We all have different modes, parts, or voices that comprise our internal worlds. Different situations will trigger different modes based on past experiences and habitual ways of relating and responding. The most pernicious of them all, and probably the most universal, is the self-critic. The self-critic always manages to find fault with something you do. It’s a bully, and it will beat you down if you let it.
The self-critic knows your weaknesses and vulnerabilities and exploits them. If you mess up with your partner or child, it will be the first to enthusiastically jump in with a narrative as to why you messed up and why you’re such a ____________.
Another thing the self-critic does is it distorts reality. The more influence it has, the more it will distort reality and filter everything through its lens. This often happens reflexively and outside of awareness.
When the self-critic is very beefed up, people have hard times distinguishing between their true selves and their self-critics, because the self-critic has been drowning everything else out. You know that this is happening when you see someone that is very attached to a narrative that they are bad, defective and unloveable.
In Schema Therapy, we teach people to learn to identify their different modes or voices. We help them to understand where they come from and what triggers them and we point out when different modes kick in. It is an absolute priority to focus first and foremost on the self-critic because as long as it is in the driver’s seat, progress will be impossible.
The more one is able to identify his/her modes and triggers, the more he/she is strengthening the healthy adult mode. That is the goal of therapy. The healthy adult is a good parent that is not invested in putting you down or punishing you. The healthy adult’s job is to call out the self-critic when it pops up and put it in its place.
This takes practice and persistence, but it is crucial and it opens the psychic gates of growth and change. You simply cannot learn or grow or explore when you have a nagging bully over your shoulder. Most of us are a lot harder on ourselves than we are on others. Dealing with the self-critic is empowering and implies learning self-compassion and mindfulness.
Simple steps you can take
You can start working on it yourself. Here are some simple steps to take:
- Try keeping a notebook or a file on your phone or computer for the next week and write down whenever you get self-critical.
- Write down what the trigger was.
- Write down your response.
- Try giving your self-critic a name and responding to it when it pops up. Tell it if it doesn’t have anything useful or constructive to say to shut the f*** up. Tell it that it’s not in control anymore.
The key to confronting your self-critic is consistency. There’s no room for complacency. It will find its way in through the cracks. Good luck!
If you haven’t already read the book, Relationship Reboot: Break free from the bad habits in your relationship is available on Amazon Kindle now.
David B. Younger, Ph.D. is the creator of Love After Kids, for couples that have grown apart since having children. He is a clinical psychologist and couples therapist with a web-based private practice and lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, 13-year-old son, 3-year-old daughter and 5-year-old toy poodle.
Originally published at www.loveafterkids.com