The Inner Critic Cluster by Jay Earley, PhD

In anorexia nervosa, anxiety, bulimia, Couple therapy, Dr. Dick Schwartz, IFS Certification, IFS Retreats, IFS Therapy Certification, IFS Training, Internal Family Systems, Mindfulness, Psychotherapy, Uncategorized on July 27, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Since the Inner Critic is one of the most and tenacious issues that people face, we have been studying the details of how to transform this part using IFS. When you start working with an Inner Critic part, you quickly realize that it is not the only part that gets activated. When self-judgment is an issue, there is an entire cluster of parts that become involved.*

 First, there is the Inner Critic part itself, which is judging you, pushing you, doubting you, shaming you, and so on. This is a “protector” in IFS terminology. Then there is a part of you that receives these attacks, believes them, and feels bad about itself. It may feel worthless, inadequate, lazy, guilty, ashamed, or hopeless. We call this part the Criticized Child because it is usually a child part, an “exile” in IFS. Many people confuse the Critic and the Criticized Child; make sure to distinguish them in your inner work. This child part is already carrying negative beliefs about you as a result of experiences in childhood. The judgment from the Inner Critic both activates these bad feelings in the Child and creates more of them as a result of its attacks.

 Frequently there is another part of you that tries to argue with the Critic. “I’m not really so bad. I could be successful. I am worthwhile.” This part, which we call the Inner Defender, is trying to counter the effects of the Critic. Most of the time, the Critic wins these arguments. Sometimes this defense works for a while, but usually the Critic resurfaces and attacks you even more harshly. It doesn’t really help to get engaged with the Critic.

 If the Critic is pushing you unmercifully to accomplish certain tasks, this may trigger another part, the Rebel, who refuses to do them, even if they would be good for you. It is trying to preserve your autonomy from being overrun by the Critic. This doesn’t do away with the Critic, and it sets up major inner conflict inside. No matter who wins, your life isn’t going to work very well.

 Some people have a Prideful Part that tries to defend against Critic’s onslaught by propping up their self-esteem. This part is overly focused on success, pride, and receiving admiration. It often exaggerates your good qualities and accomplishments in a attempt to defend against and ignore the feelings of worthlessness carried by the Criticized Child. This ultimately can’t work because it isn’t based on healing the Child. Deep down inside that pain is still there. And it tends to alienate other people.

 The Prideful Part, Inner Defender, and Rebel are each protectors, trying to protect the Criticized Child. And they are polarized with the Inner Critic, which means they are engaged in an internal battle with it. You can see this in the lower part of the following graphic:

Let’s now look at the healthy capacities that you will develop as part of transforming the Inner Critic. The main one is Value or self-esteem. This is a natural feeling of self-acceptance and appreciation for yourself. You value yourself and love yourself. Ideally you value yourself just for being you, not for any achievements or even for any of your positive qualities. Value is your birthright, unless it is undermined by your Inner Critic. If you look at the graphic, you see that Value is placed right above the Prideful Part. Value is the healthy version of pride because it happens naturally as you heal the Criticized Child, rather than being a defense against the Child’s feeling of deficiency.

On the other side of the graphic is another healthy capacity, Humility. This means a feeling of being comfortable with who you are whether or not you are acclaimed by the world. You don’t make any effort to artificially prop up your self-esteem or to seek admiration from others. You are willing to look at any shortcomings you might have or ways that you need to grow, and you are open to any criticisms from others. However, you do this with complete self-acceptance, without any harshness or self-judgment. Humility is the healthy version of the Inner Critic. Value and Humility are integrated with each other, not polarized. They naturally support each other.

The Inner Champion provides support and encouragement to counter the effects of the Inner Critic and heal and care for the Criticized Child. It supports the growth of Value and Humility. Your Inner Champion nurtures and cares for you. It encourages you in your endeavors in the world. It reminds you that you are a good person in a loving way, not as a defense against shame but simply as the truth of who you are. In IFS terms, Value, Humility, and the Inner Champion are all aspects of Self. We have spelled them out in more detail as a way of aiding you in your Inner Critic work.

You can work on transforming your Inner Critic in two ways.

(1) You get to know the Critic part and find out its positive intent for you in an IFS session. This requires being in Self, the natural place of curiosity and compassion. This way you can connect with it rather than being at its mercy (like the Criticized Child) or fighting with it as the other protectors do. Then you can heal the Criticized Child using further IFS techniques.

(2) You cultivate Value and Humility by evoking your Inner Champion to support you. It is especially helpful to tune the Champion in everyday life whenever you feel the need for self-esteem or whenever you are being attacked by your Critic.

This article presents a simple version of what is really a complex process. We teach this process in our IFS Classes and are writing about it in a forthcoming book on the Inner Critic. For more information, see www.personal-growth-programs.com/inner-critic-section.

* In this article, I describe various types of parts that many people have, using names such as Inner Critic, Rebel, Criticized Child. This doesn’t mean that your parts will necessarily fit these categories exactly. Each of your parts is unique to you; please don’t try to force them into these categories if they don’t fit. For example, most people have more than one type of Inner Critic part, and you might have a part that has qualities of the Inner Defender and is argumentative in other situations. Get to know each of your parts on its own terms without assuming you know what it is ahead of time.

    Jay Earley, Ph.D., is a transformational psychologist, group leader, psychotherapist, coach, author, teacher, and theorist. 
Jay is trained in Internal Family Systems Therapy and assists with professional trainings in IFS. He leads IFS Classes for the general public which teach IFS as a practice for self-help and peer counseling. He is active in the IFS community and has presented a number of workshops at IFS annual conferences. He also teaches classes on Communication from the Heart, based on IFS, interactive groups, and the Pattern System.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: