Blog Post D2: Theory of trauma impacts on self-criticism
By Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling
26th June 2021
The Good and Bad Inner Critic
Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2021
Today, I completed Appendix D to my newly updated and expanded book on trauma recovery***, and it struck me just how far I have actually come since the heady (but simplistic) days of attributing the emotional upsets of counselling clients to their “belief systems”.
In Appendix D, I write about the client’s emotions, and various ways of processing their emotional problems through their visual and kinaesthetic channels; and then I move on to look in detail at their “feelings/attitudes/values/beliefs” about themselves – which cannot be boiled down to “mere cognitions”!
So instead of a “mere” belief system, it seems humans have an integrated ‘apparatus’ for perceiving-feeling-thinking, all in one “grasp” of the brain-mind.
Appendix D begins like this:
Trauma victims are often very harsh in their judgements of themselves. They take this harshness over from their abusers or victimizers.
We each have a legitimate (Good) Inner Critic (or conscience, super-ego, or Parent ego state) which helps us to stay on the moral and legal straight and narrow path through life.
But we each also have an illegitimate, unjustified, and damaging (Bad) Inner Critic, which is based on an excessively harsh conscience; or self-hatred; internalized from others.
I call the legitimate (Good) Inner Critic your “Good Wolf” state, after the traditional view of the Native American Cherokee people. They believed that we each have a war going on inside of us, between two Wolves; a Good Wolf and a Bad Wolf; and that the Wolf that wins is the one we feed. So we need to make sure we feed our moral, loving, kind, compassionate, charitable, but also self-assertive Good Wolf; and to starve our immoral, hateful, hurtful and aggressive Bad Wolf. (This has echoes of the European Christian view of the inner states of (1) sin [the Devil], and (2) the state of grace [or the indwelling Holy Spirit]. It also has echoes of Sigmund Freud’s distinction between the inner urges he called Thanatos [the Death urge] and Eros [the Love/Life urge]).
So our ‘Inner Critic’ ranges from moderate and moral – (which is the Good Wolf state) – to harsh and immoral (which is the Bad Wold state).
Therefore, our Inner Critic can be justified or unjustified. (The only cases where it is justified all have to do with legitimate transgressions of moral rules or justified laws (or health and safety issues).
The inner critic is not justified in criticizing harshly your efficiency or effectiveness, or general judgements in life.
It also is not justified in blaming you for being victimized; or describing you as worthless or ugly, etc.
When we harshly criticize ourselves, and put ourselves down – especially when the criticism is unjustified, exaggerated or inappropriate – this damages our sense of self-esteem and self-confidence; and makes us miserably unhappy.
… End of extract. …
Later in Appendix D I present a table in which I list the features of the client’s “Bad Inner Critic”; their “Good Inner Critic (or conscience); and their “Inner Coach/Mentor”.
This goes way beyond the amoralism of Albert Ellis, Fritz Perls, Carl Rogers and so many other of the post-war theorists of counselling psychology.
That’s all for now.
Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling