Working-With-the-Inner-Critic

Healing From Trauma: Working With the Inner Critic

For those who have experienced trauma, especially early childhood attachment trauma, self-criticism and even self-hatred is a common characteristic. Healing from trauma requires addressing this inner critic, because otherwise, toxic shame and judgement will continue to cycle.

While a part of a person’s past trauma may have been caused by others making that individual feel bad, unworthy, imperfect, or different, a strong inner critic voice can develop in afterwards that takes over that role.

This, more often than not, happens more frequently with early childhood attachment trauma, because while the child has no other reference to what is normal, they end up internalize all of the messages given to them from others.  

Thus, long after the trauma has passed, a person with trauma will continue to act in ways that limit or even self-sabotage themselves, because of these internalized voices and messages.

In the Internal Family Systems model of psychotherapy the internal voice that beats us up is called “The Inner Critic Part” of ourselves.  

Parts of Ourselves

One way to organize and understand how we feel and why we act a certain way throughout different areas in our lives is by becoming aware of the idea that we have multiple, different parts of ourselves.

This is actually really easy to understand, so let me give you an example: You’re driving home, it’s a hot day, you didn’t eat lunch, but now you have some time and can pick up something quick and easy to eat. You come to the realization that you will be passing a McDonald’s and they have ice cream.

This begins a conversation in your head as the different parts of you try to make a decision. It can look something like this:

“Ice cream sounds so perfect right now!”

“You know you shouldn’t eat ice cream. It isn’t healthy and you are watching your weight.”

“Oh, but I don’t do this every day, and plus, I didn’t eat lunch so I can afford the calories.”

“You know it’s not just about the calories. Remember? It’s about healthy food choices not just calories.”

“Oh, but it would be so nice and I can already taste it! What a nice treat for myself!”

“You’re like a little kid. You’re never going to get anywhere on your weight loss.”

Inner Critic Parts After Trauma

After someone has experienced trauma, the inner critic doesn’t stop at just being our inner dialogue. Prior unresolved trauma will quickly turn the  general messages about self-worth and promote the toxic shame.

  • “You are lazy and useless.”
  • “You never do anything right.”
  • A person who has a history of early childhood attachment trauma, their inner critic will take a simple mistake that was made and turn it into, “You are the mistake!”

Rather than being able to recognize, “I acted in a mean way to somebody,” it gets turned into “You’re worthless and will never deserve or be able to be in a happy and loving relationship.”

The Inner Critic Hates the Sensitive and Childlike Part of Ourselves

A person who has had early childhood attachment trauma, their inner critic is especially judgmental towards that individual’s childlike parts of themselves, because their emotional development got stuck.

When situations in life trigger that little child to feel scared, this inner child part goes into self-protective mode. It can convince that individual to do things that can feel very immature.  

These are times that the inner critic comes out in full force to criticize and judge! There is so much judgement! It criticizes both the childlike insecure feelings (“Stop feeling that way!”) and the immature actions.

This harsh criticism from the inner critic to the inner hurting child is intended to shut the child down and keep them from having a voice.

After all, the inner critic believes that if the inner child starts to run the show, their life will fall apart because of both the intensity of (painful) emotions that will come up from the past, as well as the immature way the child can live life.

Our Response to Self-Criticism

We can tend to develop a love-hate relationship with our inner critic!

There are times where we can feel so beaten down that we talk back to that inner critical voice and will do anything  just to make it shut up for even just a moment!

However, when a person who has attachment trauma feels that their life, relationships, or emotions are even just a little out of control they will rely on the inner critic to pull things back together.

When people talk about “Will-power,” the inner critic is usually what they are referencing.

They aren’t able to make a change in their life until they have enough self-criticism and self-hatred from the inner critic to push their inner child back down into a locked dungeon.

Extremes Between Self-Criticism and Self-Indulgence

The process of healing from early childhood attachment trauma requires becoming acquainted with both of these parts of ourselves: the inner critic and the wounded child.

Until both of these parts have a voice and feel seen, heard, and understood, the inner critic and the wounded child will continue to try to control all of one’s self.

The seat of control gets taken back and forth between these two parts in a reactionary way.

The more vulnerable and anxious a person’s inner child becomes triggered, the more it will take over and run-a-muck, which will result in the inner critic finally overpowering the inner child by shaming it into submission. This continues until we physically and emotionally cannot go on with such self-criticism.

Our emotions and actions follow these extremes between the self-criticism of the inner critic and the self-indulgence of the inner wounded child.

Parts and Healing From Trauma

Healing from trauma is the process of coming out of living in these extremes and being able to be comfortable and happy with stability.  

We will learn to have both compassion and boundaries for ourselves. We make changes in our lives because of love rather than hatred for ourselves.

Types of Inner Critics

  • Perfectionist
  • Molder
  • Guilt-Tripper
  • Underminer
  • Taskmaster
  • Controller
  • Destroyer

Descriptions of the Different Types of Inner Critics

Perfectionist Inner Critic:

The Perfectionist Inner Critic believes that if it can always make you do the perfect, best, and right thing you will avoid criticism, judgement, and rejection from others.  

It is constant messages of “That’s not good enough. You have be perfect and make it look easy.”

We don’t often know what the perfect or what the best thing is to do. Those with a history of early childhood attachment trauma can feel like they don’t even know what normal is, let alone perfect!

So, this Perfectionist Inner Critic often results in paralysis and/or procrastination in life. While initially it causes anxiety as a person is driven to perfectionism, this constant sense of failure becomes exhausting, and it can lead to general fatigue, depression, and a case of the I-don’t-care-anymore syndrome.

The Perfectionist Inner Critic can also be the internalized voice of a parent who had perfectionist tendencies. Parents with perfectionist tendencies cause the child to feel like they always have to look good for others.

In its defense, the perfectionist inner critic cares about you and is just trying to protect you from the criticism of others!  

Molder:

The Molder Inner Critic is similar to the Perfectionist Inner Critic, because it also believes that if you can just appear, think, and do things in the correct or normal way, people will accept and love you.

The Molder Inner Critic wants to mold you into what it thinks other people want and would like.

It is constantly assessing the people around you and trying to figure out who they are and what they want so that it will know how to mold you into something the people will approve of and like.

The end result of the Molder Inner Critic is to have no sense of who you are and what you like. Your Molder Inner Critic has turned you into everybody else. So much so, that you are disconnected from your own feelings, wants and desires, just so that you can be seen as normal and be loved.  

In its defense, the Molder Inner Critic really cares about you and thinks it’s setting you up so that you will belong and be safe with other people.  

Guilt-Tripper:

A Guilt-Tripper Inner Critic is almost always present after experiencing early childhood attachment trauma. It becomes the voice of what you heard from the world (aka your primary caregiver) during your early life.

The messages of the Guilt-Tripper Inner Critic are ones that will tell you, “You are bad. You don’t deserve good things.”

This is exactly the message that’s internalized by an infant and a young child when their parent/primary caregiver is not able to emotionally attune and regulate them.  

Regardless of whether this message was expressed verbally later on in life by a parent (or another person) or earlier in a child’s life, this message is internalized at one’s core as truth when there is inadequate healthy emotional connection between a parent and their infant in the first 12 months of life.  

In its defense, the Guilt-Tripper Inner Critic is trying to protect you from rejection. It believes that if it can keep you from expecting good things out of life and from other people, you will not feel hurt or rejected when good things don’t happen.

Controller:

The Controller Inner Critic is similar to the Guilt-Tripper Inner Critic, because of it makes you feel bad about who you are and your small, everyday choices.

However, the Controller Inner Critic responds to your body and what you eat and drink. It often gives you the message, “You’re disgusting.”

The Controller Inner Critic doesn’t stop there though, it also takes the smallest things you do and tries to control everything in your life. For example: How you answer the phone, how you shake someone’s hand when you first meet, even how much time you spend in a store. Simple things to more complicated areas in your life are being deeply influenced by this critic.  

The Controller Inner Critic can be the internalized voice of a parent who had controlling tendencies. Parents with controlling tendencies cause the child to always be on guard and become very self-conscious about everything they do. Often the child will try to catch things they need to change before their parents notice it.

In its defense, the Controller Inner Critic is also doing what it thinks will help you to be accepted and loved by other people.  

Underminer:

An Underminer Inner Critic is also similar in its message and attempts to protect you as the Guilt-Tripper Inner Critic.  

The Underminer Inner Critic specifically tries to keep you from trying new things, advancing in life, and following your dreams.

The Underminer Inner Critic gives messages of “You can’t do that.” Yes, it prevents success, but it also avoids failure and rejection.

In its defense, the Underminer Inner Critic attempts to keep you from taking risks, which might result in failure and could bring criticism, judgement, and rejection from other people. It tells you, “You can’t” in order to protect you, because it knows how awful it feels when you’re already hurting inner child feels rejected.

Taskmaster:

The Taskmaster Inner Critic is one that pushes you to always work harder. It doesn’t want you to rest or take time for yourself!

The Taskmaster Inner Critic can drive us to become workaholics, excessive exercisers, or take on any project in an addictive manner. No matter how hard you work at something, it feels like it’s never enough.

The Taskmaster Inner Critic can be the internalized voice of a parent who had Type A personalities and constantly pushed their children to do and accomplish more. Parents with these tendencies cause their child to always need to be “on,” never feeling like they can just relax or just play.

In its defense, the Taskmaster Inner Critic thinks that if it didn’t continually push you to work that you would always play and wouldn’t be able get anything done. It’s doing what it thinks is best to help you succeed in life and relationships.

Destroyer:

The Destroyer Inner Critic is the harshest of all the types of inner critics. It’s especially prominent in children with more severe Attachment Disorder.

The Destroyer Inner Critic is one that tells you, “You don’t have a right to even exist.”  

The Destroyer Inner Critic tries to crush your life force. This can result in suicidal ideation, but often times, it results in a self-hatred that leads to punishment and self-harm.  

The message that “You don’t have a right to exist” is internalized by an infant when there is emotional or physical neglect from a parent. This is perhaps why neglect leads to more severe Attachment Disorder than abuse, because the internalized message from abuse is, “You don’t deserve to be treated well,” whereas the internalized message from neglect is, “You don’t have a right to exist.”

In its defense, Destroyer Inner Critic is also a protective part. It believes that it will be less painful if it destroys you and you inner “weak” child, so that you don’t experience the rejection and abandonment from others that it believes is inevitable.

Summary

Whether you experienced early childhood attachment trauma or not, you all have parts of ourselves.  

Early childhood attachment trauma will cause certain protector parts to over-develop, giving messages of our self-worth throughout our childhood and adulthood life.  

In fact, the amount and the strength of the protector parts, as well as the content of their messages can give us clues into your early childhood of which you won’t have any explicit memory of.

Healing from trauma is the process of getting to know ourselves and our parts, especially these strong protector parts who can be very reactive and self-sabotaging.  

Just as with our hurting inner child, in order to heal ourselves it’s imperative that we come to understand and have compassion for our inner protector critics, because their motivations are to keep us safe and protect us. Hatred and judgement for any parts of ourselves will only lead us further down the toxic path of shame and disconnection from ourselves and others.

 

Self-Reflection Questions:

Do you have an active inner critic in your brain?

Which types of inner critics do you identify as parts of yourself?

What have been their messages?

Can you understand and appreciate them for how they have tried to protect you?  

 

Encouraging you on,

Dr. Aimie

 

References:

Bonnie Weiss (2011).  Illustrated Workbook for Self-Therapy for Your Inner Critic: Transforming Self-Criticism into Self-Confidence.  Pattern Systems Books, Larkspur CA.

Related: How To Be A Parent Who Can Heal Their Child

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field