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Step Three: Negotiate Control away from the Inner Critic

Negotiation and communication. Hand turns cubes and changes the word 'communication' to 'n

Research points to meeting the Inner Critic with Self-compassion, not shutting it down completely, but working to understand what is going on for the individual client.  The aim is to draw the client's attention to this negative inner voice, which for some is a bully, externalise it, listen to it from a compassionate place (what Fisher (2017) refers to as "wise grownup mind" (eg. p.263) hear what it can communicate about our client's inner world and experiences and work to soften it.  Not to silence it exactly but to negotiate control away and find a more self-compassionate way of talking to ourselves, that allows common humanity, the ability to make mistakes,  self-love, even nurturing for ourselves.  Where the Inner Critic becomes hyper-critical, resulting in a toxic inner world and perhaps maladaptive behaviours for clients, it could be more beneficial, not to get angry with the Inner Critic or try to eliminate it which could be ineffective, or give rise to shame, but to give it a different role in our lives.  As this way of talking can become entrenched in our client's brain and may be so well established.  This must be gently approached. The client must never feel shame towards their inner critic and if the Pluralistic Counsellor can  normalise it, as discussed, this is ideal, but the inner critic needs to soften to enhance the client's inner and outer worlds.

As ever, Pluralistic Counsellors and their clients will collaborate to ascertain what is most appropriate for the individual client, and if methods and tasks we have already discussed in earlier sections are effective, that is great.  But we might need to get creative in negotiating control away from our client's tough inner critic  For example, it may be appropriate for the individual client to redefine the Inner Critic's skills as a protector, change the client’s relationship with their Inner Critic.  Similar to my analogy of a grandparent giving well-meaning advice around social media, a world they may not be experts in, we may encourage clients to think positively about this part of our brain or psyche, Some of the leading practitioners believe the critic is trying to be protective, is millions of years in the making, has made positive contributions to our lives, but now perhaps need to be counterbalanced with another part of us, our inner nurturer (NICABM 2021; How to work with a client's Tough Inner Critic).  However, there may also be defense mechanisms at play for our clients, particularly if the Inner Critic is born from an abusive childhood or other trauma, and it may be necessary for the Counsellor to gently draw attention to those defenses.  For example, if a child is in denial about the level of abuse they suffered as a child, perhaps because they want to maintain a relationship with their parents, Counsellors may need to demonstrate empathy for the things the Inner Critic tells the client, to model that this toxicity is not acceptable.   It appears to be widely accepted in the research that the inner nurturer has a symbiotic relationship with the Inner Critic. And an effective way of working to combat the Inner Critic is to develop the inner nurturer, also known as self-compassion and self-love (Buczynski, 2021; NICABM IC video 11; 03:55).  Working with clients to introduce or increase self-compassion can dilute the Inner Critic.  Boryenko (2021) discusses the work of Kristin Neff, distinguishing between self-compassion and self-esteem.  Self-esteem, she says, is based on comparison with others or an ideal self. Am I pretty enough, smart enough, achieving enough accolades?  But self-compassion is not based on being deserving or “special”, it is simply the right of every human being, to feel compassion for ourselves, to allow mistakes and know most people are trying their best (NICABM; 2021; How to Work with a Clients Tough Inner Critic, Video 10; 08:19).  When we torment ourselves about perceived wrong-doings, our Inner Critic is pleased.  But we might reframe the situation for clients by asking how their best friend would view things, or beloved family member. Or what would you say to them if they did what you did, and spoke to themselves in such a toxic way?  Mostly, people are more forgiving of mistakes when it is someone else’s mistake.  This is not just about self-compassion, but about normalising the Inner Critic for clients.  Boryenko (2021) refers to an article she read where Carly Simon, the famous singer, admitted she would give 99 perfect performances and the 100th would get negative feedback, that she looked tired, or was flat in one song.  Instead of thinking of the 99 flawless performances, Carly admitted to fixating on the negative. The reason for this is our brains do focus on the negative due to our “survival circuits”, we do not want to make the same mistake again. And we do have a habit of ignoring the good parts of ourselves and our achievements.  It can help clients to know that even high achieving people can have this Inner Critic and need support to look at the positive things they have achieved also (video 10; 13:40).  This fosters the “common humanity” angle of the critic, but also, the need to give the Inner Critic a boundary.

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