Redeemer Counseling Newsletter
Counseling Someone with a Harsh Inner Critic
In our work with people, we encounter those who are bogged down by self-condemning, critical thoughts. We try to assure them of their identity in Christ and replace self-condemning voices with Gospel truths, but often to no avail. They struggle with harsh thoughts which keep them locked in exhausting patterns of performing or isolating patterns of avoidance as they try to evade painful thoughts such as, “you are worthless”, “you are unlovable”, “you are not good enough,” “you are a failure” or “you are bad." They may have trouble progressing in work, in relationships or in other areas of life. This then leads to loneliness and reinforces the feeling of being uncared for, unworthy or defective, because they do not feel seen or known by others, and they often feel distant from God. Thus their strategy of hard work or avoidance never adequately assuages the feelings of unworthiness, and the negative voice continues to attack the sense of self. We can call this negative voice the Harsh Critic.
The Harsh Critic tries to motivate people to accomplish their goals, but not by empowering them. Rather, it drives them out of fear and the need to prove themselves, which causes mounting anxiety. In trying to disprove the Harsh Critic, they eventually become tired and hopeless, unable to stop the cycle.
Sometimes in our effort to help others, we can be too quick to dismiss the voice of the Harsh Critic, trying to replace the thoughts with self-affirming statements or God’s word. But these critical voices are unconscious heart beliefs, rooted and formed in past experiences that cannot be easily supplanted by head knowledge. We would do better to try and understand and grieve the damage caused by the Harsh Critic, and show compassion for how that voice came to be. Therefore, it is often helpful to explore what experience triggered this Harsh Critic in order to help the person grieve and heal the core hurt. This month’s tool will help to distill the voice of the Harsh Critic and locate its origins in order to unroot and unravel thought processes which are destructive.
Christina Choi, LCSW