‘You’re too disorganised.’
‘I have three young children, it’s not my fault.’
‘You don’t forward plan enough.’
‘Life is just too busy, I have no time for planning; I’m too busy doing.’
‘Other people can do it – it’s a matter of self-discipline.’
‘I know, I know, I’m just lazy.’
This is a typical albeit abbreviated example of debating with an inner critic. First you present arguments in your defence against the critic’s claims, but by the end of it you’re agreeing with the criticisms.
In my workshops helping people transform inner criticism, this is what people’s first attempt at defending themselves against their inner critics looks like. We make excuses as to why we can’t measure up to the critic’s expectations, hoping that the critic will show us some mercy. But they don’t of course, and they have much more endurance for the fight than we do. This is a debating or bargaining style of defence that is not really a defence at all.
In this Part 4 of my series on exposing inner critics, I’m getting down the nuts and bolts of renegotiating our relationships with Inner Critics. For as long as they set the agenda and tone of the relationship, we will continue to suffer from them. Learning to defend ourselves relative to inner critics is about picking up a bit of personal power in the relationship rather than just accepting what they dish out.
If we looked at it through the lens of role theory (see Part 3 of the series), we are shifting from a two-part dynamic, to a three-part dynamic. In the two-part dynamic there is the role of the critic, and the role of the one being criticised. The critic gets to be mean, the other one gets hurt. But in the three-parts dynamic, a new player emerges on the scene – the protector. The protector role intervenes in the abusive dynamic. It doesn’t debate the critic’s perspective, it doesn’t join the victim in their suffering, it draws a line in the sand about appropriate behaviour.
Setting boundaries with inner critics (being that protective role) is not about refuting the criticisms, but about dictating the rules about how you will and will not be treated. Everyone will have their own style, but it could look a little like this;
First we set a strong boundary…
‘You’re too disorganised.’
‘It’s not OK to speak to me like that, you need to stop!’
Then we dictate the rules…
‘What do you mean, that’s my job, I’m just trying to help you be better.’
‘You’re style of help is not helpful.’
‘You’re just stubborn.’
‘Enough, it’s not OK sling vague criticisms at me, if you want to be helpful, be specific and be kind. Bullying and harassment doesn’t help me grow.’
Then we can retrain; but be warned, inner critics have been operating with the same software for a long time, reprogramming won’t always be quick…
‘Instead of saying I’m disorganised, help me identify where exactly I need to be more organised, and give me a simple strategy to get more organised – that would be helpful.’
‘But you need to be more organised everywhere in your life!’
‘No, try again. Where do I most need to be more organised? What one area, if it were better managed, would make the biggest impact on my well being right now?
‘Ah, well, your filing. You have bits of paper everywhere and you spend ages trying to find the papers you need and then get frustrated at wasting so much time, and the mess drives you crazy.’
‘Wow, that’s really true. It’s really helpful to identify that. Do you have any suggestions for specific strategies to help me get my paperwork better organised.’
‘Well actually yes I do. Get one of those wire rack desk files and some manila folders and create a filing system that is easy to access. Put all your bits of paper in the right files and set aside fifteen minutes twice a week to deal with filing.’
‘Wow, great idea! That wasn’t so hard was it?’
‘Actually I quite liked that. You actually listened to me.’
‘Yes, you were finally saying something helpful, not hurtful.’
Inner critics don’t change overnight, but they can change. Underneath many critical processes is a deep value or vision for our lives. In the above example, the critical process is about being more organised at the everyday level, but underneath might be a deep value of the preciousness of life – that no moment should be wasted.
Not all critical processes are driven by deep passion though. Some are protective rather than passionate (I’ll write about them in Part 5) and try to keep us small and inconspicuous in our own lives. Others are simply out to kill us, but ironically hold within them an opportunity for profound transformation (more about them in Part 6).
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