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Pluralistic Methods and Tasks to Negotiate Control away from the Tough Inner Critic

Acceptance Commitment Therapy

Carl Jung stated "What you resist persists".  It can be tempting to push the inner critic away, but this will not work.  ACT encourages clients to resist avoidance or control techniques and adapt a more accepting, willingness towards the Inner Critic, but also to adopt cognitive defusion techniques that could reduce the power of the inner critic (e.g. Batten, 2011).  People accept the problem-solving mind and the feelings and thoughts it frantically throws out as solid facts.  Therefore, when the Inner Critic is being negative, clients may not have the ability to stand back and observe e.g. "right now I am thinking I am a bad person" and accepting the feeling will pass.  They just believe they are a bad person.  In fact Batten (2011) uses the metaphor of the angel and devil discussed earlier. Stating "The person's attention is batted back and forth as the angel and the devil throw out content to support their way of looking at the world.  Imagine that the character... is able to recognise that he may never be able to get rid of that little devil or angel, but he does have full control over whether he engages with them or not" (p. 35). By encouraging clients to develop metacognitive awareness and recognise that, although it seems believable, thoughts are not facts, there are many exercises in ACT to help aid cognitive defusion.  For example, taking hte troublesome thought and placing it in the dock. Weighing up all evidence for and against the thought and seeing if there is a dispassionate middle ground (Psychology Tools,  2022).  The Counsellor might also encourage grounding techniques and mindfulness, engaging all five senses to anchor to the present moment, or "bumble bee breathing", breathing out in a hum to engage the frontal lobes.  Pertinent to our work with the Inner critic, Batten (2011) notes, "all individuals define themselves by a variety of labels, evaluations and roles [the conceptualised self aka observing self]...It is natural to see oneself from the point of view of the conceptualised self, however ineffective and inflexible behaviour can result when one is overly attached to this perspective of self-as-content.  The ACT model suggests several experiences and practices by which one can instead learn to experience a consistent perspective of self-as-context, where one is not fundamentally defined by the content of one's thoughts, feelings, evaluation or history" (p. 47).  Simply, we are not our thoughts or feelings. We can see the Inner Critic as external to the self, the self observes the inner criticisms with acceptance. Self-as-content refers to when the Self is defined by these critical thoughts or evaluations, and we want to negotiate control away from the Inner Critic by moving towards self-as-context, where the client can define themselves as an observer that transcends the moment by moment thoughts and private experiences.  And does not have to struggle against the inner critic, but can observe its tendencies to be negative in a curious way, without getting distressed or believing the criticisms.

ACT techniques to examine the “workability” of the inner critic may also be useful.  Perhaps asking does the inner critic get great results when it is so negative, leading to a lack of self-esteem and confidence, toxic shame and paralysis in decision-making.  Is it really such a great motivator? Also, ACT values can be useful in helping clients identify what the value is the tough inner critic is trying to adhere to or believes the client has failed.  Using ACT to support clients to accept emotions that their tough inner critic can manifest, and then to be aware for example, “I am feeling depressed due to my tough inner critic, but I can choose to not respond to that” can be empowering for clients.

Embracing on a Bench
Hand Embrace
Meditating Outdoors
Studying at Home
Water Lily
Taking Notes
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