Issue 109 –
Where has Love Gone Part 14
The Inner Critic and Its Effect on Bonding
Hal & Sidra Stone
The inner critic is the part of each of us that criticizes us and judges us for the way we think, act, and feel. It is a very powerful self in most people and, once again, most people are not aware of its operation. Some people are aware of the fact that they are critical of themselves, but they do not realize that this criticism comes from a real, live person inside themselves.
Initially, in our younger years, the inner critic’s function is protective. Our primary selves are telling us the way we should be in the world and the inner critic is criticizing us for not following these instructions. The inner critic is a function of judgmental parents and siblings and of the family in general. It is a function of collective cultural attitudes and patterns.
For example, if a woman reads all the fashion magazines and discovers that attractive women weigh 97 pounds, then the inner critic uses this information and criticizes the woman for weighing 110 pounds. It generally teams up with the perfectionist in creating impossible demands. In the case of women, its strength is added to by centuries of patriarchal consciousness that have negated and demeaned women in many areas. With a good inner critic on the inside, nobody needs an enemy on the outside.
Why do we devote this time to the discussion of the inner critic? What does this self have to do with bonding? One of the very significant ways that we bond with people is through their criticism of us. If our actual parents are critical of us, this tends to throw us into an identification with the victim son or daughter. Once this critic is established inside of us, any outside criticism is reinforced by its inner criticism – not that it usually needs any help. Let us see how this works.
Nanda has been raised by parents who were both very loving and, at the same time, very demanding and perfectionistic. They never told her directly that she was no good or at fault. If she came home with “Bs” on her report card, then the question was why weren’t they “As.” If she got an “A,” the question was whether she had done better than her friends. Nothing was ever quite good enough. In this fecund earth, her inner critic flourished. She married a man who was strongly identified with the judgmental father. Their basic bonding pattern was judgmental father I victim daughter and guilty daughter. She could never do anything quite right. His criticisms were not always angry or even very overt. The father side needed to dominate her and dominate it did.
What is very important for us to realize, however, is that the bonding pattern between them was maintained with great power by the inner critic in herself that was constantly operating in such a way as to undermine her and support the judgmental father in her husband. They were allies in their need to keep Nanda down, to keep her a victim daughter. If Nanda had been separated from her inner critic, her husband’s criticisms would have had far less power. She might even have found his comments funny. Years later, Nanda came into our program for therapy and training. During a Voice Dialogue session, the facilitator was talking to Nanda’s inner critic. What follows is an excerpt from that conversation.
FACILITATOR: You seem like a very powerful voice in Nanda. Have you always been this strong?
CRITIC: Oh, I’ve been very strong since she was a little girl. I had good teachers. Her parents were fantastic.
FACILITATOR: What about during her marriage? Did you operate then?
CRITIC: Well, during her marriage I was always behind the scenes, but I didn’t really have to work too hard. Her husband was so critical that it made my job easy. Actually, now that she’s separated from him I have to work much harder than I did before. He’s not around, so it’s all up to me.
This little vignette is a beautiful portrayal of how the inner critic operates and how much power it has. Without any awareness of this critic, we are always trying to deal with the judgmental parents of the world as a strictly outer phenomenon. Once Nanda could catch hold of this critic, she was simply unavailable for bonding with the judgmental fathers of the world, of whom there are multitudes, just waiting to find their appropriate victim sons and daughters.
Cynthia was a strong feminist. She was in her early twenties and had gone through some very negative experiences with men. She saw men as victimizing women and being totally anti-feminine. She built up a strong emotional charge around this issue. The problem was that she was pulling these negative kinds of experiences into her orbit, and she was finding herself the victim daughter over and over again. She would move from victim daughter to rebellious daughter and then to the attacking mother within seconds of each other.
What finally began to shift things for Cynthia was when, during a Voice Dialogue session, the facilitator talked to her inner patriarch. Here was a voice that boomed from inside herself and spoke about how much he disliked women, how inferior they were, how he wished she were a man instead of a woman, and on and on.
Now this voice within her was conditioned by a patriarchal culture. Fighting this voice only on the outside was like being in a boxing ring with eyes blindfolded and one arm and leg immobile. It is not a fair fight. Cynthia was trying to deal with men on the outside while a major male energy within her was choking her to death. This inner patriarch is one of the forms of the inner critic. When a woman becomes aware of this, she takes a major step out of the victim daughter bonding to the world of the patriarchy.
The inner critic throws each person into the son or daughter role. It is one of the main ways that we bond from these places. If we believe the inner critic, then we are not okay and the person we are with is always right; thus, we automatically enter into a son or daughter relationship with that person.
Neil is constantly criticized by his wife for not being aggressive and forceful enough in his law firm. His wife is not simply upwardly mobile; her ambitions are propelled by a rocket. Neil’s father had a very driving personality, and Neil was accustomed to this kind of criticism. He had lived with it since he was a little boy, with a brief period of independence in his dating years. As happens so typically, Neil married his inner critic. He will remain the victim son to the critical mother until he learns to deal with her differently and/ or until he learns to recognize the reality and power of the inner critic within himself. It is as if he has been hit on the head by outer and inner criticism for so many years that now it has become a way of life. It feels normal. When his wife goes into her critical mother, he naturally goes into the role of good natured son. In this way, he remains bonded in a son/mother pattern until he is able to separate from his primary selves.
The tragedy for his wife is that her own judgmental mother is out of control. It has taken her over and at some level she hates herself for it. So long as he remains identified with the victim son, Neil does not have the instinctual power to stop her power mother. In bonding patterns, each member of the team needs the other person for his or her own redemption. It is as though they are in a state of enchantment, held prisoner by their primary selves. If they could use their relationship as a teacher, then Neil would see that his wife carries the power energy that he disowns, he would begin to separate from her power-driven critical pusher and embrace her disowned good-natured self. They would most likely feel much better not only about themselves but about one another.
It is fascinating to think that in our relationships, we have the ability to redeem one another in this way, to help one another separate from the primary selves that have exercised total power in our lives, and to free the disowned or unconscious selves that have not been available to us in the past.