Forming a friendly relation with ourselves is at the core of counselling practices, which aim to create a holistic open dialogue between mind, emotions and body that can enable life opportunities for growth. However, creating this constructive inner discourse is not an easy task, since we often tend to be more unfriendly with ourselves than with others. This unfriendly or ‘critical’ attitude within ourselves has been defined in various ways within counselling and psychotherapeutic traditions. Gendlin (the father of the Focusing approach) defines it as the ‘inner critic’, a disciplinary and authoritarian voice present in each of us that, depending on biological, social and cultural influences, may be more powerful in some people than in others. For Freud is the ‘Supergo’, ‘animus’ for Jung, the ‘internal critic’ or a ‘partial self’ for other scholars. They all seem to agree on the fact that this part of ourselves is a sort of punitive presence that can bring along damaging self-criticism and even irrational and upsetting feelings, such as guilt.
So, what can we do when we recognise the Inner Critic?
Once we are aware of it, the next step would be to acknowledge it as a controlling presence that often comes from outside. It could be an external conditioning coming from the environment (culture, family, history, geography etc.) that does not belong to us. In that case, we could gently and mockingly push it away, for example by saying “come back when you have something new to say” (Gendlin, 2003: 98). Another way to deal with it, could be to try to connect emphatically to it. In doing so, we recognise it as a “partial self” that needs to be nurtured. Therefore, we can try to accept it as an integral part of ourselves that is present in each of us. So, instead of deriding it or rejecting it, we could try to build a relationship with it.
Overall, whatever strategy we decide to adopt, the need to explore the ‘inner critic’ and to understand how we interact with it, seems to form the basis for fruitful relational work within counselling practices, that can help us gain acceptance and respect for ourselves as a whole.
- Gendlin, E. T. (2003). Focusing. 3rd ed. London, Sydney, Auckland, Johannesburg: Rider.
- Jung, C. (1960). The structure and dynamics of the psyche. The collected works of Carl Jung. Volume 8. Trans. by Hull, R.F.C. London: Routledge and Kcgan Paul.
- Freud, S. (1923). Das Ich and das Es. Vienna: Internationaler Psycho-analytischer Verlag, W. W. Norton & Company.
- Cornell, A. W. & McGavin, B. (2003). A focusing student and companion manual. Berkeley: CA: Calluna Press.
- Greenberg, L. S., Rice, L. N. & Elliot, (1993). Facilitating emotional change. The moment- by-moment process. New York: Guilford Press.