*(Just a heads-up: My Inner Critic’s voice is mocking and hurtful (especially in the Inner Dialogue Exercise). Putting this warning up in case you are trying to avoid that sort of energy right now.)*
The last couple of months have brought some big life changes. One of the largest being I moved. Another big life change was my counsellor had a session ( I wasn’t there) with my parents, which opened my eyes to a new reality for our relationship. My parents seem certain that they have no role to play in the dynamics of our relationship. They are willing to “help me” with “whatever I am feeling”, but see it as having nothing to do with them. They say they are very confused by it all. They think I should not be upset now or upset about the past, they think my problem is I won’t “accept the truth”. Of course they don’t usually say it as straightforward as that, but that is the general message. I was left feeling invisible and wrong for the emotions I have. And I saw, finally, that I needed to pull back from the relationship. In truth there has never been much of a relationship, and in all likelihood there never will be. The realizations were painful and upsetting, and especially difficult as I was also in the stressful process of moving.
A New Space For Growth
As I’ve pulled away from my parents, I’ve gotten more space to feel my own feelings. I’ve come to see how alone and isolated I’ve always been in life. These last couple of months have felt like a descent into a mysterious depth, where I now feel stuck. But stuck isn’t really the best word for where I am. Maybe it’s more like some hurting side of me is finally stepping fully forward now. This hurting side of me feels a new safety forming in the growing distance between me and my family. This hurting part of me is right at the surface now, and it’s disorienting and painful, and hard to function and take care of all my responsibilities. The weight and intensity of the hurting part’s feelings feels strong enough to shatter me from the inside out. To destroy me. I feel such an inner pressure.
But I do not believe this hurting part is trying to destroy me. I believe it is seeking help. It is starting to trust that I, my real self, may actually try to listen and help it. And she is right. I am determined this time to figure out how to help her – to listen, to believe, and to try not to judge. However this feels like a near impossible task, because there is another side of me that appears slicker, smarter and more powerful than this hurting side of me, and that is my Inner Critic.
Inner Critic Part/Emotionally Hurting Part
I am observing the emotional hurting side of me is held in like a hostage. It seems so clear to me I am in therapy to get the hurting side of me help, yet she is almost never allowed to speak during my sessions. It’s nonsensical, but feels largely out of my control. During this healing process, I have found an Inner Parent part of me. My Inner Parent speaks with a comforting and loving voice. And I can only assume my Inner Parent is who sought out therapy for my hurting part.
Yet I am observing over and over that when the intensely hurting part comes to the surface, my Inner Parent goes completely missing. I can not access it anymore. And instead of being met by the Inner Parent the hurting part instantly faces the Inner Critic. It’s as if the mere appearance of the hurting part, is the cue for my inner system to get the Inner Critic side online. The Inner Critic presents itself and simply sounds to me like the voice of “the truth/logic/reality”. It has an objective air. Yet when I listen deeply, or imagine it as a 3rd party speaking to me , I hear the Inner Critic’s voice as invalidating, mocking, harsh, threatening, and pressuring. I hear hate.
Furthermore I’ve observed that as my emotionally hurting part feels more and more overwhelmed, upset, or alone the Inner Critic becomes more and more aggressive and hateful. Sometimes it may appear as if the Inner Critic is trying to “get me help”, but it’s in such a frustrated way. It brings the hurting part of me to therapy with an attitude of “What is WRONG with YOU!”. It sounds like: “Can anyone fix this useless stupid emotional person. Give her a diagnosis or something, she won’t just shut up and be happy. She should be happy. She is annoying everyone! Bringing everyone down.”
My Inner Critic keeps my hurting side largely silent to the world and somehow silent even to myself (a large part of this silence is I do not recognize my feelings as my own. It’s like I don’t feel my own feelings.) I do not fully understand how the hurting part is silenced, maybe it is through fear of embarrassment or shame. However it seems that unless my hurting side finds a voice (whether it’s to me, my therapist, or someone else), it is unlikely to receive help from anyone.
An Inner Dialogue Exercise: Giving My Hurting Side A Voice
The emotionally hurting side of me has been very intense and at the surface recently and I recognize it must get help. I did the following exercise a few days ago in an attempt to get some clarity on what was going on inside the emotional hurting part of me. In this exercise I observed how difficult it is for the emotional part of me to speak and be heard. Not because she is silent or has nothing to say, but rather because the moment she starts to speak the Inner Critic shows up and starts speaking over her in an argumentative and aggressive manner. This is an example of what that Inner Dialogue sounds like in my mind:
Emotional Side: So, I am really hurting. What I need help with is….
Critic: (Interrupts) Haha, so many have had it so much worse than you. What a joke!
Emotional Side: Yeah, I know, I’m just focusing on healing my heart right now.
Critic: Of what! You are always so dramatic and self focused
Emotional Side: (trying to just ignore it and speak) Um, so when I was a little girl
Critic: You are still such a little girl…it’s pathetic. Everyone thinks it.
Emotional Side: (getting upset now) Um so, when I was younger, um, my family was always miserable, no love or tenderness or joy was really ever shown to anyone from anyone and
Critic: That’s everyone’s story…you’re being dramatic
Emotional Side: Please stop! Why are you doing this! (continued begging to stop)
Critic: More evidence you are dramatic. Just stop, this is stupid.You are embarrassing yourself.
Emotional Side: Just let me talk
Critic: About what? Your “trauma’
Emotional Side: About what I love, what I want
Critic: How cute…
Emotional Side: I love people. They are all so mysterious. I love nature, music, art, and poetry. I love being together with all this beautiful whatever we are. But my favorite thing by far is people.
Critic: Wow, ever looked around. People are horrible. Destroying the earth. You can’t trust any of them. Name anyone, I can make you turn on them. All are hurtful and ugly. They hide in darkness who they really are.
Emotional Side: Humans are a world unto themselves. Mystery and beauty. All mixed together.
Critic: Sorry, but look at the world
Emotional Side: Why are you doing this!
Critic: It’s true
Emotional Side: Who are you? Tell me your past
Critic: I don’t have one
Emotional Side: Yeah you do. You seem to “know” so much.
Critic: ………I just know they are ugly. I’ve seen.
Emotional Side: Seen what? I’ve seen beauty, mixed, but beauty. Like all of nature, it’s mixed. I love flowers in spring, but when the plant turns brown and dries up and sits ugly in the garden. I don’t give up hope for the flowers or reject the beauty I saw. The plant has beauty, that still stands. Each person is like that I think. A mixed bag, the ugly doesn’t negate the beautiful.
Critic: But the beauty doesn’t negate the ugly either
Emotional Side: True. But I feel I can love what I see. I do love what I see. I mean I certainly am just like all of that. A mixed bag. I think you are trying to protect me from the ugly side, because it can hurt. But I think I’m building myself up to be able to face it better. I’m learning new ways of thinking and understanding.
Critic: It won’t last. You always come crawling back to me. You will be torn apart.
Emotional Side: Maybe, but the beauty’s been real. And I’m curious why do you think I come back to you? What are you providing?
Critic: I take care of you. You are naive. You think they love you. No one does. It’s interesting though, because you do love them. But I often convince you that your love is broken to protect you. It’s easier for you to take the blame then to hear the truth – no one loves you.
Emotional Side: Do you love me?
Critic: Yes, Of course.You’re beautiful.
Emotional Side: (Overwhelmed, crying) … I didn’t know that. I thought I was broken, a problem.
Critic: I know, I’m sorry, it felt necessary.
Emotional Side: Is it still necessary?
Critic: Less so. But you’ll be scared.
Emotional Side: Okay, I am scared.
Critic: That’s okay. I’ll try to be easier on you. We can build on your passions. I know you enjoy them.
Emotional Side: Thanks, it’s been really hard hasn’t it? Being so alone, loving everyone so much, but seeing so much misery. Feeling powerless, and powerful all at once. Intensity and emotions in secrecy. The loneliness and confusion.
Critic: Yes, it’s been hard. We were placed in a line of trauma.
Emotional Side: Thank you so much for validating that. It has been hard. But I’m here to start changing that aren’t I?
Critic: Yes. Your parents contributed some, and you are going to take that and run for you children.
Emotional Side: Yes, yes, that’s exactly what I want. But I’m so worried, I know I’m struggling with all these changes and new ways of being. Living love and living trust is so hard. I’m very afraid.
Critic: That all makes sense. I’m very proud of you already though. And others are too, even if they don’t have the words to say it. This is a beautiful task, just the picking it up, it will mean something to your children.
Emotional Side: I worry it won’t, that I’m lying to myself. That maybe I should be doing something else. Just like the feeling I’m not doing enough. How do I balance self care and care for them?
Critic: You are figuring it out, keep going. This is hard.
Emotional Side: I’m so surprised to see you turned motivator. Is this really the Inner Critic not the Inner Parent?
Critic: I think we might be the same figure. Maybe in different settings. We both want the same thing at least, to keep you safe.
Emotional Side: So I was safe being attacked by you?
Critic: Yes, I thought the environment was not safe for you.
Emotional Side: My parents are not safe?
Critic: They don’t do it to hurt you. But yes, they are not safe. Not until you gain more strength in yourself.
Emotional Side: Is it safe now? (The new space away from them)
Emotional Side: But you still attack me, shame me?
Critic: I am nervous too.
Emotional Side: (laughing) You do sound like a parent.
Critic: I am.
Emotional Side: Well, maybe seeing this side of you will help me handle your rants better. I can recognize you are nervous and doubting as opposed to certain. You aren’t the voice of truth, more a voice of worries about my safety.
Critic: Hopefully we will figure it out. I don’t want to tear you down. Only keep you safe, The beautiful, good, and true.
Emotional Side: But I’m ugly too right?
Critic: Yep, like everyone else.
Emotional Side: But we grow the beauty I guess, enjoy it, seek it out, nourish it, encourage it?
Critic: That makes sense to me. But honestly, I’m not passionate and emotional like you are. That’s all you. I just sit back and enjoy it. You are the beautiful, good, and true.
Interesting Take Aways
I was basing that write up off an inner dialogue I had a few days ago. But as I wrote it up from memory, it started taking a new turn and I went with it. I feel I learned something big here. I have never seen my Inner Critic be so kind. I’m sort of left speechless and unsure. Did the Inner Parent take over or was that really the Critic? Or are they really the same? Maybe the Inner Parent voice I thought of as “new” from this healing journey was really just the “new goal” of the Inner Critic. Maybe the Inner Critic has been learning and growing alongside all the other parts of me this whole time. I’m really not sure. I’ll have to give this time to sink in and reflect. But I definitely felt an inner ally inside, one I’m not used to.
More Reflections Given More Time:
- I feel when the Inner Critic speaks of “others”, it is referring to my family of origin as opposed to the world at large. Which makes sense if the Inner Critic part was formed in childhood.
- It would be nice if the Inner Critic praised me more often. It seems to see a good side of the emotional me, but rarely does it ever speak in a proud or supportive way. I need to practice encouraging and supporting myself, and also actually accepting my own encouragement and praise.
- The more I reflect, with adult eyes, on how my Inner Critic tends to speak the more I see the dynamics of my family growing up through a different lens. I’ve always “sided” with my father. And by that I mean I’ve seen reality through his eyes for most of my life. He was the hero. However, as I am gaining strength and gaining my own perspective, I am starting to see the past actions and words of my father in a new light. Something about the tone and attitude of the Inner Critic strikes me as very similar to how he treated my mother when I was growing up. His past actions and words I used to view as having “protected” me or himself now appear (whether intended to or not) incredibly harmful to our family. They seem inappropriate and disproportionate. It’s a lot to process, and I am in the thick of that now.