How to Manage your Inner Critic, Access your Authentic Self and Resolve Internal Conflicts
As a young psychotherapist, my mentors told me that I was one of the most talented counselors they had seen. Even though I was successful in my career, self-doubt made me feel insecure inside. I hid it well. I looked strong and competent, and to a degree I was. But when intimate relationships teetered, I didn’t feel grounded and my faith felt shallow. My body ached from muscular tension and GI tract problems plagued me.
I began a deeper exploration of my childhood development that shaped my self-concept. I asked myself: Who am I really? Who is my Authentic Self? With whom have I identified that is not the real me?
My mentors introduced me to Internal Family Systems theory. In this model, we each have several inner family members. I began to notice internal conversations that had previously been outside my conscious awareness. These inner dialogues were causing low self-esteem and difficulties in relationships.
I was overly identified with my Critical Parent and my Adapted Child.
Who I am … my Authentic Self … is different than these inner family members, but I didn’t know it at the time. Their voices were so loud in my head.
1. My inner Critical Parent told my Adapted Child: “You’re not good enough. You’re stupid.” He cracked the whip relentlessly, telling me to do more, faster, and better. He gave me commands such as, “You should be smart. Look beautiful. Be polite and poised. Be perfect. Try harder even when you’re exhausted.”
My mentors helped me identify these messages that came from my mother and father when I was a child. The messages were still unconsciously running my mind, like a computer program operates your laptop.
2. My inner Adapted Child complied with my Critical Parent’s orders. Being a good girl and pleasing people was the best way to earn the strokes she desperately needed. But she didn’t feel loved if she didn’t perform well. My Adapted Child manipulated people’s impressions of her to gain acceptance and recognition. Hiding her insecurity, she jumped through hoops and turned herself into a pretzel to be what she thought others wanted her to be. On the inside, stress grew until she collapsed in exhaustion, and then she got depressed. Her body ached from all the stress. Then the Critical Parent harped at her to get up and stop wallowing in self-pity. She complied and the whole cycle started over again.
Childhood issues carry into adulthood.
I didn’t feel enough emotional warmth or physical affection from my mother or father, and as a result I didn’t learn how to love myself very well. For years I longed for nurturance from my father. As an adult, I was obsessed with having a romantic relationship because society told me that would make me happy and fill the void inside. That never worked for long.
When I was in my mid-forties, it became clear that I needed to generate emotional intimacy within my self instead of waiting for a man to provide it for me.
I used inner voice dialogue to help develop self-love along with praying for God’s guidance. I strengthened the dialogues between my inner Nurturing Parent, my inner wise Adult and my inner Free Child.
3. My Nurturing Parent loves unconditionally. She adores me and cherishes me when I am successful and when I fail. She affirms me and gives me compliments. She’s my biggest cheerleader.
4. My Adult non-judgmentally observes all my internal family members. She monitors their conversations with each other, or lack thereof. She notices when internal and external relationships are amiss. She’s a wise sage who pierces through illusions and delusions.
5. My Free Child is playful, creative, intuitive, imaginative, witty and full of life force energy. My Free Child comes out to play when she feels safe with people she trusts. She’s the creativity in my poetry. She’s the sparkle in my eyes. She’s the empath who cries when people ache.
My Inner Free Child hides for two reasons.
(a) When my Critical Parent insists on being productive and my Adapted Child complies, there’s no time for play. The Critical Parents says, “Work hard. That’s how we get ahead in life.” There’s no time to relax and regenerate.
(b) When my Free Child feels threatened by conflict, she disappears into her turtle shell for safe-keeping. Scared and tense inside, my whole body loses energy and vitality.
Adults who were traumatized as children often withdraw to protect themselves.
Hiding my real self when I felt vulnerable was a smart survival strategy to keep myself safe as child. But if I didn’t learn skills to stay connected with my Authentic Self and manage conflict, I would never develop healthy relationships or stand up for myself or free-up my creativity.
I needed to learn how to self-soothe, assert myself wisely, set boundaries, and return myself to a zone of resilience where I felt centered and whole.
My Nurturing Parent (NP) and my Adult became the Guardian for my Inner Children and stood up to my Critical Parent and said:
NP: You’ve been running the show all our life. You think work and discipline are king. Rest and relaxation are also important. Eight hours of quality sleep are vital and so is play, recreation and exercise. Afternoon meditations help my body feel much better.
If we don’t feel rested, it’s hard to experience high quality of life.
Your driven work ethic has caused physical pain, injuries and chronic muscle pain. You don’t think we have time to stretch and exercise and that creates more distress in our body. That’s not OK any more. Health and vitality are essential. You don’t get to rule our inner family any more. I want you to listen to me and to the rest of us in our inner family. You are being a bully. You’re hurting us. Do you know that?
Critical Parent (CP): Wow, I’ve never heard you speak so strongly. I’m shocked. You’ve got my attention. I’m willing to listen.
Nurturing Parent and Adult: Good! Thank you for listening. First of all, we need to create balance in our life. Would you be willing to agree to make health a top priority instead of work, work, work? Are you willing to listen to all our needs and make wiser decisions?
Critical Parent: Yes, I’m willing to listen and make health a top priority. But it will be hard for me because I am very attached to working. I agree to listen to you and take you seriously instead of dismissing you. Will you help me by reminding me that other things are important, too?
Nurturing Parent and Adult: Yes. Thank you for being willing to work as a team. That’s a good start. We will remind you in the future to back off when you get obsessive about work. Promise to listen to us?
Critical Parent: OK, OK. I’m crying “uncle.”
Nurturing Parent and Adult: Good. Taking a deep breath … For starters, we are going to meditate ½ hour every afternoon or take a nap whenever we feel tense and need to regain energy. No more pressing through the pain because work is more important. We will get the work done and feel good in the process, OK? You might not be happy because the work won’t get done as fast as you think it should. You’re going to have to be more accepting of things getting done a little slower. A half hour or an hour slower. We promise you that we’ll be even more creative and smart. And we’ll be much healthier as we age. We’ll have more joy and vitality. We’re not just looking at the present, but toward our future. Can you get on board with us here?
Critical Parent: Makes good sense to me. I’ll support you in this.
Nurturing Parent and Adult: OK, good. Don’t give us a hard time when we tell you it’s time to meditate or take a nap or exercise. We’re writing meditation and exercise into our daily schedule.
Critical Parent: OK, I can use my task-master propensity in a positive way … to make sure we take time to rest and create health and a sense of well-being.
I hope this example is helpful for you. Your Critical Parent might not cry uncle so quickly. You may need to dialogue longer. We often need to ask the Critical Parent to step back so the other voices can be heard.
We all have our challenges. None of us is perfect. When we engage in inner voice dialogues with all of our internal family members, we can examine the coping strategies we have used since childhood that may not serve us well as adults. We can uncover who we really are … our Authentic Self. We can calm our bodies and manage our emotions better. We can make wiser choices. A rich internal relationship develops when all of our inner family members are willing to listen to each other and make compromises that benefit the whole system.
If you’re wondering how this fits into your spiritual life: In my opinion, the combination of the evolved wise Adult, the Nurturing Parent and the inner Child comprise our Authentic Self, our spirit. It reflects the spirit of God that lives inside of us.
Now It’s Your Turn
I’m hoping you’re inspired by my example. Write your own inner voice dialogue to sort out conflicts and access wisdom from your Authentic Self.
1. Schedule time for your Inner Voice Dialogue every morning or night. Keep the date with yourself. You deserve this time. Get quiet. Breathe. Play relaxing music.
2. Notice your thoughts and feelings. Are there any conflicts?
What’s upsetting you? If nothing, that’s ok.Focus on what you appreciate. Write about that. See where it goes.
3. Ask yourself, “What does each family member want to say and to whom? Check in with all your parts …
You might also have a Rebellious Child or Adolescent.
Or maybe you want to dialogue with God or your Spirit. Ask: “What do you want to tell me regarding this situation?”
“How would you have me respond to a certain situation or person?”
4. Write the dialogue, word for word as it occurs to you. Don’t censor it. Don’t be concerned if you are doing it right. Just write from stream of consciousness.
5. After you’re finished writing, review the dialogue. Does it sound wise and loving? If not, edit it. Ask a trusted friend if it sounds wise and loving.
5. Choose at least one specific action step. Write it on your schedule. Keep the promise to yourself.
Inner Voice Dialogue is one way you can create core shifts in your life pattern and get to know your Authentic Self. One step at a time. Day after day. I recommend you journal for 60 days to learn this method. You will enjoy richer emotional and spiritual intimacy within yourself, with others and with God.
Looking for a Mentor?
This short article can’t cover all that I’d like to say about this method. If you are interested, please ask for coaching or counseling, or attend one of my intensive retreats.
Your Authentic Life Retreat: Young Harris, Georgia
Deep Emotional Healing Retreat Young Harris, Georgia. Note prerequisites: 3 private sessions.
Note: Inner family members are not the same as multiple personalities that are experienced in dissociative identity disorder (DID, formerly known as multiple personality disorder).
Author: Benita A. Esposito, MA, LPC, LCMHC
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