The Inner Critic: Part 3 of 3
Developing the Inner Coach
By Dr. Robert Leichtman
There are many occasions when we may be challenged by situations that require us to choose between being patient and kind versus indignant and aggressive. Many assume the rudeness and offensiveness in others will justify our use of similar tactics. While this is a popular assumption, the consequences of this behavior are often an increase in frustration and little enduring resolution of the conflict. Real life is not a perpetual game of being one up on others. If we are often irritated or discouraged, we have a problem in ourself to heal rather than a battle to win or some revenge to gain. Our inner critic often seeks to snap back at perceived insults or to complain whenever we feel offended. While this response may be used to defend our authority and status, the overuse of these reactions reveals that the real problem may be in ourself. We may have a sensitive and angry inner critic with a short fuse. The heathy solution is to summon our common sense and abilities for encouragement, respect, cooperation, and self-control for the situation. This collection of qualities and skills constitutes our “inner healer”. We need to call on this capacity as the healthy substitute for the hostile inner critic. It can soothe and calm where the inner critic will aggravate.
Today’s commentary encourages us to focus on whatever is admirable as a general guide to determining our mood and perspective. It is also designed to direct how we should respond to whatever is happening outside or within ourself. This model is often regarded as too simplistic or idealistic for managing the huge problems we must face today. However, these words are not about a practical plan for managing all difficulties. They are a statement of principle about constructive approaches to real-life challenges. These need to begin with intentions, plans, and objectives that focus on building what we want to achieve rather than trying to remove what we dislike. This is the principle of creative action for developing what we want as opposed to destructive approaches that focus on attacking what we dislike and do not want.
What is wrong with the belief we should attack what we dislike?
It is unfortunate that today we often witness those who habitually use an aggressive and destructive approach to managing major personal and social issues. For example, there are many who vigorously attack prejudice and racism but do little to promote harmony and trust. In other cases, they condemn the problem of bigotry and intolerance by demanding we must forbid:
certain words and comments you cannot make
the names of people you cannot praise
ideas and ideologies must not be supported.
While this approach may seem appropriate, it leaves out the work of promoting the values and behaviors that would counteract irrational hatred, prejudice, and contempt for others. In specific terms, it ignores the need to encourage the practice of respect, patience, understanding, and goodwill toward others.
Examples of limiting constructive efforts
Many still assume attacking what is wrong is an essential part, if not the totality, of improving everything. This assumption is, however, unworkable in many situations. For instance, gardeners know that more must be done to be successful in raising vegetables and flower than just killing weeds. We must also give attention to watering, fertilizing, and pruning or thinning the plants we want.
In education, teachers know they will get terrible results if they focus only correcting the mistakes of math students. They also must teach about proper math skills and the principles and logic for working with general mathematics, algebra, and geometry.
The same difficulty would apply for teachers who focus mainly on critiquing bad grammar and spelling but never teach much about the rules of grammar and spelling as well as emphasizing what is correct.
These are examples of how the principle of constructive action is applied in ordinary situations. The keynote is to remain proactive, that is, to stay focused on expecting and working toward what we want from the beginning through to the end. This includes keeping a positive tone of how we think, the attitudes we assume, and the style of how we work. This will be the very opposite of attacking and destroying what we dislike and don’t want.
How proactivity can be used in real life situations
The basic principle of promoting the qualities, policies, and behaviors we seek means we need to give the bulk of our attention and energy to:
healing problems of body or mind
overcoming our past conflicts and traumas
improving relationships with people and groups
enhancing our connection with our spiritual possibilities.
Being grumpy, distrusting, hostile, and alienated are not a good beginning for any endeavor because this presumes:
trust and cooperation with any of the principal factors will be unlikely
we will have to be forceful and can expect our intentions will be distrusted
our aggressive tactics will provoke others to retaliate in the same manner
we risk setting up a lose-lose scenario.
The concept of the inner critic as an agent of these hostile forces
These comments are the prelude to a third and final discussion of the problem of the inner critic and its cousins in our personality. The inner critic is the voice or representative of that part of us that specializes in reminding us of our faults, mistakes, shortcomings, and incompetence. Wherever we are lacking in some virtue or quality, our inner critic will be there to remind us about it. Sometimes it manifests as voice we hear, and other times it is silent, dark mood we feel judging us.
Our inner critic has its faithful cousins which are:
the inner, gloomy pessimist, always ready to add a cup of discouragement to our day and remind us how we could have accomplished so much more
the inner wimp, always anxious and afraid, triggered by our own shadow, and ready to remind us that life is always threatening and overwhelming
the inner grouch, always angry about something; it lives as the proverbial chip on our shoulder—also as a chip on our elbow, wrist, knee, ankle, and wherever one will stick.
Previous commentaries have already mentioned that the inner critics are not independent of the rest of us. The critics simply represent a deeper problem behind our tendency to criticize ourself. The critics are the self-appointed representatives of the stored resentment, discouragement, fear, and frustration in ourself. Individually, they act as a spokesperson to remind us of all of our real, exaggerated, and imagined frustrations, unmet needs, and experiences of injustice.
The secret power our inner critics wield
While this description may seem hyperbolic in tone, there is danger in ignoring the true significance of the inner critic and its cousins. Many fail to recognize the enormous power the inner critic has in its role as a gatekeeper for:
new ideas, perspectives, and methods, including valid ideas and views that may be needed to reform and repair habits of despair, alienation, and self-sabotage
new measures of goodwill, kindness, and friendliness to improve your style of relating to people and situations
new insights that could lead to revising our judgments about past conflicts and future challenges.
Thus, our inner critics and their cousins in their role as gatekeepers will preserve our anger, fear, or discouragement and may oppose many items necessary for:
our personal growth of character
the healing of various emotional issues
and engaging our spiritual possibilities.
The one idea that you must understand before trying to fix your inner critic
The bulk of any effort to reform our inner critic or inner pessimist is a task that is our direct, personal responsibility. The number of enemies we have or how much abuse and neglect we have suffered will not provide any excuse for the duty we have for solving these problems in ourself. Continual blaming and attacking these issues and the parties that initiated them will not remove these problems in us!
Fortunately, there are many ways to be effective in turning around the force of our anger, fear, or grief that lie behind our inner critic and its cousins. They all begin with the intelligent use of the two basic assets we have:
our determination, wit, and courage to be the primary agent for reforming and healing these beliefs and habits that preserve the inner critic
and the guiding and archetypal power of the essential principle for healing, repair, reform, and growth that was stressed at the beginning of this commentary—the ability to focus on and apply noble ideas, intentions, and actions.
If we are to fully understand this principle, it may help paraphrase the classic description of it in these terms: “Use whatever ideas, attitudes, motives, and activities that are constructive and worthy of praise.” If this is not clear to you, it means we don’t begin our healing and reform activities with threats and orders to shut up and get out! Nor do we demand more rules and laws that forbid what we don’t like.
This does not mean we never take forceful action. It is just that there are usually more effective means to try first—concrete actions that do not provoke hostile reactions to us and what we intend to do.
How to begin taming our inner critic
So just where to we begin to tame our inner critics?
Reforming and healing our inner critics begin with re-acquainting ourself with their counterparts in ourself—our inner healer and inner coach. Logic should tell us that if we have an inner grump or inner critic, somewhere we also will have intelligent, kindly, and cheerful aspects in ourself. These are the parts of our character that can:
bandage the wounds to our ego
soothe our hurts
restore our confidence.
The simple and effective way to do this is to delegate our inner coach as the agent for our benevolent and intelligent healing capacity. The inner coach is the part of us that is:
experienced in being practical, helpful, and useful
can give sincere encouragement and reassurance
and can act as the healing counterpart to our inner critic that has been the agent for our frustration and discouragement.
A word of caution to the inner cynic who may be reading along with you
It is possible to greet these comments with the judgment that it cannot be this easy. Real change must involve more than simply shifting a few mental gears, slapping on a positive thought, and away we go off to peace and bliss.
No, this is not easy or quick. It is not a one-step process based on effortless fantasies. It is a multistep process that potentially can take years. The process is similar to learning a whole new language, because this is a new emotional language.
There are many old mental and emotional habits to unlearn and new qualities to acquire and strengthen. The new traits would be skills in using the power of trust, tolerance, caring, patience, forgiveness, respect, helpfulness, praise, gratitude, and many more.
Of course, we must sincerely want to do this—not merely:
believe this is possible
visualize ourself happy and healthy
babble the right words and affirmations.
just plaster nice thoughts on top of our old beliefs and habits.
The formula for repair, reform, healing, and growth requires real and persistent effort to:
build up the virtues, qualities, and skills of character our Higher Self wants us to know and express—not just nice moods
internalize them into the mainstream of our mindset, beliefs, and habits—not just claim good intentions.
The concrete steps we can take immediately
These depend on being alert to the subtle presence and influence of the inner critic. For example, we have to catch ourself in the act of:
reminding ourself of our incompetence.
never offering a constructive alternative to complaining about our self-expression
nor giving a moment of praise or encouragement that is due.
Then, we need to immediately respond with compassionate language and sincere energies of goodwill and kindness for ourself. This involves our heartfelt understanding, acceptance, and compassion—not just dumping nice ideas over ourself.
The kind words we could use would be comparable to those we would offer for a good friend who was feeling bad after some failure or loss—words such as:
“This is difficult, but I know you did your best.”
“You will have the opportunity to correct this in due time.”
“At least you were able to get some good things done before you were stopped.”
“I don’t see any permanent wounds from this event; you are the same good and competent person now as you were before this awful event happened.”
Of course, sometimes in the rush of the day’s activities, we do not have much time for detailed dialogue with ourself. However, we can schedule some time later in the day for a longer talk with our critical self and to remind ourself of all the healthy and constructive qualities and abilities we have. We need to have these discussions every day—many times during the day if necessary.
The long-term remedy for the inner critic
Finally, we need to attend to the problem behind the problem of the inner critics. Remember that each inner critic is merely the spokesperson for our greater tendencies to be:
hypercritical and cynical about many things
angry and condemning about many ideas and groups
terrified about key people and events.
These are the real problems that may be confronting us our entire life in the disguise of specific, annoying incidents and situations. We cannot, of course, correct these larger episodes with a few positive thoughts and our cheerful expectations. The healing of these deeper problems requires a fundamental change in our concept of who we are and our general outlook about our life and our personal world.
These changes take us into the need to learn more about how to:
create some sanity, order, peace, and confidence in our personal life
be more benevolent and optimistic in how we perceive our personal world
be able to act with greater calmness and confidence as we engage our duties and opportunities
maturely and confidently interact with challenging situations and people without falling into a hole of despair, anxiety, outrage, or helplessness.
The intent in these developments is to build a foundation of qualities, skills, mindset, and habits of:
understanding and ethical principles
a compassionate outlook
a capacity for kindness
a vision of hope and cheerfulness
and a confident and assertive style.
These are the factors that will continually aid us in being kind to ourself and others, helpful in the world, and responsive to the power and design of our Higher Self. These are the methods that, eventually, will tame and heal our inner critic and bring peace into our character and lifestyle.
These are the steps we can take to make our Higher Self a full partner in our earthy life and our whole personality the agent for our spiritual possibilities.