People will often admit that their harshest critics are themselves. It’s like there’s a voice inside telling them what they should or should not be doing, and telling them off for their perceived failings. It’s like there’s a constant guilt trip at work, pulling us back, putting us in order, keeping us on the straight and narrow, correcting our misdeeds as we see them, and pointing out when we’re not coming up to scratch. It can be hard work livinng with our inner critic.
A lot of our inner critic comes from our upbringing. Some people even say they can hear their mother or father speaking to them. Of course our parents meant the best for us and did the best they could based on what they knew. Yet we learned these things before we were old enough to reason and question, and often blindly took on board what we were told. Then these became internalised and our own standards for behaviour.
Shoulds, oughts and musts
Hence we use words like “should”, “ought”, “must”, or “have to”, what are called introjects, internalised rules for behaviour, by which we judge ourselves. It’s like it’s compulsive, like we have no choice. We may also speak in terms of whether something is “right” or “wrong”, often using what we think are generally accepted rules without necessarily asking whether they are quite simply our own. If we aren’t following these rules we may feel guilty, like we’re potentially going to get into trouble, even though rationally we know this is impossible. So we judge ourselves.
I’ve known people spend some free time out somewhere but have not been able to really relax and enjoy themselves because they felt guilty and that they “should” be working. As a teacher I used for ages to feel guilty that I was not doing “enough” to contribute to school activities even though I was already working all God’s hours. It was as though I could feel my headmaster over my shoulder looking in disapproval. How often do you feel you have your boss or other allegedly superior person (even at the top of the business!) somehow in the background in your mind watching what you do. We don’t need to create Big Brother. We already have him in our minds! People will for ages feel they have failed in some way, even though others may think they are successful, because they didn’t come up to their own standards, however well they did. It wasn’t “good enough”.
Not good enough
Can you imagine the inner parent saying this to the small child? “That’s not good enough!” The understanding of not being “good enough” is one of the most powerful self limiting beliefs I think one can have, very common and very constraining.
In practicing mindfulness or self awareness it can be useful to catch ourselves using such words and then asking ourselves whether we still want to judge ourselves in this way. “Does this serve me?” Fritz Perls used to speak of dealing with introjection as being about “chewing over” what we previously did unquestioningly and then choosing based on a more developed sense of our needs and who we now believe ourselves to be. He believed that it was as toddlers that we learned this stuff and didn’t get to orally-speaking chew over it fully and decide whether to swallow it as it was or spit it out.
Instead we choose our own values and principles for what we do, and go out and live according to those principles, and fulfill ourselves and feel contented according to who we really are and what we choose to express in the world. In the end, who we are is OK just as we are. Amen.
I coach people to deal with their inner critic and choose new paths in life. To learn more, click here