Elle Hunt wrote a great article in the Guardian newspaper on 6 January 2021 called “Silence your inner critic: a guide to self-compassion in the toughest times.” It headlines compassion in the process of dealing with the inner critic, and it touches on many of the aspects that we have found to be useful in the Diamond Approach. And there are some very useful additions that we could add that are not included.
Much of what is described will be familiar to anyone who has started working with their inner critic in the Diamond Approach. There is the recognition of the object relation or dialogue nature of the inner critic, where one part of your psyche is attacking of another part that feels upset and hurt. There is the use of gestalt techniques, using chairs to personify these two aspects, and the way that this may reveal earlier psychological origins of the inner critic in terms of parental or other voices and associations from the past. There is the need to see bring clarity in seeing it more clearly, which we see brings in awareness and disidentification. There is the recognition that self-compassion is not about dodging suffering, but turning to face the suffering of the inner critic and to take it seriously, and ask what is really needed. She even touches tangentially on the connection with the question of value.
She writes that the process requires waking up to see yourself rather than simply being yourself. Using “being” there might be a little confusing in terms of how we usually use the concept, but it makes more sense if you think of it as “unconsciously being yourself.” This has more to do with running on automatic, unconscious of the internal dynamics that are driving your process.
One refinement we might offer concerns compassion itself. We know that compassion is a crucial element in dealing with the inner critic. The structure is an object relation, and very frequently one side of it involves hurt, pain and suffering. Seeing, feeling and sensing that side of the object relation, and the truth of the hurt and suffering that the inner critic is causing naturally leads to the emergence of compassion, which allows the hurt part of our soul to relax – often a young child part. Rather than making a goal of trying to be compassionate, we allow it to emerge as needed as a natural response to the truth we are experiencing.
But the big missing item, is not about compassion, but rather concerns strength and aggression. The inner critic voice is aggressive and attacking. The suggested response is to try to dial up more compassionate voices, or to try to simply stop talking to yourself in that way. If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself… that kind of logic. In our experience, this is not enough. The inner aggressive capacities of your own psyche are co-opted and structured into the inner critic. It will continue to be attacking and vicious as long as it remains the unchallenged “owner” of those forces. So at some point it is utterly necessary to recognise the aggression and strength in the attacks, and to be willing to feel into that aggressive and strong energy. By doing so, you recognise and feel the truth that it is your own strength, you experience yourself as strong and attacking, even if it is not your usual sense of self. Re-discovering the truth of that inner strength and aggression ultimately gives you the resource to face the force of the inner critic and tell it to back off, which really just means expanding beyond its restriction.
The inner critic not only causes hurt and suffering, but also limitation, restriction and contraction in our life and in our consciousness. Strength and anger is the natural response to this limitation, exactly as compassion is the natural response to the hurt. We have to come to terms with anger as the doorway to our essential strength, just as we need to come to terms with hurt and suffering as the doorway to our essential compassion.
The strength angle of dealing with the inner critic is more apparent in self-help approaches like the “art of not giving a fuck,” which is basically a response to the inner critic. After all what or who is it that you are not giving a fuck about? So this is not entirely missing from the landscape of popular psychology. But strength and compassion seldom seem to come together.
In conclusion, the inner critic is an object relation often with an aggressive side and a hurt side. A balanced approach or exploration of what is true will ultimately reveal both sides. You need the strength to deal with the critic, and you need the compassion to deal with the hurt. Most approaches favour one at the expense of the other, and resonate with people who identify more with that side. If you’re strong and aggressive, you’ll favour the “not giving a fuck” side, but may be less open to the hurt and suffering, and cut off from compassion. If you’re gentle and vulnerable, you’ll probably go for the compassionate approach, but be more cut off from the strength. In both cases, what is probably most helpful is to allow the truth of the other side to become more conscious, unlocking the missing quality.
In the Diamond Approach, we see that these two essential aspects are really just the start, and that all different essential qualities in time are needed to deal with different facets of the inner critic: sometimes simple awareness will do it, sometimes lightness and joy at its absurdity, sometimes the solidity of will is needed not to be moved by it, and so on. By seeing, feeling and sensing the truth of our experience in our inquiry, presence will naturally respond with whatever quality is most fitting required, and we do not need to have a fixed goal or approach in mind.
Diamond Heart UK and Diamond Approach South Africa are both exploring the Red essence with its qualities of strength, aliveness and expansiveness. Visit the group pages to register for upcoming weekends, to review past weekends on this topic that you attended, or to obtain access to past weekends to listen to and explore in your own time: