One of the things that every good trauma counsellor has identified about people with C-PTSD (which remember, could well be most of us in 2017) is that they have a very strident, aggressive and unforgiving ‘inner critic’.
According to the more enlightened Western psychologists like Pete Walker (because the less enlightened ones are still peddling the myth that severe emotional problems are caused by chemical imbalances, and not reactions to severe trauma), this is how that poisonous ‘inner critic’ came about:
(The following is taken from Pete Walker’s website. Click HERE to see the full article):
Psychogenesis of the PTSD Critic
A flashback-inducing critic is typically spawned in a danger-laden childhood home.
When parents do not provide safe enough bonding and attachment, the child flounders in abandonment fear and depression.
Many children appear to be hard-wired to adapt to this endangering abandonment with perfectionism. This is true for both the passive abandonment of neglect and the active abandonment of abuse.
A prevailing climate of danger forces the maturing superego to cultivate the various psychodynamics of perfectionism and endangerment... When anxious perfectionist efforting, however, fails over and over to render the parents safe and loving, the inner critic becomes increasingly hyper-vigilant and hostile in its striving to ferret out the shortcomings that seemingly alienate the parents.
To put this into plainer English, Walker is describing that when a child doesn’t have the sort of ‘good enough’ emotionally-available parenting we described back in THIS POST, they are overwhelmed by internal fears, not least of which is the fear that they must have done something awful for their parent(s) to be ignoring them and / or maltreating them in this way.
If this situation continues for any length of time, the child tries to figure out what they’ve done to alienate the parents and / or make them so hostile, and comes up with the simplistic solution that if they can manage to be ‘perfect’, and to keep the parent happy at all costs, then the parents will notice them, love them and what them around.
Very quickly, this morphs into a hyper-vigilant ‘inner critic’ that is scared stiff of the dangerous consequences of failing to ‘be perfect’ or failing to ‘please’, which starts to berate the poor traumatized person day and night for their supposed shortcomings, failings and terrible flaws.
This ‘beating myself up and hating myself’ reflex is probably the single biggest source of suffering and pain that a person with C-PTSD experiences. While you can eventually shut out and remove external sources of criticism, hatred and contempt, when you’re carrying your own worst enemy around with you in your head, your suffering truly knows no bounds.
Now, this ‘inner critic’ is not a new concept for believing Jews; we’ve known for a long time that God created each and every one of us with an evil inclination whose main job in the world is to try and trip us up, depress us and really, plain just kill us. We also know that if God didn’t help us to deal with it, that’s exactly what it’d do to us!
But what’s interesting here is that the more enlightened branches of Western psychology are starting to figure out the physiology of the evil inclination.
Again, to put it in very simple terms, when a person grows up in a dangerously abusive and / or chronically neglectful home, their innate evil inclination is strengthened tremendously. Judaism teaches that a person doesn’t even get their counter-balancing ‘inclination for good’ until they reach the ages of 12, for a girl, or 13 for a boy.
So who is meant to be ‘balancing’ the child’s evil inclination up until this point? Answer: the parents!
But when that doesn’t happen, for whatever reasons, then the evil inclination’s hand is strengthened tremendously, and it can begin to run amok.
So, how can we start to tackle and overcome the ‘inner critic’?
Here’s my suggestions:
1. Educate yourself about what’s really causing your perfectionism and unreasonable self-anger, self-hatred and self-criticism. Even just taking notice of the voice of the ‘inner critic’ and tuning in to what it’s actually saying is a huge step forward. (You may want to write its nasty putdowns and criticisms down, especially at the beginning.)
2. Make a practice of relating to yourself with enormous heapings of self-compassion. The reason you feel so bad when you make mistakes, or when you don’t manage to be perfect, or when you do something wrong is because you’re a traumatized person with C-PTSD! So cut yourself some slack, and be kind to yourself. You’ve suffered enough from unreasonably harsh, unfair judgments.
3. Accept yourself unconditionally. This doesn’t mean that you can’t identify things to work on and improve (see the next point), but it does mean that you stop telling yourself that you’ll only be happy with yourself when you’ve achieved X. This is a lie that your inner critic is telling you, to keep you running after impossible perfection, and to keep you feeling bad that you haven’t yet achieved it.
4. Move away from making global statements about yourself as a person, to judging your individual actions and deed. No more calling yourself ‘retarded’, or ‘worthless’, or ‘useless’, or telling yourself that ‘you’ll never amount to much’ - or whatever phrases your own inner critic likes to use. Instead, examine your thoughts,actions and words over the last 24 hours on a case-by-case basis, to see if they were appropriate and reasonable, or require some improvement.
5. Don’t be scared to apologise to your spouses and children, if you discover you over-reacted about something. This is useful for two reasons: first, it starts to dismantle the unhelpful ‘perfection’ edifice that’s been built around you since your childhood, and that almost certainly is keeping the people you most love away from you. And secondly, admitting your faults in a healthy way is one of the single best things you can model to your kids, if you want them to grow up with good self-esteem
6. Talk to God for a fixed period of time every day (ideally up to an hour). The ‘inner critic’ is hardwired into the stress response that is housed in your lower, or ‘primitive’ brain. When you talk to God on a regular basis, you strengthen your frontal lobes, which is the part of the brain that can put the brakes on your knee-jerk ‘stress response’ reactions.
The stronger and healthier your frontal lobes are, the more your innate humanity and ‘higher self’ can shine through, and start to control your stress-response reactions, including the inner critic / evil inclination.
All of these six points can and should be examined and worked on regularly in your daily talking to God sessions.
The last thing to say is that the inner critic will never 100% disappear, because it’s a function of being a human being. Again, this is where even very enlightened psychologists like Pete Walker are missing a crucial piece of the puzzle, because while a traumatic upbringing certainly strengthens the hand of the inner critic, it didn’t bring it into being.
God did that.
So that we’d have the challenge of fighting it, and ultimately overcoming it. He knew that we need the ‘grit’ provided by the evil inclination / inner critic to really produce our spiritual pearls in life, and to truly become the amazing people we are destined to be.
So please, don’t set yourself an unreasonable goal of permanently conquering the inner critic, because I’m telling you now it’s doomed to fail. For now, we’re focusing on recognizing the voice of the inner critic, and choosing against all its perfectionism, criticism, self-contempt and blame-and-shame tactics to treat ourselves - and others - with more self-compassion and acceptance.
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