If our childhood was traumatic it is likely that the unprocessed pain may be projected onto other relationships. The chapter Shrinking Your Outer Critic in Pete Walker’s book on Complex PTSD makes for very enlightening reading. It is teaching me a lot both about how parents can dump their own rage over past injuries onto their children, scapegoating them and then ensuring that the child has to find ways to offload this pain. From my understanding it can either be internalised and then we get beat up by a savage inner critic or alternatively it can externalised and then we beat others up for supposed transgressions which may be unconscious reminders of things that happened to us in childhood that hurt us deeply and we could never really unpack.
As Pete explains, often we oscillate between the two positions. The cure he recommends and outlines in this chapter involves a combination of self awareness and mindfulness. As he explains those with an aggressive ‘fight’ defence act pain out in rants or accusations. Those with a more passive style may seethe internally and then their voracious inner critic kicks into gear.
There are two aspects to this mindfulness. The first is cognitive, using thought awareness, thought stopping and thought substitution (substituting excessive negative critical thoughts for balanced positive thoughts).
The second aspect is emotional and involves grief work. As Pete explains it this involves
removing the critic’s fuel supply – the unexpressed childhood anger and the uncried tears of a lifetime of abandonment.
angering at the outer critic helps to silence it (helping us to challenge the critic’s entrenched all or none perspective that everyone is as dangerous as our parents), and crying helps to evaporate it (and it also release(s) the fear that the outer critic uses to frighten us out of opening to others. Tears can help us realise that our loneliness is now causing us much unnecessary pain).
It is my experience that those of us with a narcissistic style can most definitely not allow ourselves the vulnerability of the later response.
Mindfulness can and will cause us emotional and thought flashbacks to earlier incidents from childhood, consciously or unconsciously. Our critic attacks may seem to grow in strength and power because we are becoming more aware of what we unconsciously defended against before. And if part of our conditioning involved our parent’s disabling our angry reactions to unjustified shame, blame or criticism other painful feelings, sensations and thoughts will be evoked. We may need a super aware ally to help us as we working with shrinking the inner and outer critic. And in my experience the grief we feel helps us to come back to reality and remove defences even though this work is painful.
As Jay Early and Bonnie Weiss point out in their book Freedom From the Inner Critic : A Self Therapy Approach it is important that we learn to stand with our inner child and help them to separate from the critics attacks which were designed to protect us in childhood but no longer serve us to develop a healthy relationship with our self or others. For as long as the inner critic and outer critic is allowed to run rampant in our relationships the consequences will be the death of true love, respect, compassion, empathy, intimacy and connection.