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Who Am I? (Part 5): A Conversation Between Me and My Inner Critic

In Part 4 of this series, we learned about what is meant by the Self as described by Internal Family Systems (IFS). If you recall, using the symphony analogy, the Self was compared to the conductor, the wise and guiding force that directs and harmonizes the orchestra of your inner world.

Your Self (aka, your inner knowing, core, true nature) is what allows you to get to know your parts, understand them, and ultimately make peace with them so you can live in a wholehearted, aligned, authentic manner. You feel less fragile in the world, the world feels like less of a threatening place, and your sense of stability, balance, and agency abound. When acting from Self, you are calm, curious, compassionate, connected, courageous, creative, clear, and confident.

As we continue our work here, I'd like to share with you a conversation between me and my inner critic, so you can see what it looks like to meet a part, from Self. This is an ongoing practice for me, much like meditation. But it's a practice that goes deeper. When I feel a specific emotion, notice a body sensation or energy shift, or observe a thought that feels activating or triggering in some way, I turn toward it, much like a compassionate detective. This is different from meditation in that we're moving beyond non-judgmental awareness to non-judgmental acceptance and then appreciation.

Awareness is noticing or observing. It sounds like " I see this." Acceptance is something altogether different, yet it requires awareness. Acceptance is an active acknowledgement of the reality of the situation, but it's still without judgement. Acceptance is not the same as acquiescence, which feels like giving up and has a passive quality to it. Instead, it's courageously active, as it gives us a sense of unveiling, like that of pulling our heads out of the sand, to see the situation for what it is. No judgement, just the truth. Importantly, you don't have to like it, but if you can notice even a small amount of curiosity about it, your heart will open to the next step. It sounds like, "I see this for what it is."" Appreciation, then, is acceptance expanded, where we take the truth and actively integrate it for the purpose of processing and digesting it. It sounds like, " I see this for what it is, and I will turn toward it with compassion and curiosity, so I may learn from it."

In a recent conversation with a part of me, the Critic, you will see the shift from awareness, to acceptance, to appreciation, and beyond. I will share my personal process but please know I have a lot of experience accessing Self, and what I might encounter while facilitating an interaction with a client and their parts might look different and take a bit more time.

This conversation was initiated after I noticed a thought rush into my mind when I received a notification that my husband had changed his Facebook profile photo. This thought was, "How bad do I look?!"

When I flipped to see what photo he had chosen, the thought that zoomed in, landing with a thud in my mind was, "Your legs look fat!""

Awareness: observing that the thoughts were present/that a part was present.

Now, what most people might do at this point is believe the thoughts of that part showing up, prompting a sense of shame and unworthiness (another vulnerable part being triggered), which might then prompt a behavior designed to protect from feeling those waves of vulnerable emotions(a firefighter part there to put out the flames of emotion that threaten to consume us). This was often the sequence of events that occurred for me, the firefighter part driving food restriction and overexercising behaviors. There was no separation between Self and these parts. As you understand now, however, the various parts of us have different intentions, agendas, beliefs, and emotions, and will prompt specific behaviors, often destructive or dysfunctional in nature, but firmly believing they are doing what's necessary, because of a lack of Self presence.

Knowing that I have a Self (aka, my inner knowing, my core, my heart), separate from my parts (we all do), however, I am able to turn toward that part (the Critic) and let it know I'm there. Assessing for acceptance (or otherwise), I asked myself how I felt about the Critic. What arose was a sense of interest, compassion, and connectedness with it. I know it well. In that moment, the sense of calm I felt toward it was my acceptance indicator. If instead, I noticed a tightness in my throat or a thought like, "I hate it!", then I would know there was another part (not Self) present. The Self, remember, is pure, accepting, and non-judgmental. In my case, with Self-energy present, I could begin a process of friendly conversation.

Acceptance: the reality of the situation is that a part of me showed up with thoughts regarding my body

Please note, this is for illustrative purposes only. It might look very different for you, especially if you are new to this work and are just learning to access your Self-energy.

Kori: I hear you loud and clear. What do you need me to know?
Critic: If you are fat you will be rejected and labeled as illegitimate. Remember what happened with Aaron? He criticized you for not being more in shape.
Kori: I understand your concerns.
Critic: It was horrible!
Kori: Yes, it was. It was very hurtful what happened, being criticized for not looking the part.
Critic: I won't let that happen again!
Kori: I know you're working hard to protect me from feeling so small and vulnerable, invalid, and unworthy. But I need you to know that when that happened, I didn't have the skills to meet the moment differently. Now, I do. I can lead us down a wiser path. I can also do the protecting of that part of me that carries the pain of that rejection, so you don't have to anymore. Would you like that? To be able to relax and not have to work so hard? To be able to do something else?
Critic: Yes, I would. I want to.
Kori: I understand. You've been doing this job for a really long time, and I have noticed that you've relaxed over time. If I continue working toward healing the part that you're protecting, show you that it's possible, would you give me the chance?
Critic: Yes.
Kori: Thank you. I don't want you to go away, but if you can give me some space, I can work with the younger, vulnerable part that's carrying the fear and the pain of rejection.

Note the point at which appreciation was present: when I expressed gratitude toward the Critic for protecting me from feeling small and unworthy. The Critic is the gatekeeper of the wounded part that carries the suffering from the incident of reference that occurred in my past. In short, when I was in college, the boy I had a crush on my freshman year had asked me what I was majoring in. When I had shared with him excitedly that I has chosen exercise physiology as my major, his reply was, "Aren't exercise physiologists supposed to be in better shape?"

This is just a snippet of what it might sound like when I go inside and get to know the parts of my inner world. I have instant access these days to the part of me that was wounded, without needing to spend as much time validating the protective Critic. We have a Self-to-part relationship that is strong and trusting, and it easily backs off because it knows I will show up for it and lead us. As for the part that was wounded, I've spent a lot of time with her too, and she's been able to release much of what she was carrying-- the burdens of pain, unworthiness, and invalidness. She lives inside of me with a more carefree spirit. In the language of IFS, with me to guide and care for her, she has been able to transform into her naturally valuable state, embracing spontaneity, levity, and playfulness. Below is what I imagine her like, inside of me (left photo). And you can see her coming through today (right photo) because she asked to be with me, by my side. I promised I would not leave her, that I would always take care of her.

When the critic shows up, I gently remind that part of me that the younger part it developed to protect is happy, free, and safe.

A little girl riding a toy pony and a woman riding a bike

For Your Practice:

In a world inundated with societal pressures and unrealistic beauty standards, many of us hear an inner critic that is quite relentless, admonishing us for not meeting society's standards of beauty, urging us to be thinner and pointing out perceived flaws in specific areas. What most of us have been told to do with this critic is fight back, banish it, beat it into submission. But if you're like me and 99.99999% of people I work with, this approach hasn't been effective! What we need instead is to meet the critic with Self-energy and foster understanding and compassion towards it so we can truly get to know its intentions, the reasons it's doing what it's doing, and what it's protecting!

Understanding the Critical Part:

This critical part that berates our bodies and appearance, eating, or food choices often emerges as a protective mechanism. Its intentions are rooted in a desire to shield us from potential rejection, criticism, or perceived inadequacy. By perpetuating an environment of internal demands and critique, it aims to motivate us to conform, hoping to ensure that we will be accepted, valued, and feel a sense of belonging.

Meeting the Critical Part with Self-energy:

  1. Cultivating Self-Compassion: Recognize that the critical part within is ultimately trying to protect and guide you, albeit in a flawed manner. Approach it with compassion, acknowledging its presence and the underlying fears or insecurities it carries. Bring kindness and gentleness as you engage with this part.

  2. Active Listening and Dialogue: Create a safe space for open dialogue with the critical part. Set aside time in your journaling practice to allow it to express its concerns, fears, and intentions. Ask questions and actively listen to its voice without judgment. Seek to understand the deeper reasons behind its critical messages.

  3. Identify Patterns: Observe the situations, environments, or other outside circumstances that amplify the critical part's voice. Then do the same for your internal world. Awareness of both your internal and external worlds can help you recognize when the part becomes activated and the part of you that it seeks to keep hidden.

It may not be the inner critic part that you're most interested in getting to know. That's okay! What part of you do you feel curious toward? Start there.

Please share what you're learning through this blog series! Leave a comment below and share with a friend who could benefit.


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Great article, Kori. I know the patterns and now have to be kind and gentle with the critic and give it a safe space for “conversation.”

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That's right!! I know what the critic shares can be unpleasant, and like any human you're in relationship with, approaching them with a larger perspective will help to understand why they may be behaving the way they are. Think of the critic like a little kiddo who says, "I hate you!" or "You're so dumb!" because they don't have more skills to say something different! :)

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