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Step Two: Allow the Critic to Express Itself

Taking Notes

In healing an Inner Critic, we need to allow it to express itself.  We need to know what its fears are, what are its needs, what it hopes to achieve, why it developed this way, in order to negotiate control away from it (Buczynski et al, 2021, How to work with a client's tough inner critic module 1; 02:00). For example, Parnell (2021) acknowledges that although the urge may be to attempt to silence the Inner Critic, that this could be detrimental and counterproductive.  Rather, listening to all parts of the client’s internal dialogue, as there may be data within this that tells us the complete story of our client.  (NICABM 2021; How to Work with Clients Who Struggle with an Inner Critic, module 1, 01:00).   Additionally, as Pluralistic Counsellors working  alongside our clients, we may want to listen to the Inner Critic's narrative, which can point to the client’s vulnerabilities, highlighting areas they may wish to work on and supporting them to identify goals. For example, underlying shame, low self-esteem, attachment difficulties.   It is useful to see when the Inner Critic became hyper-critical and question “What triggered this?”.    It can lead us to have a much richer case formulation with our clients.  It may be one voice within many of the client’s inner dialogue and it does not have to be the most dominant. We can support our clients to turn the volume down on a hyper-critical Inner Critic (Buczynski, 2021, NICABM).  The idea that thoughts are just thoughts and do not have to be believed every time.  But Parnell (2021) notes to pathologise the Inner Critic may create shame within our clients. E.g. “I shouldn’t be talking to myself like this, I am bad/ wrong/ causing my issues”.  It seems to be more productive to normalise the Inner Critic, as something we all possess, to hear what it is telling us and know when to dial it down.  But that it may be unhelpful to try to silence it (14:21).  My understanding at this point is that we cannot eliminate the Inner Critic completely and it would be unwise to try. 

Parnell (2021, NICABM module 1, How to Work with a Client's Tough Inner Critic) discusses the work she does, where she starts to draw the client’s attention towards the Inner Critic.   The Counsellor might model being curious about the Inner Critic, being open to it, noting the Counsellor must not bring more criticism to the Inner Critic.  For example, one might say “I notice you seem to have a part of you who is incredibly negative or critical, would you like for us to get to know that part?”.  Where was it born? Who does it sound like? What negative core beliefs does it tap into? This gentle, tentative questioning fits in well with Pluralistic Counselling. And there are myriad ways to do this.  Some people believe their Inner Critic is protective, a great motivator, that without it they could become lazy and fail to achieve great things (eg. Ogden; 2021; How to Work with clients who struggle with an Inner Critic video 8; 11:20).   I have observed this in several clients.  Whilst this may be true, the Inner Critic may become toxic, leading to multiple problems for clients.  This may be because the Inner Critic is not there to cheer you on necessarily, but it rules by fear (Lyons, NICABM Video 6; 2021; 04:18). If we take this theory, then, the Inner Critic is a fear response and can result in the client experiencing anxiety, depression, immobilising them and stopping them creating their sense of self and giving rise to multiple maladaptive behaviours such as OCD, eating disorders and a host of other issues.   McGonigal (2021) suggests that perhaps the Inner Critic is the voice who knows who the client does NOT want to be.  That we can ask clients to view the Inner Critic as just that, not the dominant part of ourselves.  Listening predominantly to the Inner Critic call us things e.g. “stupid”, “lazy”, “flawed”, “different”, this is what can make clients feel the struggle of being a fundamentally flawed member of the human race.  But perhaps as Pluralistic Counsellors, to reframe the Inner Critic as a normal part of all humans, that tries to highlight what we don’t want to be, or normalise the human tendency to lack self-compassion, for various reasons at different times in our lives.  This could be the key to allowing the Critic to express itself with a view to healing it,  or at least easing it.  Silencing parts of our inner narrative can be detrimental and lead to negative emotions.  Also, telling ourselves "I should not speak to myself this way!" can even induce shame.  Therefore, hearing the inner critic out and responding to it respectfully, from our adult wisemind, which Fisher (2017) describes as the part of us that is an organised professional or compassionate friend, can contribute to a calming and easing of the inner critic, rather than shutting it down completely. Here are some further suggestions of Pluralistic tasks and methods. 

Clearly there is overlap between this step and the first step and the Counsellor and Client may want to use similar methods and tasks to address this step as they did in step 1, and achieve the client's goals, if appropriate.   However, it might be appropriate to use other methods and tasks to allow the inner critic to express themselves.  The reason I have highlighted this need to listen to the inner critic as a separate step from step one, is due to my own client work where the urge to silence the inner critic was strong and actually detrimental for my client, leading to greater anxiety and low self-esteem, even after my client was aware of her inner critic.

  We can adapt our own skills to ethically find what tasks and methods our clients require and prefer to aid therapeutic change.

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