How to Reframe a Client’s Relationship with an Inner Critic

A toxic inner critic can often trap our clients in painful patterns of shame, or sometimes leave them frozen in fear.
But according to Rick Hanson, PhD, the inner critic can also serve an important function.

So how can we help clients counteract a harsh inner critic in order to experience healing and growth?

In this short video, Rick shares a useful way of reframing the role of the inner critic for clients, and why it can sometimes be necessary to veer from some of the most common approaches for working with it.

Take a look—it’s about 4 minutes.

How do you help clients break free from a harsh inner critic?

Please leave a comment below.

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33 Comments

  1. Juengia says:

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. M. Orswell S. says:

    Dear Carol, this is likely to be the Gestalt strategy I have learned to use it in a way to have a conversation with the negative emotions. I like your idea of teaching them about self-compassion. In this process, it is for the person to be more realistic about their feelings they project onto others. The only for this is to understand ourselves first. There is a great potential here for the lasting inner critics not to perpetuate. I would love to hear more about how you would “utilize embodied techniques using the creative arts” , through creating the dialogue. Thank you so much for sharing.

  3. I have clients externalize their inner critic through role playing with masks–I interview it, become it, dialogue with my client from it’s perspective. They also create a mask of self-compassion and the same process ensues. Then I ask the client to create a dialogue between the inner critic and self-compassion. Central to the work is the client thanking the critic for how it has tried to help. I utilize embodied techniques using the creative arts. My work is featured in the documentary “Expressing Disorder: Journey to Recovery.”

    • Ellen Davis says:

      Dear Carol, your work sounds transformative, rich, and wonderful. I will keep an eye out for your documentary. My congratulations and appreciation.

  4. Marsha Austin says:

    In Matrix Reimprinting we bring in helpful resources and then rerun the event with that resource. I can see here that in other modalities I can also ask the client to bring in other resources the same way. Great idea, thank you.

  5. Jonathan says:

    I will do the same after my finals. Glad you joined.

  6. Juengia says:

    How agreeable ! I will put this in practice.

  7. Steph says:

    I may suggest they thank the inner critic and view it as a protector who may have helped them survive in the past but is no longer needed, or at least does not need to work as hard now. The inner critic may now take a break and relax, maybe visualizing it on a sunny beach, for example.

  8. Melody R Oliver says:

    I advise students to be their own best friend with words of encouragement to themselves, starting with evidence they have of their strengths, in support of that encourage mental.

  9. Anne Stone says:

    I’ve had a colleague’s inner critic coming after *me* for a few months, not directly but by way of our shared boss, with whom I’ve done a lot of coaching over the last seven years… trying to refract some forgiveness and guidance onto the colleague through conversations with my boss has been really difficult, but it’s also working. The perfectionism that’s causing my colleague to escalate and lash out at me as a perceived obstacle to her success is getting further escalated by my boss’s inner driver, and he’s coming to me to solve it because he knows I have the skill of reframing. It’s been some heavy lifting.

    For a while I was just falling apart in the face of all the attack/criticize/demonize energy, but once I processed my own stuff and started to throw different voices and scenarios back, reframing the “You’re the problem, stop it.” with some creative thinking and solutioning, and because I was able to keep on my own path and work my own inner critic into submission while also making it clear in as nice a way as possible that I didn’t buy into the idea that there was a serious problem or that I had caused one, that frequency of my own inner guide (helpful critic rather than railing paralyzer) started to connect.

    I love the manifestation of voices in pop culture characters, and in a weird way I think that might work with inter-generational situations like the one I’m in, where my boss is between the two of us in age but the younger colleague has a less time-bound sense of pop culture. The power of story seems to be boundless, though the buy-in can be hard to get to. Trust is pretty motivating : )

  10. Clementia Eugene says:

    Good analogy of a rock climber.

    I have been working with a client who is very self critical. I had him to make a list of all the “I am……criticism” Then we went through the list identifying the behaviours, feelings and belief systems associated with each. Then we discuss how to reframe the negative I am to a positive and again what behaviours, feelings and beliefs systems he would have to adopt to make the shift. Then the homework was to practice for the week and keep a journal of the experience. That seemed to have worked.

    • M. Orswell S says:

      Thank you for sharing. This is great!

  11. Stephanie says:

    Thank you. This is very helpful. /nurturing communities/, yes, completely. lately, i had a client with OCD . initially I was not knowledgeable enough about how to work with this group of population. now, thankfully, i got it. my client was looking for support to handle her daily stress rather than her ocd sx. in fact, stress played a big part in her problems. her ability to remember all the roadmaps was exceptional. better than any G.P.S. ! i now understand that her memory ability was a coping tool to control her ocd. initialy it was not what i had for her to work on. my tx goal was to “mess up” her daily routine. anyhow, this “habits’ or tendancy to rely on her memory was mostly due to her defective inner critics, as it now seems to be, to me. it is her inner critics that caused her the stress and not what i fought was her gifted way to memorize everything. that was my mistake.

  12. Marie Murphy says:

    I often use the analogy of different types of coaches, but add in for clients with an extremely harsh coach that we are not talking about cheerleading, but something that is in the middle – not harsh, but also not cheesy or unbelievable. They often move very slowly towards less harsh and see being completely positive towards themselves as unattainable and often unhelpful – they might lose the usefulness of what has previously been a survival strategy.

  13. Kate Holaday says:

    I often mention that that part of themselves that is so harshly judgmental thinks it’s helping them. A lightbulb sometimes goes off for them. Then we agree that it is actually making things worse. The client can reassure that part that she “has this” — that she can take care of whatever it is in a different way.

  14. Karin Hall says:

    Well, it can be hard to get those criticisms and easy to withdraw or make yourself small. What I have learned about myself and my client is that if we were not unsure about ourselves to start with we wouldn’t be so effected. So, helping my clients seeing what they truly are and what innate qualities they actually have, helping them go behind the veil, the roles and limited identifications is helpful. And it needs nourishments by regular attention, and seeing the belief that you are less than that. And I also use mediation or mindfulness tesuniqes for this.

  15. E. Witherspoon says:

    Yes, reframing the critics in a question has shown to bring out very good result in my experience. And, using SE as a mirroring technique to reflect the strong emotion (numbing, resistance, intellectualizing, are the few recent examples I can come up with )) It brings me a smile to joy when I am able to deflect the “bubble” of my inner world and come out new. Well this is very little few changes that can be seen from the distance, but that’s what count. So embrace it…

  16. Love the nurturing. It’s what I like to do.

  17. Ellen Davis says:

    Thank you, dear Ruth, for sharing these videos. I teach ballet and also offer spiritual counseling. With regard to perfectionism and the inner critic, I share with students and point out in context to its occurrence the difference between judging oneself and observing oneself. I support them to listen to the way in which they speak to themselves. I encourage them to trust rather than to insult their innate creative intelligence. They can see through their accelerated progress, and sense of embodying and integrating what they’re learning, how not trusting themselves is counterproductive to their progress. I point out the cultural conditioning that teaches that we must be punished before we can learn, and suggest that we can learn without doing that. I give them my authentic feedback about my sense of the beauty of their aspiration and that divine aspect of them/ourselves that moves towards perfection and our fullest manifestation. Rather than demonize perfectionism which is only more food for a perfectionist or self critic to beat themselves up with, I invite them to expand their concept of perfection to include “perfect” attitude which includes acceptance of what is, and allowance for mistakes or not achieving a level that matches their vision, and not getting in their own way with self judgments and self flagellation. I model and reaffirm all of these things by the way in which I share my own inner dialogue and experience and by the way in which I respond to and work with them.

  18. Alida Bedford says:

    It has not come up on the screen

  19. Bob Cable says:

    Building on Jenny’s comment, …”first introducing the concept of the critic as internalized parental voice, asking, who is taking in a mean way?”, I ask the client to think back and recall other comments from that critical parent type voice which could be from a variety of authority figures like teachers, coaches, or adult relatives. As they recall comments I ask which ones are the strongest, loudest, resonate the most with them right now. Then we apply EFT to process the impact those comments had and still have. The cognitive shifts are interesting. I hear thoughtful statements like, “Well as I think about it now, he/she seemed to be negative towards everyone. It was not really an objective assessment of how I was handling things, just the typical knee jerk negative comment.” Or, “I had just had a tough experience, maybe I over reacted. As I think about what was said now, there was a kernel or two of truth in those comments. Might be a good idea to take a careful look at them.”

  20. billur ugursal says:

    Thank you for this. I like the thought of establishing an inner circle of guides and assistants.

    humming a tune to the critical statement may help disarm the potency of that negative statement.
    it is like breaking through an ocd pattern with songs and tunes.

  21. Jenny says:

    I help clients to re-train Observing Ego into Friendly Observer, first introducing the concept of the critic as internalized parental voice, asking, who is taking in a mean way? After they recognize the voice, we work on relationship with this parent while finding a model of Friendly Observer, and re-framing his “mean” statements in a friendly and supportive way. The best example was when one my client who heard multiple voices in his head found a voice that advised him to take umbrella when it was raining, and another one that sang him lullabies when he could not fall asleep.

    • M. Orswell S says:

      That’s unusual but interesting. Thank you for sharing.

  22. Wendy says:

    Wonderful reminder of the importance of positioning the inner nurturing committee in our inner lives. Thank you !.

  23. Karen says:

    I have long looked at some people and thought: I cannot change the world to always say encouraging things to them, and I have looked at others who are so busy looking for the praise that they cannot hear the growth messages that they are being sent. This helped me to understand to always look past the messenger to the message. No one can make me feel a certain way except my inner critic. Our feelings come out of “we don’t know where”, they usually hit us without warning. We then have the time to recognize it as a feeling and we choose how to react to it. In a healthy state we surround ourselves with someone 1) who always tells us how wonderful we are 2) who always tells us straight and to the point – no flattery to find our way through and 3) people who will ask us the questions that reveal our inner truths.

  24. Joanna says:

    Hostility, defensiveness, eagerness to strive and righteousness are what I often see and to help overcome those feelings, I would just stay with those feelings for a little before going inside to find the answers. What really underneath is may be just be something rarely touched upon. Thank you Rick, for the marvelous contrasting and bright images!

  25. Jennifer F-N says:

    I help clients, friends, family members, and myself as well build up our inner nurturer with re-parenting. By re-parenting, we observe the inner critic without judgement as much as we can knowing it is a variant on perfectionism/shame/guilt/etc (name it to tame it). Then, we soothe ourselves with a better case scenario and/or better lesson learned approach along with what nurturing words would you tell someone else or a child applying it to ourselves. I’m big on mindfulness, yoga, affirmations, and being guided on a self-healing journey knowing that things usually turn out for the the best. I also like to approach bodily sensations and emotions/thoughts in a Somatic Experiencing approach to release stuck energy. Be well!

    • Lloyd says:

      Jennifer, I was going through re-parenting but found this process very difficult because both parents beat me as a child. The last thing l wanted was more parents. I needed someone who really cared. This was a block to my engagement until I recognised it. Hope this helps you with future clients.

  26. Karen says:

    This is wonderful. A new perspective that I will use for myself when I feel some negative emotions arising from the bottom up. Two very different approaches but one still requires a good dosage of learning to use constructively any feedback. Very awesome tipping.

  27. Lisa Schiro says:

    I tell my patients to thank their innrr critic for hid or het opinion and then re-foous on what mattets. I remind my oatient it is only an opinion, not always the truth. Patients seem to like this simple and effective technique.

  28. Jim Crowfoot says:

    Try to be aware and not numbing out given I have internalized a strong and destructive inner critic. When I am able to meditate or pray –which I seek to be regular in doing, I seek to be in the present and in touch with the Divine within, e.g loving presence AND the inner critic. In doing this I try to stay anchored in my loving presence that is connected to the larger Loving Presence/Divine and the inner critic.

    What I want to be able to do is take what is could be nurturing from the inner critic and as Rick suggests incorporate it into an inner “nurturing committee.”

    thank you for your work

  29. With my inner critic I just talk to them concerning what part of myself is out of balance!!!
    Then I just hug myself, sing, self love, eating favorite food, quiet time and most importantly one pajama day!!

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