* In a lively class discussion, Marge is asked a question by the professor. She is convinced that everyone is smarter and better read than she. She fears that her teacher will find out that she is a fraud and her mind becomes a blank as her whole body is frozen with panic.
* Doug hears voices in his head every time that he has an interaction at work: “Can’t you see how weird and awkward you are? Every one else does!”
* Whenever Charlotte makes phone calls to sell customers her company’s services, her heart beats wildly and she is filled with dread. Yet she has developed a system with which she manages to appear calm and self-assured. She suffers of constant stress related headaches.
* When he approaches a woman he likes, Jacob has overwhelming emotional responses and expectations of ridicule. On the other hand he is unable to be affectionate and ask for the affection he wants when he is in a relationship.
* Hillary is in constant fear of danger; danger of bad food, bad air, dangerous people and risk of being stalked and raped. She performs complicated, extremely time consuming steps to keep her safe and has to limit her activities radically.
* Almost every night Daniel wakes up and spends long periods of sleepless time tossing in his bed while plagued by fantasies of problems and bad things that could happen next day. He is unable to control his doom-ridden thoughts even though his fears fail to materialize. He is often tired and sleepy in the middle of the day at his high-tech, high achievement job.
* Sally lives under a cloud of sadness. Every so often she cries uncontrollably and for no reason and is convinced that she is doomed to a life of unhappiness. She puts up a workable front and on occasion she has a short period of wellbeing and that gives her hope.
* Drew regularly compares her appearance with other women’s. She ignores people who she decides are not as attractive as her and focuses on those who are “better” than her. She is plagued by continual feelings of inferiority and competition about her body; her weight, breasts hips, legs, hair, skin and she obsessively reads fashion magazines.
It has as been called by as many names as the Devil himself. Every psychotherapist has a name for it; the harsh superego, negative self-talk, catastrophic expectations, low self-esteem, self hatred, stinking thinking, the punitive protector, internalized oppression, the Critical Parent and the Pig Parent. Every therapy system has recognized this near universal phenomenon; that inner voice that tells us over and over, in good times and bad, in whispers or shouts, from childhood to old age, when we are doing well or when we are doing badly, that our life is mediocre, hopeless or doomed, that we are not OK, that we are stupid or bad or ugly or crazy or sick.
The Inner Critic gets a start as an external influence, force upon us by people with power over us when we are children. Primarily but not always parents, other relatives, teachers, neighbors and very importantly, age mates, have that kind of power over us when we are young. Like inmates in a prison camp who do best when they submit to their jailers, children find that their comfort, and at times survival, depends on accepting what they are told without protest. As we conform to these negative views we change from free ranging, autonomous humans to enslaved beings, governed by outrageous external views and rules.
Accepting these views and rules is a condition of psychological survival when we are children. That allows the Inner Critic to present itself as friend when we are grown up, claiming to do what it does to help us survive. The truth is that with such a friend we don’t need enemies; its constant presence effectively ruins life for many and undercuts the capacity to succeed and be productive for all of us.
The voices in Doug’s head would be called his harsh superego by a psychoanalyst, Jacob’s predictions of doom would be called catastrophic expectations by a rational-emotive therapist, Marge’s demeaning feelings about her worth would be called low self-esteem. Charlotte’s panic attack would be called a phobic reaction. Daniel’s mental conundrum would be called an obsession and Hillary’s fears would be called negative self-talk by cognitive therapists. Sally would be diagnosed as having major depression. Drew’s constant self put-downs have been called punitive alter by multiple personalities advocates and pathological self-criticism by academic psychologists; all of it has been called stinking thinking in twelve step programs.
Everyone of the real-life situations described above can be seen as the result of a set of ideas which has acquired a firm grip over the person’s mental and emotional life. When this possession is by a vicious, brutal entity it has been called the Pig Parent, when a relentless critical voice, the Inner Critic, when a rational seeming constant nag the Critical Parent, when a silent depressing presence the Enemy. They all start in the past as an external influence fed to us by important people in our lives and then is acquired and incorporated. Therefore, since it acquired, we can delete it as an influence in our present.
The Enemy’s function, has its roots in the hierarchical, territorial, aggressive instincts of our simian ancestors which as we evolved into human beings became patriarchal concepts handed down through millennia of civilization. Its aim is to curtail people’s freedom and to subordinate the individual to the will of others preventing the person from being all he or she can be. Its power depends on its capacity to trick us, intimidate us, confuse us, startle and frighten us. It is a complex of toxic ideas, an evil ideology, even a satanic possession, if you will, about ourselves. The tactics of the Enemy are many but they are all based on the threat that we will be cut off from the tribe; unloved and alone. In addition it threatens us with loss of control over our lives, loss of power in the world, alienation and oblivion.
These negative ideas working inside of us are normally not acknowledged and discussion of them is frowned upon. Consider this: In the most tyrannical of political regimes people are prohibited from speaking their ruler’s name. Why? Because if we can’t talk about what is oppressing us we are limited in fighting it . In addition if we can’t clarify how the tyrant works we are more easily be persuaded that we are the cause of our own troubles. Being able to talk about oppressors its the first step to overthrowing them. Likewise with our internal oppressor; it is important to be aware that it ruins our lives and to refer to it by name; I will call the particular demon that makes our lives miserable by sabotaging us, the Critical Parent, the Pig Parent as well as the Inner Critic, the Vicious Judge, the Enemy or even the Enemy Alien; feel free to use my names or make up your own but do give it a name and lets freely talk about it.
The most important obstacle in this project is that, without realizing, it most people believe that the Inner Enemy’s mission is legitimate: to keep us on the right path, prevent us from making mistakes, guide us in our decisions, advise us of our flaws; in short, that it is well informed and beneficial, worthy of being listened to and followed. Because the Enemy’s arguments, while false usually have a ring of validity they are seen by its victims as being valid and reasonable when they are actually worse than worthless.
Some reject the idea of the complete worthlessness of the Critical Parent in the present world and want to reserve some validity for it. They have called it the Normative Critical Parent suggesting thereby that its purpose is to establish and defend important and worthwhile societal norms. In fact the Enemy’s purpose is to undermine our power so that we remain obedient to the society’s archaic, patriarchal rules.
The Enemy is also mistaken for our Conscience, that core aspect of our soul which reminds us of our legitimate bonds and obligations to others. But unlike our Conscience which is built on the love of ourselves and our neighbors, the Inner Enemy’s mission is to undermine the affectionate bond between people. The Internal Enemy is devoted to making sure that we not only not love ourselves but that we also not love others. When we don’t love ourselves or others no one will love us; human bonding and affection is reduced to a minimum and we become isolated and impotent against the Enemy’s influence. Thus its task, to undermine our freedom and autonomy so that we are obedient and compliant, is complete.
(For more about the Inner Critic click here)