Sometimes we’re too hard on ourselves and often this issue is ignored because everyone has an inner critic to a certain degree. However, there is certain point in which we start wondering if this critical behavior is normal.
How Past Criticism Affects Your Relationships
It may be hard to identify the root cause of some of these feelings or issues, so here are some questions to start the process:
- Did you feel criticized by one or both of your parents when you were growing up?
- Did you grow up with parents with unreasonably high standards?
- Do you often feel embarrassed or ashamed to be yourself with your partner?
- Do you feel like you can be yourself with your partner or do you feel like you have to modify your behavior or change your appearance in order to be accepted by your partner?
- Do you hide your feelings or aspects of your history from your partner in order to avoid shame or criticism?
- Do you often feel critical of your body and think that it’s not good enough in some way?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, the next thing you need to ask yourself is:
To what degree does this issue feel present in your current relationship?
The Inner Critic
If we had really critical parents we may be really hard on ourselves because we have internalized their voices in order to meet their standards, even decades later as adults. This inner critic can manifest itself in many different ways.
In his book, Soul Without Shame, Byron Brown writes:
“The critic, also called the judge, is connected to our unconscious standards. The judge distrusts the fact of our existence in this moment and says we must rely on past beliefs, standards and guidelines in order to have the right to exist. We need to be able to see our judgments as an internal attack. This is a necessary first step before we are able to recognize our critic reactions when we are experiencing an attack from others”.
In his helpful book, Brown names different reactions that we may have to an attack from your inner critic.
The “Counterattack” is an attempt to fight back and defeat the judge within: “Well, fuck you then, how was I supposed to know that?” This reaction comes from the impulsive gut and the focus is on strength and weakness. It comes with blaming others and rejecting weak feelings in ourselves.
The “Rationalize” reaction is an attempt to justify or explain yourself to argue your way out of the attacking energy, or to try and stop it from getting in. This reaction comes from the head and the focus is on right and wrong. There is always a better answer ahead.
Brown calls the third reaction “Absorb” or “Collapse.” Instead of opposing the critic, we become compliant in an attempt to appease the attacker. This often comes with complaining or giving in, and comes from the need for approval or comforting contact from others. This is experienced through the heart and the focus is on good or bad.
How can the Inner Critic Affect Your Relationship
Our critical thoughts can either be focused inward or outward. That’s how our inner critic may come out and affect our relationships. People often criticize aspects of others that are actually faults of our own, in order to project our own weakness or lack of skillfulness. This means we are denying a part of our self. If we experience a denied part of our self come out in our partner’s behavior, this may also trigger an attack from our inner critic.
For example, we may discover that the element we are most critical of in our partner, such as their laziness, is actually deeply connected with some part of ourselves that we have denied. A part, perhaps that simply wants to relax instead of working so hard all the time.
Inwardly, we try to make ourselves into something we are not. We learn this early on when we try to be the perfect child for our parents to gain their love and approval. We were always lovable, but somewhere along the road we picked up the message that something was wrong with us. We learned that love is conditional.
Perhaps your mother said, “don’t overeat, or you’ll get fat.” From that you may have learned to be conscious of your food intake and also be critical of your body. We teach ourselves to do this pre-emptively in order to win our parents’ approval. Other examples may include the need to feel strong, feel self-reliant, repress feelings, or the need to take care of others.
Furthermore, we can project something onto someone based on transference, which is when we see them more flawed than they really are. Sometimes people will even subconsciously enlist someone to be critical. Take for example, when Brad regularly leaves a mess for his wife Suzie to clean up. When Suzie gets angry at him, he tells her that she’s just like his mother who was never happy with him as a child.
If any of these critical behaviors sound familiar to you, don’t panic. It’s not entirely a bad thing and it’s definitely something that can be worked out. Although it may seem relentless, and at times you may wonder why you have been cursed with it, the inner critic has a purpose. At times it’s good to have one. Part of having a critic also means having a conscience. People without a conscience are more likely to end up living the life of a sociopath. The inner critic can also keep us accountable to the community.
If the critic is negatively affecting your mental health and your relationship, you will need to address these issues firsthand.