Thursday, November 02, 2006

Inner Critic "Triggers"

Those of us who work with a tough Inner Critic -- and try to keep it in check -- know that there are an infinite number of "triggers" that can set it off. Hal and Sidra Stone devote most of a chapter in Embracing Your Inner Critic to recognizing and dealing with these triggers.

Here are a few of the triggers they identify:

~ Judgments: Any time someone else judges us or criticizes us, the Inner Critic takes this as an opportunity to agree and then some. Its job is to criticize us before others can -- its way of protecting us -- so to get beat to the punch makes it anxious. It's important to note that these criticisms are not always direct -- they can be from other people, from religion, from cultural expectations, from commercials, and so on.

If we aren't working with our Inner Critic, these attacks are challenging. We not only have the exterior attack to deal with, which is painful enough, but we have the interior attack from an invisible foe. For most, the result is depression, anxiety, feeling upset, lack of energy, and/or just a vague sense of unease.

~ Stress: Any situation that causes stress can activate the Inner Critic. As is always true, the Critic is responding to our vulnerability -- so, as a key, we can think of all events that leave us vulnerable as potential triggers for the Critic. Stress, if we do not have good coping mechanisms, leaves us feeling vulnerable.

~ Disowned Selves: When one of our disowned selves breaks free from its shadow prison, generally in a social situation of some kind, the Critic can get very anxious. It is horrified that we might look foolish or behave shamefully. For those new to subpersonalities, disowned selves are those parts of us that we do not allow to come out because our version of who we are simply won't permit them. The Inner Critic remembers how the emergence of one of these selves in the past left us humiliated or shamed and it will not allow that to happen again. But sometimes it slips, and a disowned self gets to run free for a little while -- as often as not, some form of intoxication is involved (alcohol, drugs, love, sex, and so on).

~ Unfamiliar Situations: Any kind of new situation puts the Critic on high alert. Again, because the situation is new and we are unsure, we are vulnerable. That's all the opening the Critic needs.

~ Being the Center of Attention: If the Critic had its way, we'd be invisible most of the time. So being the center of attention is excruciating for the Critic. When attention is focused on us, we feel the need to perform, or we are being evaluated, or in some other way people have expectations of us. This brings the Critic to the front to make sure we don't make a fool of ourselves. From the inside, it can feel like a kind of paralysis.

~ Adverse Fortune: Any time something goes wrong -- loss of a job, loss of a relationship, failing a class, getting a ticket, whatever -- the Critic senses that we are vulnerable. Its job is to keep us from feeling that way, so it gets anxious and works extra hard to make sure it never has to deal with abandonment or failure ever again. The more threatened by failure or abandonment it feels, the harsher its attacks.

~ Certain People in Our Lives: We all have certain people in our lives who make us feel inferior in some way, either overtly, covertly, or completely unintentionally. An obvious example might be the young business man who always feels inferior to his senior coworker who knows all the best places to entertain clients, wears all the right clothes, and knows all the right things to say. This older more experienced man can trigger the Critic in the younger man simply by being himself. [An aside here: the Critic is very associated with self-esteem issues, which are another form of vulnerability.]

Other people we encounter might need to feel better about themselves by always being critical of others, by pointing out their faults, or simply by talking as though they have everything figured out. The Critic doesn't care if any of it is true, it just sees the possibility of looking "less than" and gets busy to make sure we don't do anything to actualize that chance.

* * *

These are the major triggers they discuss. Certainly there are others, and many of us will have very individual triggers that work only for us. But the key to understanding the Critic is to know that it wants more than anything else to keep us from feeling vulnerable. That's its job, and it will do its job no matter what -- unless we learn how to see it in action and override its voice.

As I learn more about this process of stepping away from the Critic, both from the book and my own work with my Critic, I'll share what I learn.

No comments: