Second, the inner critic can prevent growth because it uses judgments and threats to enforce rules, and this is often counterproductive in that it undermines our capacity, not only to question and develop the rules so they remain relevant to our lives, but also to simply follow these rules.
The inner critic relates to you as if you were a child in need of correction and it often corrects you using judgments or threats. Therefore, when the inner critic is active, you will often feel as if you are a child and something external to you is the grown-up that is telling you off, and in this situation, you will often lose or forget your adult capacities – the very capacities you would need to comply with the inner critic’s demands. For example, if you are giving a presentation and the inner critic is active the audience may feel like the grown-up you have to impress or please. You may feel that the audience thinks you are boring or incompetent (judgment) and that they will give you bad reviews that will damage your future career (threat). When your inner critic tells you that the audience thinks you are boring and incompetent, its aim is to make you try harder to deliver a good presentation. However, using judgments and threats to achieve this is often counterproductive, since it creates fear in you and is likely to make you forget your presentation skills and your expertise – the very things you would need to deliver a good presentation. Similarly, if you do your tax return and the inner critic is active telling you, you are doing it wrong and that you will get charged with fraud, you may feel your accountant or the tax office as the adult you have to impress or please, and the fear the inner critic creates may lead you to make mistakes or render you unable to do the calculations you otherwise know how to do. If you are talking to your partner and the inner critic is active telling you that he or she thinks you are too selfish, you may feel your partner as the adult and yourself as a child with a child’s level of capacity in dealing with relationship issues. If you are parenting your own child and the inner critic is active telling you how bad you are at raising your child and that as a consequence your child will never respect you, even your own children can feel like the adult, you wish to impress and please and whose approval you seek. And in such moments, you may feel incapable of raising your child – even if you at other times have proven that you are fully capable of doing so.
There is nothing wrong with the inner critic’s desire for you to deliver a good presentation that captivates the audience, do your tax returns right, have a harmonious relationship with your partner, and do a good job raising your children. But because the inner critic uses judgments and threats as a means of getting you to do these things, it will often cut you off from the very capacities you need to succeed.
Furthermore, the judgments of the inner critic will often target the very aspect of your psyche you need to succeed. To deliver the good presentation you need to be calm – but the inner critic tells you that this is boring and that you need to get rid of the calmness because that is not entertaining. To preserve a good relationship with your partner, you need to be honest about your desires – but the inner critic tells you that this is selfish and the very cause of the problems. Thus, we need to disengage from the inner critic to stay connected with the full range of our adult capacities to deal with the situations we meet in life.