wired for survival, wants us to stay the same, even if that includes some suffering, because it knows what to expect there, hence it bringing up all the fear it can to KEEP YOU SAFE.
Your inner critic is trying to be FOR you. Trying to PROTECT you. Trying to SERVE you. But it's coming from a very basic, childlike and fearful place. And that place is one that by now you have outgrown. It keeps you motivated by fear, instead of being motivated by passion, love and purpose.
If you have been fighting a losing battle against your inner critic, I want to invite you to take some time to ponder and journal about these questions:
- Where is your inner critic showing up?
- Does it show up with particular people?
- In particular situations?
- What does it say to you?
- Whose voice is it?
- Is what it is saying SERVING you in this moment?