Friday, February 5, 2016

naming your inner critics

My therapist and I have been working through some stuff based on Internal Family Systems.  The whole idea is pretty basic:  we each have many different parts, or players, in our psyches.  Some are really active, some are held hostage, some are working overtime to protect other parts that have been hurt.  When all is going well and fairly balanced, an executive function called "self" is managing all the parts and letting them take their turns.

It's been pretty super-helpful for me, especially when Jeremy my therapist says really calmly, "Each part of you has good intentions.  Let's respect the intentions they have."

Another vital element of IFS is the inner critic.  Each of us has some variety of critical part inside, working (always with good intentions!) to protect us, or undermine us, or minimize us, or some combination of the above.  There are seven general types of inner critics in this system, although I suspect that many more variations exist:  the perfectionist, the guilt-tripper, the underminer, the destroyer, the molder, the taskmaster, and the inner controller.

In a development that surprises exactly no one who knows me, my critics are the perfectionist and the taskmaster.  They are close allies and collaborators, pushing me hard to achieve mastery and improve productivity.  My self-worth is tied really, really closely to these concepts.  This is all fine and good in the professional world (although it produces some stress), or in hobbies (like cooking or knitting).  But when it comes to people and relationships . . . that's problematic.  People don't behave predictably.  They can't be mastered and checked off my to-do list.  When I don't feel I have mastery of a relationship, it causes me a ton of turmoil.

I have a really complicated relationship with these inner critics, because I deeply respect them and believe they have produced a great deal of success in my life.  I'm almost 31, and I have completed college and graduate school (and am halfway through another graduate degree), have been married, had two children, divorced, and am six years into my career.  I own a home, have a pension and a retirement plan, have two pets, and bake my own bread and churn my own butter.  I lost 30 pounds in the last year.  I can read and translate the Bible from Hebrew and Greek.  NONE of these things would have been even remotely possible without the perfectionist and the taskmaster urging me on.

But . . . at what cost?  How much anxiety, and stress, and hollow victory have these inner critics also produced in me?  How much have I let these parts control me, to the detriment of other, gentler parts that want me to slow down and relax and let my mind wander a little bit?  How many opportunities have I missed out on, simply because I had tunnel vision around my goals - tunnel vision that is the hallmark of my perfectionist and taskmaster?

So, what's your critic?  What is your critic's honorable intention?  How can you respect the contribution of the critic, but also ask them to take a rest for awhile?

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