Let Me Tell You About The Inner Critic
The Internal Voice and Soundtrack that drives, slows, or changes us.
"Oh, they do not like you."
"You really haven't taken care of yourself, that is why you feel like this."
Have you ever had one of those days where it feels like you don’t even want to be in your own mind?
Where you’re the bad guy?
The days when you hear this voice constantly telling you that you’re not enough?
Let me tell you about the Inner Critic.
These voices are present for everyone and have their own special way of making us feel all the bad feels.
The Inner Critic is derived from our earliest caregivers or influences and maximizes our insecurities.
According to The Happier Approach by Nancy Jane Smith, there are three parts to the inner critic:
The Biggest Fan (but I like to call it The Advocate)
The Mongor is the voice that is there to protect you from failing. This one promotes anxiety and shame and really doesn’t believe in you most of the time. Think, devil on your shoulder, if you will.
Smith puts it best when she identifies the three points of the Mongor's job: "1. Don’t make a mistake, 2. Don't Stand Out, 3. Don’t be too vulnerable."
For perfectionists with High Functioning Anxiety, the Mongor keeps moving the finish line. You never feel like you’ve actually completed something because there is always something you haven't completed. "The Mongor lives in absolutes (Smith, 2018)." But these absolutes are actually myths that the Mongor identifies as truths. Think of this like, "I will be happy if I loose 20 pounds," or "I will be happy if I get that promotion." It really isn't the best defining point of "how you will actually be happy" but an absolute that the Mongor (and you) have created to believe.
Let's move onto The BFF. When we get sick of hearing criticism from the Mongor we often shift to our BFF. This always reminds me of the friend you have that promotes going out on a Tuesday night, even though you have a big event at work or school on Wednesday. The BFF can go overboard really quickly but always has your back.
The BFF is the self-soother. The one that says, "you're always right and they're always wrong," or "you deserve whatever you want," or "have fun, let loose, you deserve it." The problem with the BFF is that very quickly it turns into "false self-compassion" or procrastination.
The biggest problem with the BFF is that he/she/it enjoys the moments but sits in a lot of avoidance. It is fun and easy to listen to the BFF but sooner or later the Mongor will creep in and remind you how "nothing is getting done."
Here is an example: I want you to think of a negative emotion you have experienced and then a negative coping skill that has followed. Maybe you had a tough day at work so you drink to excess that night and wake up with a nasty hangover. The BFF promoted the self-soothing and the Mongor magically appears in the morning to tell you how awful you are.
And then we have my personal favorite: The Biggest Fan. But for this post, I'm going to call it The Advocate. Because to me, a fan reminds me of a follower and The Advocate reminds me of the in between, the reality, the supporter. The Advocate is the "how." How you complete your goals and providing safety and security while also supporting you without covering it up with false self-compassion.
Most of us do not think that we hear The Advocate. When I explain this to my clients, I often tell them to think of a secure or safe voice that they hear when they need it the most. The Advocate is wise and honest, almost to a point where it can feel like a punishment, but it is not. It is the mediator.
For example: you go out after work with some coworkers to have some drinks and dinner. The Advocate pops in and says, "Hey, you're enjoying yourself and you deserve this, but let's just have a couple drinks. You've been killing it on your workouts and you can enjoy yourself without drinking anymore. Plus, you will likely feel better tomorrow if you don't over do it." Or…"This meeting coming up seems really intimidating. Maybe we should do a bit more prep and research before we walk in. It may have some hard moments but we will get through this. You got this."
The Advocate truly has our back. They can sit with you in the reality of the situation but also remind you of things that can come up. But gracefully, not with shame or guilt or over indulgence.
When we learn to understand these voices and the soundtrack that is going on within our minds we can begin to create a new alliance with our thinking, our anxiety, and our perfectionism.
As a Recovering Perfectionist I often pull on The Advocate and it sounds a lot like, "I know you want things to go this way, but this isn't something you are in charge of and if you set an expectation you could be let down. So, let's just take a moment and see how this plays out."
Perfectionism is very much driven by the Mongor. As you start to notice these controllers within your head you will also start to hear and notice them with others. I typically call these out with coaching and therapy so that you can begin to recognize when you're being too hard on yourself or when you're not getting enough one-on-one time with your Advocate.
Practice listening and writing down the ways that you hear the Critic. And remember: your thoughts are NOT facts.