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ELAINE BOND: You must find ways of silencing the critical parent inside your head


Elaine Bond is a trained counsellor who offers counselling services in Gedling. In this month’s column she talks about silencing the inner parent…

We often find it easy to be kind, empathic and forgiving to others even when we have sometimes been badly affected by their actions ourselves.  But then we are unable to treat ourselves in the same way. We berate ourselves and talk internally in a way that we would never talk to anyone else. Have you ever wondered why?

We all know about the inner child, but we also have an inner parent, which is a part of us that is split into two kinds of parent, a nurturing one and a critical or controlling one. These parent egos represent a massive collection of recordings in the brain of external events, either experienced or perceived, in approximately the first five years of our life. These recordings can be spoken, experienced or even just assumed. Both the critical and the nurturing parent ego state are ok unless you have too much of them. Positive aspects of the critical and nurturing parent can be seen when we can see the difference between right and wrong, make decisions or fix mistakes without guilt.

If we think about it like we did when we were children when parents and other adults were telling us what to do, e.g. go to bed, stop that, telling us what we were – that’s silly, naughty and so on. We learn from them instructions that begin with ‘never’, ‘always’, ‘how to’, ‘don’t lie, cheat, forget etc’. Basically, ‘this is how life is in this house’. These become injunctions that we HAVE to live by.

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Of course, everyone’s parents were different, even siblings will have different parental egos which are dependant on where they were in the family structure and which adults they had in their life. So, my parent ego won’t look like yours and so on. But when you are nurturing, permission giving, caring and protecting we can usually say you are being your nurturing parent ego state. When we are critical, bossy or demanding, pointing our fingers and blaming we are in our critical parent ego state.

We have all had the manager at work who is stuck in the critical parent ego – rule bound, wanting things done his/her way – regardless of the needs of the situation. They tend to be critical and bossy in their style – and consequently often not much liked.

But this critical parent also lives and thrives in our head, and can give us messages about not being good enough, got it wrong, stupid, fat, ugly etc. In fact, those sentences that in our head that start with shoulda, coulda, woulda are usually our critical parent just letting us know what we did wrong in their opinion.

The internal critical parent is talking to our inner child when it criticises us, so we are in fact bullying a six-year-old. How much would that upset and devastate a small child? We would not let anyone do that to our children.

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This critical voice we have will often give us low self-esteem, low self-confidence and low self-belief. Worse though is that we can end up with anxiety (I don’t believe I can do anything right) or depression (I can’t do anything right so why bother).

We simply need to treat ourselves like our own best friend, which sounds easy – right? But what stops us? There is a cultural issue in our society, as well as the voices we have absorbed, and there are some myths about self-compassion which most of us buy into.

Self-compassion is self-pity or just feeds our ego. But self-compassion is about seeing life as it is, acknowledging that we may have issues or suffering. It’s about putting our problems into perspective.

Our society believes it’s just being self-indulgent, when in actual fact self-compassion isn’t about pleasure, it’s about alleviating suffering, whether we are suffering now or may do in the future.

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We believe that suffering and cajoling is the way to motivate ourselves. But all that does is create fear and makes us lose any faith we have in ourselves. Even when we achieve our goal it will not be good enough or fast enough.

Self-compassion is like being a nurturing parent to ourselves. We need to be supportive and accepting of ourselves, forgiving our mistakes and realizing we can never be truly perfect. Compassion, including self-compassion, is linked to our internal systems. That’s why being compassionate to ourselves, when we feel inadequate, makes us feel safe and cared for just like a child. Self-compassion helps to calm down the threat response. When the stress response (fight–flight–freeze) is triggered by a threat to our self-concept, we are likely to turn on ourselves. We fight ourselves (self-criticism), we flee from others (isolation), or we freeze (rumination).

When we practice self-compassion, we are deactivating the threat-defence system and activating the care system. Oxytocin and endorphins are released, which help reduce stress and increase feelings of safety and security.

The first step toward self-compassion is feeling safe from harm. Protecting ourselves means saying “no” to others who are hurting us or to the harm we inflict on ourselves, consciously or unconsciously.

We need to start treating ourselves as our own best friends – we would never talk to someone like this – “My wife has left me I am devastated” – “Well it isn’t a surprise as you are pretty useless, never stepped up to the mark, pretty useless dad and to need to get fit. Let’s face it you will never find anyone else “. We need to hear this voice and throw it out before it can cause too much damage.

Find out what soothes us, calms us down and brings us comfort and then use that to give ourselves the compassion we need.

Stop and ask ourselves “what do I need right now?”.  Be mindful of our feelings and provide ourselves with the care/soothing we need, and sometimes we may even provide comfort to our internal child who has just been bullied.

Develop mindfulness about your emotions and that critical voice and try and find out what’s going on internally right now (be still and quiet and you will be able to tune into the hurt child, just remember to shut the critical voice out). Be kind to yourself and accept you need to care for yourself (whether that’s saying “no” or crying it out).

Sometimes writing a letter to ourselves can help. Try writing a letter to yourself acknowledging your issues and problems, then think of an imaginary friend who is unconditionally wise, loving, and compassionate and write a letter to yourself from the perspective of that friend. Or try writing a letter from the nurturing part of you to the bullied child, showing that you care, and that you are sorry.

If you cannot shut up the critical parent in your head then you will need help.  A period of therapy to look at where it came from and why it is so harsh will help you become self-compassionate.

You can contact Elaine Bond about counselling services on 07769 152 951. You can also find her on Facebook:

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