Cognitive Behavior Technique #32
The Pathological Critic
Compiled by Jerome R. Gardner 2002 - First Edition
This technique is an adaption of the material in the book Self-Esteem, New Harbinger Publications, Inc, 1992 by Matthew Mckay & Patrick Fanning.
Technique # 32
THE PATHOLOGICAL CRITIC
The pathological critic is a term coined by psychologist Eugene Sagan to describe the negative inner voice that attacks and judges you. Everyone has a critical inner voice. But those people with negative self appraisal tend to have a more viscious and vocal pathological critic. The Critic blames you for things that go wrong. The critic compares you to others - to their achievements and abilities - and finds you wanting. The critic sets impossible standards of perfection and then criticizes you for the smallest infractions. The Critic keeps a record of failures, but ignores strengths and accomplishments. The Critic calls you names - stupid, incompetent, ugly, selfish, weak - and makes you believe that all of them are true. The Critic reads your friends’ minds and convinces you that they are bored, turned off, disappointed or disgusted by you. The Critic always exaggerates your weaknesses by insisting that you ‘always say stupid things’, or ‘always screw up’, or ‘never finish anything on time’. The Critic’s voice is so insidious, so woven into the fabric of your thought, that you never notice the effects. No matter how distorted and false the attacks may be, the Critic is almost always believed. A loud, negative Critic is enormously toxic. The Critic speaks in a kind of shorthand. S/he might only scream the word ‘lazy’, but those two syllables contain the memory of the hundreds of times a child manager [mother, father, teacher] complained about laziness, attacked your laziness, or said how s/he hated laziness. Sometimes the critic uses submodalities [images or pictures from the past] to undermine your sense of self worth. Through a process called chaining, the Critic may show you a past failure, 1
cognitivebehavior.com which reminds you of another and another in a long string of painful associations. And though you try to turn the Critic off, you keep being reminded of yet another mistake, another rejection, another embarrassment. The Critic has many weapons. Among the most effective are the values and rules of living that you grew up with. The Critic has a way of turning your ‘shoulds’ against you. The Critic compares the way you are with the way you ‘ought’ to be and judges you inadequate or wrong. Origin Although the Critic seems to have a will of his/her own, this independence is an illusion. The Critic was born during your earliest experiences of socialization by your parents. All through childhood your parents teach you which behaviors are acceptable, which are dangerous, which are morally wrong, which are lovable and which are annoying. They do this by hugging and praising you for appropriate behavior and teaching or punishing you for dangerous, wrong or annoying behavior. It is impossible to grow up without having experienced a great number of punishing events. Harry Stack Sullivan called these punishing events forbidding gestures. By design, forbidding gesture are frightening and rejecting. A child who is spanked or scolded feels the withdrawal of parental approval very acutely. S/he is, for a while, a bad person - or at least this is how s/he tends to interpret this account. Parental approval is a matter of life and death to a child. The experience of being separated from this approval can be very deeply felt. All children grow up with emotional residues from the forbidding gestures. They retain conscious and unconscious memories of all those times when they felt wrong or bad. Their interpretation of these experiences is coded in these memories as well. The child may have received ‘mixed messages’ from his/her parents: ‘laughing’ at inappropriate behavior...
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