I’m often asked what the most common ‘presenting issue’ is that I work with in my consulting room. The short answer is anxiety, followed by depression or a general sense of distress in the wake of a bereavement, relationship ending or loneliness. But the longer answer is that I nearly always meet a self-critic busy at work inside nearly every client I meet: one intent on scuppering him or her from thriving, from taking any hoped-for risk or, simply put, from being happier.
Self-critics come in various guises, and either say (maybe with a clear voice), or convey beliefs such as:
-I’m not clever/funny/sharp/interesting enough
-I’m not successful enough
-I’m not tall/short/thin/good-looking enough
-I’m an imposter, I’ll be found out soon
Or even worse:
-I’m disgusting, vile, and not worth anything at all
There are many reasons why we may have a self-critic, and therapy is a useful place to work this out – and therefore understand that the beliefs of a self-critic aren’t necessarily true, although on occasion, they may be useful to keep us in check. Self-critics are far more likely to be a product of our psychological creation, probably from years or even decades before. It may be that a self-critic begins to grow as a result of bullying or ostracism, but also if we come up against rough treatment, or abuse from our parents or others who are supposed to be looking after us. It’s developmentally normal to blame ourselves for being ‘bad’ rather than blame our caregivers for being defective in any way, as we need to believe that our parents are consistent and kind and ‘good’ – we wholly rely upon them.
Once we can begin to hold on to the idea that our self-criticism may be a defensive relic from previous times – rather than an intrinsic part of us – we can then begin to inch away from it, creating a space for more positive feelings for ourselves – a practice that can be tough, can take a while, but I know can and does succeed.