parts work

Making Friends With Your Inner Critic Can Ease Your Anxiety

When you make a mistake, are you overly critical? Do you blame yourself for even the smallest mistakes? That’s your Inner Critic talking. It’s the part of you that wants to point out your faults, to warn you about your potential mistakes in the future and remind you of all your mistakes in the past. It’s the part that expects perfection and won’t accept anything less. It’s the part that believes it can read other people’s minds to know what they’re thinking and feeling about you. Focusing all your attention on your Inner Critic can make you feel really terrible.

Why Do We Believe Our Inner Critic?

On this week’s Woman Worriers podcast, I spoke with Michelle Richardson about Internal Family Systems (IFS), or “parts,” model of therapy. She explained that IFS is based on the idea that each of us has many different parts inside us and they all serve a purpose, although sometimes it’s difficult to figure out just what that purpose is. 

Why do we bully ourselves?

Why do we bully ourselves?

So, why are some parts of us so mean and unforgiving? We all have an Inner Critic, but for some of us that critical part is much louder and meaner than it is for others. A loud Inner Critic can make you feel anxious or depressed by telling you that you aren’t living up to others’ expectations. I doubt you would ever be that hard on a friend or family member—or anyone other than yourself. 

Many people believe that without their Inner Critic, they’d never get anything done. It’s the part that always reminds them of the things they didn’t do. The reality is, bullying doesn’t make you more productive. In fact, research shows that bullying in the workplace lowers productivity and increases depressive symptoms. Research has also shown that self-criticism goes hand in hand with social phobias and depression. Self-criticism also seems to increase the severity of combat-related post traumatic stress disorder  (PTSD), eating disorders and body image issues.

What’s The Purpose Of Our Inner Critic?

So, if our Inner Critic leaves us feeling bad about ourselves and increases the risk of some mental health disorders, can we learn anything from listening to that part of ourselves? Is it possible that the critical part of you come from a place of good intent?

If you approach the Inner Critic from the IFS model, you begin to understand that your critical part is working really hard to protect you from harm. It says all those mean things with the best intentions. It truly believes that it’s helping you.

So how do we get the Inner Critic to quiet down? To be less critical?

Tune In, Get Curious, And Be Compassionate

Tune in. The first step is to really tune into the Inner Critic. Try to draw a mental image of, or actually draw, that part of you. How old does it feel? What does it look like? Does it sound familiar—like a person from your past, a parent or an ex-partner—or like someone currently in your life?

Get curious. As you begin to have a clearer picture of that critical part, the next step is to start noticing, without judgment, how often it shows up. Does it chime in when you make mistakes or when it worries about being judged? Does it tell you to avoid new places and situations? How often is it present? Does it show up once in awhile, or is it a constant stream of negativity?

Ask some questions. You might notice that the critical part hangs around a lot, especially if you’re feeling anxious or depressed. The next time you hear your Inner Critic, here are some questions you can ask to help find out more about it:

  •   “What does my Inner Critic need me to know?”

  • “What is my Inner Critic afraid might happen?”

  • “Is there another part that’s showing up?”

You can also explore your parts with creativity too. In episode 55 of the Woman Worriers podcast I talked with Jennifer Wolfe-Hagstrom about using SoulCollage® to explore all of your parts.

Love all your parts

Love all your parts

Use compassion and curiosity. As you take time to listen, see if you can be compassionate, present and curious. Would you like to ask that part some other questions? Each time your critical part answers a question, let your Inner Critic know that you heard what it said.

You’ll probably learn that your critical part is reacting from deep-seated fears. It’s trying to protect you from future harm. It wants to keep you safe. It wants to protect other parts of you from getting hurt. When you learn that the critical part wants to protect you and your wounded parts, you may feel less likely to tell it to shut up and leave you alone. You might even begin to feel some compassion for the critical part because it’s always responding from fear, and it works really hard.

Listen and respond. As you become more familiar with when and how your critical parts show up, you can start responding differently. You can take a deep breath and say something like, “I hear you. I know you’re worried that I’ll make a mistake or get hurt by others. Thank you for worrying about me. Can you step aside while I decide what I’m going to do?” You’re telling that part that you hear it. With compassion, your more grounded self is asking your critical part to trust you to take care of it and all your other parts.

Talking to your Inner Critic takes a lot of practice. I bet that part has had your ear for a long, long time. With practice, you’ll find it’s easier to notice when it shows up and easier to get it to calm down as you try new things and maybe even have fun doing them!

 If you enjoyed this blog post and would like more insights into living with anxiety, tune into the Woman Worriers podcast. In each weekly 30-minute episode, host Elizabeth Cush, LCPC, and her guests explore living with anxiety, relationships, parenting, surviving trauma and other topics and offer insights into mindfulness, meditation and other helpful resources.

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md and she’s been featured in these major publications. Elizabeth helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual, online and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979 .

Embracing Your Anxious Parts

Listening To Your Anxious Parts Takes Practice

In my last post I talked about your parts — about when they show up and how they can make you feel, whether it’s anxious, depressed or like an angry or sad 16-year-old. I explained that your inner critic is often the most easily identifiable part, but that we have many parts that develop over our lifetime.

woman fragmented in mirror.jpg

Some of our parts are so hidden that it takes some time and practice to listen and hear what they have to say. Other parts feel so comfortable that it’s hard to distinguish the difference between them and our true selves — our everyday-showing-up selves. Yet, when they show up, we don’t feel genuine or truly connected in our relationships or with ourselves. We might feel like we’re responding from a much younger self or that, deep down, we don’t know who we are.

Recognizing and beginning to identify our parts can help us better understand who we are, how we feel and what we want and need in our lives, in our relationships and within.

Noticing Your Parts

Your parts often show up when strong feelings arise. By paying attention, you begin to notice that you have many different parts. You might hear them in the different messages you tell yourself. They may give you a general sense of uneasiness when life is difficult. Here’s an example:

You’ve decided to step out of your comfort zone and join a yoga class. Never having tried yoga, you’re feeling a little nervous, anxious and unsure of yourself. Below is a conversation that might go on in your head:

Voice One: “Good for me! I signed up for that class!”

Voice Two: “It’s about time. I should have done it six months ago instead of procrastinating! I might even be in shape by now if I’d started then.”

Voice Three: “Everyone is going to know I’ve never done yoga. They’re going to look at me and laugh. I just know it.”

Voice Four: “I should call and get my money back. I have no business being in a yoga class and it’s better to quit then to make a fool of myself.”

Voice Five: “Don’t be such a wuss! You’re always quitting before you even try!”

Voice Six: “Be quiet! Why am I making this so hard for myself? It’s a yoga class, not a dissertation!”

Each one of those voices in your head could be a different part, and they all believe they’re helping, guiding and offering quality advice. Unfortunately, instead they often leave us feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and unsure of what we want. 

Quieting The Inner Critic And Other Anxious Parts

woman journaling.jpg

If you pay attention, you begin recognizing the different parts that get triggered when you’re feeling uneasy, depressed or anxious. Journaling, or noting to yourself in an intentional way each time they arise, can help you identify when and where they show up.

Next time a part shows up, instead of telling it to be quiet or arguing with it, I want you to be curious about it. Ask that part, “What are your concerns, worries, or fears? What do you need me to know?” Take a moment to listen, with compassion.

Your inner critic might be worried that by putting yourself out there in new ways you’ll get hurt by others. So it wants to warn you, and keep you safe, but the only way it knows how to do that is by criticizing you.

Your part that wants to avoid, withdraw or submit might tell you to stay home. It worries that being around new people will open you up to their judgment. That part wants you to stay home and avoid anywhere there might be people you don’t know, because that will keep you safe from the uncomfortable feeling of being judged.

Your defensive angry part might yell at you for staying home or not engaging in new, different things. That part thinks that shaming you is the only get you to go out and do the things you say you want to do.

And your true self is overwhelmed, worrying and wondering whether you’re crazy to have all these voices in your head, which leave you feeling unsure about what you want, need and desire.

Listening To Your Self

When you begin to understand that your parts are reacting from deep-seated worries and fears, that they want to keep you safe and protect you, try offering them some compassion for working so hard. Try asking them to quiet their constant dialog, or to step back for a moment to allow you to assess what you really want.

Identifying and dialoging with your parts takes time and practice, because we either accept the messages as truth, or we try to ignore the parts altogether. As your parts feel heard, understood and welcomed, they’ll begin to quiet down. As they become less reactive and anxious, it will be easier to listen and really hear what your true self wants, needs and desires.

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photo by Mike Wilson  and by Aidan Meyer on Unsplash 

Listening To All The Anxious Parts of You

Your Anxious Parts

We all have parts of us that can get triggered when we’re in distress, especially if we’re feeling vulnerable. Lots of my clients tell me that the voices in their head make them anxious, stressed, depressed and feeling as if their brain never quiets. They report that the constant barrage of input leaves them exhausted at the end of the day.

connect to yourself

connect to yourself

These clients come to therapy to help them quiet the noise, to reduce their stress and to feel more connected with themselves. They also say that sometimes the things they tell themselves contradict each other. The confusing, conflicting self-talk leaves them feeling unsure about what they want or need and makes it really hard to connect with and show up as their true selves.

Your Inner Critic Isn’t Easing Your Anxiety

Most of my clients can easily identify the part that I call “the inner critic.” It’s the little (but sometimes quite loud) voice that points out when you make mistakes. Maybe it even calls you names when things don’t go well. For instance, my inner critic is quick to pile on the guilt when I’m worrying about not being a good enough mother, partner, friend, business owner… you name it. It tells me all the things I should have done differently.

My clients will often defend that voice, saying that it keeps them in line and makes them more conscientious about not making mistakes in the future. But they also say that the inner critic can make them feel “less than.” It leaves them constantly worrying and rethinking how things might have gone better, “if only they were… (you fill in the blank).”

The inner-critic part might sound a lot like a caregiver, parent or someone in your life who was critical of you when you were growing up. It’s often the loudest and easiest part to identify. However, it’s only one of many parts of you that can fuel your anxiety.

I Felt Like An Anxious 16-year-old

teenage girl.jpg

Some clients are so aware of these other parts that they can tell me how old they felt at a particular moment when they were triggered. I know that’s happened to me. My go-to response when I sense a potential conflict is to withdraw, and I feel like the hopeless, angry teenager part of me licking her wounds. The problem with responding from your wounded parts is that you repeat patterns of behavior that probably aren’t very useful, and which might even be harmful in your present life.

Family or friends who’ve known you for a long time can often trigger some of your parts, but they can also just pop up when situations make you feel like that younger self. You might find that your voice changes, or you respond with the old coping skills you used way back then, but which aren’t very productive today.

Some of my clients say that younger parts are often angry, easily offended and very defensive. Some say they’re withdrawn, anxious or depressed. So when stuff happens that makes them feel vulnerable, the parts that feel threatened want to jump in and react the way they did in the past. If this happens to you, it can lead to arguments, wanting to avoid situations, or feeling very anxious and depressed, because you’re caught up in one of your parts that wants to protect you or hide from the perceived threat.

What Is This Noise In My Head?

The different parts can make you feel overwhelmed and maybe a little worried that  something might be wrong with you. “Do I have multiple personalities? Why are all these voices in my head?”

There’s nothing wrong with you. We all have different parts. Some people have an easy time recognizing them; for others, the parts are less defined. Our parts developed over our lifetime to help us cope with stressful life events. So, if you had a difficult childhood — if you were emotionally, physically or sexually abused; if your parents emotionally neglected you; or if your life experiences were difficult or traumatic, it’s likely that your various parts are pretty active.

In my next post, I’ll share how you can learn from your parts and build up your true, everyday showing-up part to help you quiet the noise in your head. When you learn to work with your parts and identify their worries, you can truly connect with yourself and live your life with more ease and purpose.

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photos by Cynthia Magana  andElena Ferrer on Unsplash