Heal Your Inner Critic with the Internal Family Systems Model

You’re sitting down to write and that darn critic inside your head starts with the same old attacks and insults. The inner critic knows exactly what’s needed to trigger your tender inner child’s worst fears of not being good enough, smart enough, or of being too much.

While this interaction takes place entirely in your head, it can leave you feeling drained, alone, worthless, and paralyzed in creative endeavors.   

inner critic

The cycle of the inner critic has me wanting a cookie and a little wine.

There’s another part of you that tries to calm the inner child and quiet the pain with coping mechanisms learned long ago. This is when addictions and unhealthy choices may come into play further fueling the critic’s attacks and continuing this injurious cycle. These patterns will repeat until you change how you relate to your injured parts.

Lasting change to internal dialogue happens by becoming a loving, wise leader and healer of these inner parts of yourself. Reparent yourself and update those old survival techniques by accessing inner wisdom and compassion.

What is the IFS Model?

The Internal Family Systems Model (IFS), developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz, is a gentle and productive way to unite and heal aspects of the mind by developing self-leadership and changing learned behaviors and perspectives. Using this model can help you develop self-compassion for all aspects of yourself, even the parts that feel critical and controlling.

The basics of this model of healing assert that it is natural for the mind to be divided into parts, all of these parts have good intentions and have taken on roles they weren’t ready for at an early age, and we all have a Self that naturally knows how to heal and lead all of our parts skillfully.

A person who is leading with the Self is easy to identify. Others describe such a person as open, confident, accepting — as having presence. They feel immediately at ease in a Self-led person’s company, as they sense that it is safe to relax and release their own Selves. Dr. Richard Schwartz, Ph. D.

To integrate these parts and create a harmonious internal environment, we must be able to recognize the guidance of our higher Self and allow it to be the leader.

As a good leader, this Self values the skills and contributions of all parts and sees their worth even in tough times. This compassionate acknowledgment provides the safe space each inner aspect of ourselves needs to feel connected and creative. All of our parts will feel represented and acknowledged and be able to contribute their skills and talents without going to extremes or being aggressive.

Let’s take a look at how to work with your inner critic and perfectionistic tendencies using the IFS Model. We’ll try to tap into that Self that knows mistakes are beautiful too.

How do I get that inner critic to stop calling me names?

Confronting your critic harshly will not work. These parts of you are like parts of a family. They are all your inner children who have been forced to take on roles beyond their abilities. Compassion is necessary to get these parts functioning at their best.

To re-parent yourself and develop a healthy inner world you must hear the stories of your inner children and gently release them from the past where they had to protect your more vulnerable parts from real threats. To heal is to integrate all of these parts, understand their purpose and their mission, and create space for them to feel safe and cared for.

To do this, you must focus on one aspect of your inner world at a time, and ask any extreme voices to step back and allow you to talk only with the inner critic, for example.

You want to get to know the critic, their mission and their worries. Asking parts that have judgments against the critic to step back, can make accessing the true Self easier. This creates an entirely new emotional space where you invite the curious, compassionate, and calm Self instead of feelings of confusion, ambivalence, and frustration from other inner parts.

For examples of this “stepping back” process, you can learn more about the IFS Model at The Center for Self Leadership.

Are you excited to try this process, but don’t know where to start?

Healing Journal Prompts

Click here to download the prompts.

I’ve created a series of journal prompts to help you use the Internal Family Systems Model to heal your inner critic. Click the image below to download immediately.

How do I become a compassionate leader to my inner aspects?

Inside of all of us, we have access to our higher Self. It’s the container for all of our parts, the trolley that takes us to our destination. This Self is a compassionate leader and knows how to heal intuitively.

Many spiritual practices have a name for this Self. It is the soul, Atman, Buddha-nature, Advaita Vedanta. It is pure awareness.

When we relax our thinking, judging mind and create a healing space inside, we access this connected, loving Self. Allow this Self to be your guide inside and out and you will operate from a place of intuitive knowing and relating. 

What are the 8 Cs of Self-Leadership? 

internal family systems model

Have you ever been in the presence of someone who felt rooted like a tree and exuded such a secure sense of themselves it calmed your nerves immediately? It’s likely this person embodied the 8 Cs of Self-Leadership seen in the graphic here.

Learning to accept all of our parts and to relate to ourselves with unconditional love and compassion eases the anxiety that often keeps us from being present. Releasing anxiety as a way of being creates a vast space for these eight qualities to express themselves.

Being calm allows us to be curious and connected. Feeling confident brings clarity and courage. Compassion paves the path for creativity to flourish. Using the IFS model regularly can help ease your critical inner voice and create an environment conducive to embodying these qualities.

It’s easy to continue on with the internal dialogue we’re used to, but that means the same results continue too. Relating to ourselves compassionately must be an intentional process. This is why the Internal Family Systems Model is genius. It provides a framework to have an internal therapy session or just an honest and supportive familial conversation with the hurting and burdened parts of ourselves.

Every aspect of your inner world deserves love and compassion. The inner critic has dedicated their life to protecting your most wounded parts. Respect and appreciation for this once necessary function creates an environment where peace can grow. With a little love and tenderness, maybe that critic will become your champion.

Many thanks to Thomas Hübl and the Collective Trauma Summit 2019 for featuring the conversation with Dr. Richard Schwartz, Ph.D. and Terry Real on using the IFS Model for personal healing. This post was inspired by that transformative exercise.