How The Critical Inner Voice Damages Relationships
The critical inner voice, is the inner dialogue or thought pattern running in the background and often foreground of the mind. It comments, criticizes and casts judgement on ourselves and others. The critical inner voice is formed mostly in childhood (read more here).
Children absorb attitudes and beliefs from their environment and do not have the emotional capabilities to determine if they are accurate. The more negative attitudes observed and directed at the child, the more the child will form a negative core belief of self.
"Clinical studies investigating the structure, functions, and or origins of the negative thought process, or voice, have clarified its role in the inter-generational transmission of negative parental attitudes, behaviors, and defenses" - Fear Of Intimacy, Robert Firestone and Joyce Catlett, October 1999
Emotional underdeveloped parents (or caregivers) are prone to projecting their own insecurities or parts of themselves that they do not like onto their children. Children do not have the capacity to understand that this the parents' issue, and will accept any label that they are given. If you were labelled as naughty, bad, not very bright etc, as your role in the family, you unconsciously seek to recreate this same role in your intimate adult relationships.
The critical inner voice will encourage anything that agrees with it, or attack anything that threatens its beliefs. Therefore it can attack partners positively trying to show their love, and encourage behavior that will provoke a partner into responding negatively.
"To a large extent, they behave in ways that provoke angry, punishing reactions. For example, husbands and wives withhold the affectionate, loving responses that were originally desirable. They provoke anger and rage in each other with forgetfulness, thoughtlessness, and other manifestations of direct or indirect hostility. Ultimately, partners are provoked to the point where they actually find themselves speaking out the other's "voices" in an angry reaction to the provocation." - Fear Of Intimacy, Robert Firestone and Joyce Catlett, October 1999
This causes partners to withdraw, haul up the defences and experience a distance from each other that is safe for the critical inner voice.
Whenever we try to let down our defences, get intimate with a partner and be vulnerable, the critical inner voice can surface, picking at your insecurities. It magnifies actions and insecurities out of proportion, causing a state of anxiety that can make it difficult to be ourselves. These are the thoughts like I'm not good enough, she could find someone better than me, why did I say that. For example, in my own experience often before meeting someone for a date, I will find my inner critical voice will start attacking my appearance. I was passing some shops on the way to a date once and the voice just kept saying things like why did I put on this top I look awful, he's going to be disappointed when he sees me and not want to see me again, my shape isn't attractive etc. On this particular occasion, I even considered not turning up and found myself going into shop after shop, desperately searching for a top that would make me feel better about myself. I ended up buying a top that really wasn't any better than my original top, being nearly an hour late to the date. As a result, I felt on edge, anxious and was not able to be myself.
The critical inner voice focuses on any flaws an intimate partner has and magnifies them. This can be voices like he’s so needy, she's going to leave me, she is just stringing me along, he’s too boring etc. A way to identify between the critical inner voice and a valid concern about a partner is to try and look at the situation objectively. Would a neutral person looking at the situation from the outside form a similar conclusion. For example, if a partner is constantly flirting with everyone they meet offering compliments, finding excuses to touch people; it’s a reasonable assumption that they are flirtatious and this could cause issues. However, a partner that doesn’t go out that often and then on one occasion comes home an hour later than they promised; has probably arrived home late for a genuine reason. The critical inner voice in that situation might convince you that the lateness was due to them cheating on you.
If you are caught up on superficial things like she eats to loudly, I can’t stand his shoes, her boobs aren’t big enough etc this is likely to be the critical inner voice. This particular aspect of the critical inner voice will be most vocal in people with avoidant attachment style. It serves as the perfect distancing tool as they are not going to want to spend time with a partner if they can't even bear the sound of that partner's breathing!
"she started with the thoughts she had originally stated but soon went on to reveal a whole point of view that was critical of her and her partner. Her tone became superior and degrading. After allowing time to fully express these thoughts, I asked her where she thought these thoughts had originated. Whose point of view was this? Asking these types of questions is the second step in Voice Therapy. She quickly responded that she felt it was her mother’s voice talking to her. She revealed that her mother had often expressed critical and superior attitudes toward men. She recognized that this incorporated point of view of her mother’s was sabotaging her relationship, a relationship that is precious to her." - Are You Tricking Yourself Out of Love, Lisa Firestone, Huffington Post
In relationships withholding means holding back positive or desired responses from a partner. This means choosing not to express love, encouragement or affection and choosing also not to receive love. Thoughts like he's lying, he doesn't really love you, why should I do that for her, I don't want her to get comfortable. It can also take a more passive aggressive stance, like forgetting things, being too tired or procrastination.
Overcoming the voice
Identify - The first step to overcoming the voice is being able to identify it as separate and not part of you. As soon as you start to hear the voice, stop and label it as ‘the critical voice is starting again’. Take it out of the first person, replace ‘I’ with ‘You’, give it a separate name like little miss moody if this helps. This will help you start recognising that it is just a voice and not the truth.
Challenge – Actively challenge what the voice is telling you or why it judges that to be wrong. Think back to where that opinion was formed, was it something your brother teased you about, or something a bully said to you at school. Is it just a completely bizarre opinion, then tell it that. If you struggle with telling yourself positive things, then listen to positive affirmation meditations or videos on YouTube. If you where used to negativity in childhood its likely that you won't know many different positive reassurances so it can really help to learn some.
Meditation and Therapy - Meditation will help gain control of the voice and stop thoughts spiraling. If you are struggling to gain control over the voice then psychotherapy is recommended to enable you to work through any unresolved trauma that is holding you back.
Lisa Firestone, Are You Tricking Yourself Out of Love, Huffington Post - https://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-firestone/inner-voice_b_1813327.html