Something which is unbelievably prevalent within complex childhood trauma survivors (suffers of c-ptsd) is having a ‘violent inner-gollum’ or what most refer to as the ‘inner-critic’. Freud referred to this as the ‘superego’. The superego was described as being used to internalise parental figures rules and dialogue. Used to allow the child to follow the rules to gain acceptance (move away from pain & gain safety / approval / pleasure). To provide an ethical component to our personalities and help us develop moral standards used to develop a sense of healthy humility (healthy shame) to help keep us safe / learn from our mistakes and also to develop a healthy conscience which is the basis for healthy morality (healthy guilt). Essentially allowing a child to be governed towards a moral ideal or ‘idealised self-image’ to embody which could be then used outside the family unit to keep the child away from social & self-destructive harm. However, this goes deeper.
The issue here is that the superego is susceptible to installing the harsh criticisms and punishments of parents which if you have come from a very toxic family where verbal & emotional abuse was the gold standard and abandonment & neglect were riding shotgun then the child ends up internalising and echoing these ‘tellings off’s’ as the very mantras that will guide a lot of their inner-dialogue, visual imagery, words and behaviours.
So example, the toxic inner-critic can be develop from a parent belittling a child for his or hers basic humanness such as:
- Excessively shaming a child for making small mistakes
- Excessively shaming a child for crying
- Excessively shaming a child for prioritising his or hers needs (children are needy and egocentric by nature).
- Excessively shaming a child for self-championing & expressing anger (normally from age 2 years +).
- Excessively emotionally abandoning a child at times of distress (as well as physical desertion)
- Hitting a child (violating physical boundaries)
The list goes on.
Typically a child will play certain roles because of this and develop ‘ego defences’ or ‘maladaptive defence mechanisms’ to avoid the pain being triggered (avoiding triggering the metashame, loneliness, anger, sadness). I will get into the ‘family of origin roles’ within another article but some of the tendencies governed by the inner-critic are:
- Chronic perfectionism
- Social avoidance (fears surrounding social endangerment)
- People pleasing or excessive self-sacrificial behaviours (typical codependent behaviour. Typically what a child is forced to look after the parents emotionally needs the parent-child dynamic is reversed and the child becomes ‘parentfied’ through parentification. Child is forced abdanbon childhood dependency needs and demonstrate adult behaviours too soon).
- Rage outbursts, physical violence & excessive interpersonal dominance
- Compulsive behaviour or obsessive thinking (such as chronic worrying, excessive physical urgency)
- Having to numb out through alcohol, drugs, sex, masturbation
- Right or left hemisphere dissociation (fantasying / daydreaming, freezing in shock OR over intellectualizing).
One of core issues with what I call the internalised ‘hypercritical parent voice’ is that it triggers these behaviours yes, but also it activates a series of highly charged painful emotions which not only feel awful but also make these dysfunctional behavioural mechanisms come online. These painful inner-critic induced emotions typically include:
- TOXIC SHAME
- TOXIC GUILT
These emotions are the basis for having an ’emotional flashback’ which can then propel an individual into self-medicative behaviours (alcohol, drugs, sex, masturbation etc) developed to numb or avoid pain OR launch into actually childhood reactions of how they adapted to the overbearing parents at times of stress (behaviours mention above) and typically slip into the ‘adaptive child ego state’ where a person feels small and an overwhelming sense of powerlessness…
***IMPORTANT NOTE*** Sometimes the critic operates in ‘stealth mode’ and sounds silent and often isn’t accompanied with visual imagery (like within typical soldiers from war flashbacks). However reflections of the original trauma will trigger the emotional memory from simply seeing something similar to the trauma, smelling of something or a noise similar to a previous trauma.
“How can be combat the hypercritical parent voice & dethrone the inner-critics power over our thought process & behaviours?” – The beginning stages of cptsd recovery & self-reparenting yourself.
When our inner-critic dominates our psyche, fear is the driver, and shame is riding shotgun. To begin to dethrone the inner-critics power one must be brave & resilient enough to counteract the internal violence by challenging its toxic mantras of abuse. The beginning stages of cptsd recovery require silencing the critic in order then begin to then cultivate the healthy interior boundaries to protect ourselves from toxic shame, fear & helplessness etc which then helps us cultivate healthy instincts for physical self-protection. Without quieting the inner-critic ‘physical angering’ & effective ‘crying centred grieving’ are very difficult to perform (which are our massive sources of natural stress / pain relief). Often times boys are told “boys don’t cry!!!” and “its not girly to be angry!!!” etc. These ‘common shammings’ are often the greatest blocks to making an effective dent in cptsd recovery. Once the critic has calmed down somewhat, the rest of recovery becomes easier.
I am giving credit to family counsellor & psychotherapist Pete Walker for this term which is referred to as ‘anger-empowered thought stopping’. By standing up to the bully of the inner-critic, the aftermath of painful cptsd flashbacks begins to subside overtime. By using anger centred thought stopping overtime we also cultivate & recovery our healthy expression of verbalized anger socially. This is the essence of ‘self-championing’ aka standing up to that which is oppressing us internally and externally.
Interior work revolving around the critic is two part equation. I class the anger-empowered thought stopping within the context of self-reparenting work /healing work / recovery work as ‘sacred father work’ or ‘self-fathering work’ or even ‘inner-fatherhood work’. Symbolically I have always looked towards the father role within the family unit as a source of both protection, to provide feelings of safety + a source of discipline, to provide structure. When we give ourselves that protection for ourselves to give ourselves inner / outer safety which frees us from the shackles of the authoritarian / totalistic toxic internalized critic. We also by saying “NO!!!!!!” to ourselves we cultivate strong levels of willpower which can generate powerful levels of self-discipline so we stay within our own boundaries and give back to ourselves some form of structure within our day & can also allow us to take more action on things that are important to us.
Here as some effective inner-dialogue to use when your critic becomes online or if you just feel yourself in a emotional flashback. You might find you need to become very internally hostile towards the critic to get it too stop. Here are some examples:
- “Talk to me with some fucking respect or don’t fucking talk to me at all!”
- “No!!! Don’t speak to me like that ever fucking again.”
- “Shut up!!!”
- “Stop shouting at me and stop yelling at me!!!”
- “NOT NOW!!! GO AWAY!!!”
Hope you have found this article useful and in my next blog article I will be discussing ‘self-mothering work’ which is the complimentary opposite of self-fathering work which focusing on aspects of love. Symbolically, I have linked a mother as a source of unconditional love and when we begin to truly honour ourselves with patience & love internally, we begin to cultivate our healthy instincts for authentic self-compassion, unconditional self-acceptance & empowerment. This will be discussed more in my next article.
From your friendly neighbourhood coach