In my book Kinnison, Jeb. Bad Boyfriends: Using Attachment Theory to Avoid Mr. (or Ms.) Wrong and Make You a Better Partner, I briefly discuss the “inner critic,” a subpersonality that can do a lot of damage by subjecting you to a continuous stream of negative, hypercritical inner dialog.
In the discussion of the fearful-avoidant attachment type we mentioned the damage done by overly-perfectionist, narcissistic caregivers in causing children to suppress their true inner selves in favor of a false personality designed to please parents. Many of these children, as adults, have an inner voice which tends to find fault in themselves and others, an “inner critic.”
This inner critic is an example of a subpersonality—an inner persona with a distinctive voice and behavior, often learned from a caregiver or authority figure. Years of early childhood spent interacting with a person creates a model in a child’s head of how that person would acts or speaks while observing the child’s behavior, so the common observation that our parents live on in a sense as voices in our head is often correct. If we are brought up with love and attention, these voices are loving and positive, and guide us to confidence and achievement; if they are critical and negative, our view of the world, ourselves, and other people becomes unrealistically dark. Subpersonalities often come into play as defense mechanisms, shielding an abused child from the psychic damage poor treatment would otherwise produce.
Fast Company has a useful discussion by Vivian Giang on “How to Mute Your Negative Inner Dialogue: Stop Being Your Own Worst Critic. Here’s How You Can Clear Your Mind Chatter and Live in the Now.” It’s aimed at business leaders but is useful for everyone:
You’ve heard that voice in your head. You’ve lived with it for so long, you probably don’t even notice it anymore. What you do know is that this voice drives you crazy because it just won’t stop. It’s incessant, and has an opinion about everything.
If you’re someone who is always “in your head,” you have difficulty being present even when you’re surrounded by people because you’re drowned in your own thoughts.
Constantly being in your head also stops you from living a full life. Instead you are just an observer of your life. You are just watching it while the voice inside you narrates the world. You’re basically re-creating the outside world inside of yourself and then you live it in your mind.
A DEFENSE MECHANISM
Why do you have to do this? You already see everything that is happening on the outside, so why do you have to repeat it in your head?
In his book The Untethered Soul, author Michael Singer says people do this to protect themselves from the world. If they narrate it in their mind, then they feel like they have more control of what’s happening, but this is untrue. Either way, you have no way of protecting yourself from anything that will happen.
But what can you do to stop this voice that is a part of you? According to Singer, this voice isn’t you and the faster you learn how to separate those thoughts from who you are, the quicker you will be able to experience the world in a stark, unfiltered way.
TURN OFF THE VOICE FOR GOOD
To manipulate these thoughts, first take a step back from that voice and view it objectively. It’s important that you understand that nothing your inner voice says is really you. If you take sides and think one voice is more representative of you than the other, then you’ve already failed at being objective.
The best way to separate yourself is to imagine the voice as a separate human who just won’t shut up.
“Make believe that your roommate, the psyche, has a body of its own,” Singer says. “You do this by taking the entire personality that you hear talking to you just inside and imagine it as a person talking to you on the outside. Just imagine that another person is now saying everything that your inner voice would say. Now spend a day with that person.”
You will eventually find that you need to get as far away from this person as possible because they’re neurotic and they scare you. The more you realize that these thoughts won’t help you get anywhere faster and that they’re not really you, the quicker you will become a much happier, peaceful person. The faster you will be able to experience the world as a person living in it–not as a person trapped in their own mind.
The running commentary from an inner critic can prevent you from seeing the world around you as it truly is — by constantly occupying your attention and distorting your view of the world, it is as if that critical parent of your childhood is constantly with you to continue meddling in your life by judging everything you do according to their standards. You can free yourself from the worst effects by recognizing that this subpersonality is harming you and preventing you from making your best decisions uncolored by its constant negativity. You grew up having to behave in accordance with what that voice said, but now there is no one who will be hurt or disappointed if you stop listening. And when you have stopped listening to it, it will stop talking.
If you have this problem, reading one of these books may give you more insight:
￼Rowan, John. Discover Your Subpersonalities: Our Inner World and the People in It. Routledge, 2013. Our stream of consciousness includes messages to direct our own actions—but what voice has the floor? It can be useful to look at conscious thought as an agora where internal subpersonalities struggle to be heard and control our actions. This can be especially helpful when a subpersonality that represents the overprotective or oppressive parental voice is identifiable and is distorting the thinking of the child in adulthood.
Stone, Hal, and Stone, Sidra. Embracing Your Inner Critic: Turning Self-Criticism into a Creative Asset. [San Francisco]: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993.
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations
[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations, available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]
Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”
Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.
More on Attachment and Personality Types:
What Attachment Type Are You?
Type: Fearful-Avoidant (aka Anxious-Avoidant)
Avoidant: Emotions Repressed Beneath Conscious Level
Serial Monogamy: the Fearful-Avoidant Do It Faster
Anxious-Preoccupied: Stuck on the Dismissive?
Anxious-Preoccupied / Dismissive-Avoidant Couples: the Silent Treatment
nxious-Preoccupied: Clingy and Insecure Relationship Example
Domestic Violence: Ray and Janay Rice
Teaching Narcissists to Activate Empathy
Histrionic Personality: Seductive, Dramatic, Theatrical
Life Is Unfair! The Great Chain of Dysfunction Ends With You.
Love Songs of the Secure Attachment Type
On Addiction and the Urge to Rescue
Sale! Sale! Sale! – “Bad Boyfriends” for Kindle, $2.99
Controlling Your Inner Critic: Subpersonalities
“Big Bang Theory” — Aspergers and Emotional/Social Intelligence
Porn Addiction and NoFAP
Introverts in Management