Working with the inner critic to help depression

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I have just been reading part of a post on what it feels like to go through one of the so called ‘bad days’ of depression and it was hard to keep reading.  I know that depressed place so well and most especially the depressed place which is a result of being beaten up by the terrorist/destroyer/inner critic inside that wants to lay everything we are and do to waste and can see nothing at all positive in us.  I am losing tolerance for living in that place these days.  I am sick to death of my own beat up am very grateful that I am getting a an increasing insight into how and why my own savage inner critic has operated in the past.

I want to share in some of my upcoming blogs about a method of working to understand the Inner Critic in such a way that we can befriend it and develop an insight into its deeper purpose in our life and I think this centres all around the issue of shame and judgement which seems to be so endemic to our present culture in the west.

Many of us have know shame, most definitely many of us who suffer or have suffered from depression.  We are all too familiar with how it feels to be not good enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough, just not enough in anyway.  How very sad it is that we are conditioned in and by this culture to believe this of ourselves from a very young age.  And the truth is this kind of criticism may not always be triggered by outer voices but it may be triggered too by being left all alone at a young and tender age when we didn’t have the power to make sense of deeper feelings and emotions.  The critic within us may have grown larger in this void and begun to tell us all kinds of things.

According to Jay Earley and Bonnie Weiss authors of Freedom from your Inner Critic : A Self Help Approach the inner critic can adopt 7 common forms:

  1. The Perfectionist.  That part of you that tries to get you to do all things perfectly and shames you if you don’t.
  2. The Inner Controller.  The part of you that tries to control impulsive or indulgent behaviour, shaming you if you fall short of its control.
  3. The Taskmaster.  That part of you that wont let you rest but just gets you to work or try harder and harder often in line with impossible standards.
  4. The Underminer.  That part of you that tries to undermine your sense of self value and self esteem, pulling the rug out from under you when you try to take positive steps  (I guess this could also be called the Saboteur.)
  5. The Destroyer. This part remorselessly attacks your sense of self worth, shaming you and telling you should not be yourself, it wipes out your sponteniety and vitality.
  6. The Guilt Tripper.  Attacks you for past action taken or not taken, never lets you forgive yourself or allows you to be human and make mistakes.
  7. The Moulder.  Tries to mould you into a shape that may have nothing to do with who you really are, or with your true talents.

When these different manifestations of the Inner Critic are explored and understood more deeply it appears that what they are actually doing is stepping in to protect you in certain ways for example from judgement or rejection.   Maybe if you can just be perfect enough others won’t abandon, betray or let you down.  The critic may be aiming for approval from some outside source in the hopes that such approval will leave you in a better place and it may, some of the critics goals can be valid.  The critic may also be trying to prevent you from being hurt, shamed or attacked by others for similar reasons to the above.

Understanding the true motivations of the Inner Critic helps us into a better place where we can understand what it is trying to do.  From this vantage point we can open to explore some of the fears and insecurities of our inner child that we absorbed and swallowed wholesale and which now lead us to stay locked in a trapped cycle of self sabotage, criticism and self blame.

The authors explain that when the critic shames our inner child that child becomes not its true self but instead the criticised child or the scared child.  It is this child punished from within that holds the key to our depression and feelings of low self worth.

When a Critic is trying to protect us, it is really trying to protect one of our wounded inner child parts.  (called exiles in Inner Systems Therapy due to the fact they are forced out of consciousness to keep us from feeling their pain).

When we can find ways to stick up for and protect the inner child from our inner critic’s attacks we are in a better position to overcome old patterns of depression and self abnegation.  However this involves feeling the real pain of the wounded, criticised, shamed or scared child parts that in childhood overpowered us and led us to patterns of self criticism.

In the work which the authors outline a conversation is opened up between the self in us and the attacker or critic.  We ask that part of us to explain its motivation.  Once we are aware of this motivation our attitude to the Critic will change and often the attacker or critic becomes smaller in our consciousness due to the fact its voice is being heard.  The work then shifts towards understanding the inner child parts of us which got exiled and damaged.  It is this exile and damage that leads us to feelings of depression and suicidal ideation.

A more detailed coverage of this work with the Inner Critic is to be found in the rest of the book and is too comprehensive to outline fully here.  I feel it provides a powerful antidote to living with the ongoing legacy of depression and pain that the critic causes in us.  When we are depressed it is almost certain we deep in criticised or shamed child  (in depression that is an outcome of inner alienation, rather than in a depression caused by or as a reaction to some kind of loss.)    I wanted to share it with you today as it really appears to be a powerful way of working proactively to heal ourselves from within.

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