Robert Augustus Masters

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The Inner Critic and the Child

  • February 20, 2016
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Our inner critic is like a mosquito. Mosquitos can be irritating when they get close, and may even overwhelm us when they get really close, filling us with their buzzing and sucking and irritating presence. But when we deal skillfully with our inner critic, it becomes not much more than a mosquito on the far side of the room, almost out of hearing, not able to mess with us, not able to shame us.

When your inner critic kicks in, what’s immediately helpful is to name it as such: “My inner critic is here” (or state the name you have given it). Then take a few deep breaths, softening your belly, distancing yourself from your inner critic’s pronouncements, and observe its actual energy — as opposed to its contents and messages — and the resulting feelings that arise. Notice that the content of what your inner critic is saying — whatever its factual accuracy — is heartless, unkind, sometimes cruel, and always shaming.

We tend to turn into a child before our inner critic if we do not see it for what it is. And we all have that child in us, no matter what our age, no matter how adult we may seem, and when we identify with the child within, our inner critic holds the power, talking to us as though we are but a child who keeps failing to meet certain standards.

But our inner critic does not hold the power inherently — we are giving it the power, the authority, to judge, shame, degrade us for not making the grade. Once we sense the dynamic between our inner critic and our child side, which is usually just a repetitious drama of the bully and the bullied, healing can begin. We start to feel more intimate with — and more protective — of the child, whereas before, we mostly looked at the child in us through the eyes of our inner critic.

So, if the child in us is shy, shut down in some way, hurting, or dysfunctional, we may 3 have looked upon him or her with a sense of embarrassment — along the lines of “We shouldn’t be that way, we’re adults, we’ve worked on ourselves, how can we regress like that?” But this only provides fuel for our inner critic. Then, it can announce, “Look at you, you’re failing, you’re weak, you’re pathetic.” And so on.

Unfortunately, for most of us, our inner critic masquerades as our conscience.

The impression we get when it is speaking with such certainty and authority is that it is a valuable voice, perhaps even one that has our best interests at heart. But one of its defining characteristics is that it has no heart. As we work to disidentify with our inner critic and to cease being a child before it, we learn something very valuable: If we hear an internal voice that lacks compassion, lacks heart, we need not take its contents seriously.

As we acknowledge and observe our inner critic and step back from it, we need to move toward the child place in us — that locus of vulnerability, tenderness, innocence, and softness. We need to do what it takes to start loving that child, that part of us that is prerational, so young and tender, and so small. Once this happens, it brings out in us a sense of increased protectiveness, so that we are both embracing that little one and keeping him or her safe.

At such times, the mosquito has been relocated to the other side of the room, perhaps so far that we can no longer hear it. It no longer has our ear.