The Critic, The Worrier, The Victim, The Perfectionist

February 14, 2009 at 1:08 am 3 comments

by Lauren Kennedy

Negative self talk, negative thoughts, self defeating beliefs – we have been warned that these negative messages  are the enemy to a positive, abundant and successful life . But amid the incessant chatter that occurs in most of our minds, learning to identify and recognize these harmful, subversive foes can be tricky. Their well disguised messages slip into our minds unnoticed.

Our internal dialogs are constantly communicating opinions, judgments, and assumptions to us.  Sometimes they communicates in words, other times, with images, and sometimes an impression is enough to ensure our allegiance to their agenda.  There are several varieties of self talk and they each have different roles. We have lived with these various characters for so long that we often are not even aware of them. They are expert at disguising their messages so that they appear as rational, logical or responsible concerns. Even when we are aware of their warnings, alarms or condemnations, we don’t  recognize that their input is negative, skewed or out of date.

Facts about Negative Self Talk

Here’s some facts about negative self talk so you will no longer be at such a disadvantage.

Self talk is so automatic and subtle that we don’t notice the effect that it has on our attitude and emotions. We react without even realizing that we our obeying these negative messages.

Self talk can take the form of an image, one word, memories or associations. It’s not always in sentence form. The images and associations, can be even more powerful than self talk that is delivered in a sentence. For example, the thought, ” No one will go out with you,” is not as powerful as a technicolor image of a past, public rejection.

No matter how irrational, self talk always sounds like the truth. The assumptions that we draw about the current situation is based on our irrational self talk, rather than the actual facts of the present circumstance. Then, we base our decisions, behaviors and actions on those faulty assumptions.

Negative self talk is self perpetuating and results in avoidance.  For example, Joe’s self talk tells him that he is clumsy and awkward in social situations.  The fact that he has no friends seems to justify this statement. However, the reason he has no friends is because he avoids any social contact, for fear of looking clumsy and awkward. Thus he has no friends because he avoids any opportunity to make friends.  But that connection eludes to him.

Four Basic Types of Self Talk Characters

I have outlined the four basic self talk characters. These character descriptions enabled my clients to identify their own negative self talk more easily.

The Worrier: promotes anxiety

The worrier  always anticipates the worse, overestimates the odds of something bad or embarrassing happening, imagines scenes of catastrophic failure, unimaginable terror, or  unbearable hardship, with you as the main character. “What if” is the worrier’s signature phrase. What if you lose your job. What if your spouse isn’t really working late. What if that falling star is really a meteor. He also diligently watches for any indications of apprehension or anxiety in you, and uses these common sensations as confirmation that his dire scenarios are legitimate.  If you decide to go left, he will worry you about all the possible things that could go wrong. So you back track and go right. Now he worries about a new set of catastrophes resulting from the delay of backing up. We cannot know the future, so we can’t absolutely negate his imaginings. And the worrier will continue to conjure up frightening scenarios. So if you think you must quell his anxieties before you take action or make a decision, you might as well resign yourself to a life imprisoned in your home, eating comfort foods and watching the soaps. Be sure the peanut butter cups are salmonella free.

The Critic: promotes low self esteem

The critic is constantly judging and evaluating you. He emphasizes your flaws, limitations,  and mistakes. He compares you unfavorably to others by highlighting their best qualities and contrasting them with your weaknesses. Any accomplishment you achieve is minimized. The critic does this by pointing out: what you could have done better, (you could have won by 10 points instead of a close margin of 5), that you only succeeded because you had help and encouragement, that  the challenge wasn’t that difficult for you so it doesn’t really count,  or cautions you that your achievement was just luck, a one time wonder. He may even blame you for other peoples’ behaviors. (If you had reminded your friend about your weekly luncheon date, he may not have stood you up)  And he expects perfection. No matter how hard you try, you will never please the critic.  His job is to find fault and he takes his work seriously. You will never get any comfort or validation from him. He prides himself on being the drill sergeant from hell. And if you listen, you will be right there with him.

The Victim: promotes depression

The victim alleges that you are hopelessly incapable of making your way in the big bad world. He points our your powerlessness to change insurmountable issues, world hunger, corporate corruption, war, your friends depression. How could you possibly manage your life in a world where you do not make a difference. He also likes to convince you that you are responsible for other people’s feelings. (If your children are upset when they are disciplined, you must not be communicating effectively. If you refrain from discipline , you are an irresponsible parent.) He has put you in a catch 22 and then  points out the hopelessness of your situation. And just in case that doesn’t work, he convinces you that there is something inherently wrong, inadequate, defective or unworthy about you. He tops this off with the idea that since you are unworthy, you deserve your lot in life, so when someone mistreats you, it’s because you have failed  in some way. Therefore you have no right to expect anything better than what you get. He is very thorough. He has blocked all of your intellectual exists. If you try to achieve something, he tells you that you are being grandiose. If you don’t, you are weak. If someone mistreats you, its because you deserve it. If you try to stand up for yourself, you don’t have that right because you are unworthy. He graduated at the top of the negative self talk class. You will never beat him in an intellectual debate because he doesn’t play fair. And besides, since you are unworthy, you don’t deserve to win.

The Perfectionist: promotes chronic stress and burnout

The perfectionist is a relentless master. He is intolerant of the notion that you are human. This is just an excuse to him. He is never satisfied with your performance. You could have done better if you had studied instead of slept for those two long hours. You should never lose control. You should always be pleasant.  Giving in to fatigue, illness, or pain is a lack of self discipline. He will analyze every conversation, every decision, every interaction and inform you of how you could have done better. He convinces you that your worth as a person is based on the greatness of your achievements, your level of dedication, your degree of self discipline, your ability to remain nice to others regardless of their behavior. Mistakes are intolerable and are an indication that you have been irresponsible or complacent. Some perfectionist may focus on certain priorities over others. He may not be concerned about how others are affected as long as you brilliantly achieve the desire goal . But no matter how brilliant the conquest, he will be ready with a list, citing the things that you could have done better. Other times he will insist that you make an outstanding contribution to society, sustain a lucrative career, take care of your ill parent, and still maintain the same level of responsibility and service in your personal relationships. He always expects more than is humanly possible and then chastises you for falling short. He constantly reminds you that only through exceptional performance will you acquire worth, value, and importance as a person. And your performance will never, ever be good enough. Therefore, neither are you. Listen to him and you end up in a psyche ward making the most perfectly elaborate leather belts or you will become a demanding dictator, hell bent on super human performance and stellar results from yourself and others no matter the cost.

These Characters are Not the Enemy

Unfortunately, often we may discover that we have more than one of these characters leading us around by the nose.  The Victim and Perfectionist together can seem like an especially cruel team.  But our misery, contrary to appearance is not their goal. They are simply doing the job that our subconscious request they do. Protect us from emotional pain and allow us to continue to avoid facing our fears.

Yes, as always, it comes back to us. These characters are not the result of undue hardship,  cut throat competition, agents of the devil or rogue viruses messing with our brain. We created them from our desire to avoid certain feelings. We hired The Critic to make certain that we  cover all our bases so we can avoid the fear or pain of criticism from others. The Worrier’s job duties are to conjure up worse case scenarios,  all sorts of possible catastrophes, and unpleasant interactions so we can take all the necessary precautions to avoid the unexpected, unwanted, unhappiness in the world. The Victim is employed  to keep us  down so no one will feel threatened, angry, disappointed, etc and lash out or reject us,  triggering the debilitating feeling of shame.  And the Perfectionist agenda is to ensure that we are wonderful, needed, respected and revered, so no one will have reason to dispute our rights, our sense of entitlement or decide  to restrict us from doing, getting or being what we want. His other job duty is to protect us from our fear of failure.

We have given these characters quite a lot of power and importance. They are convinced that  their job is indispensible and they don’t want any pink slips. So debating with them is useless. Anyway we’d just be arguing with a part of ourselves. They are a persuasive bunch because there is a basis of truth to their incessant noise.  Bad things do happen, we can not avoid criticized, we are all hurt at times, and people will always dispute our right to be, do or have want we want or who we are.

But to spend our lives dousing our house with water in case our next door neighbor sets his house on fire by falling asleep with a cigarette is an ineffective plan. Someone might  launch a bomb into your yard by mistake instead. Better build a bomb shelter, too. Neither can we  avoid criticism or reach perfection in everyone’s eyes. Working through lunch may be a mark of dedication to us. But others may assume that we think we are too good to lunch with them or we are just brown nosing. And our employer may conclude that we must work through lunch because we are not efficient enough to get our work done in a timely manner. It’s crazy making.

Resisting them is not a good option either. Remember: what you resist persists.

We Relinquish Our Power when We Refuse to Face and Experience Our Feelings

Nor should we treat them as an enemy. That supposes they are powerful. It is we who have given them power. As long as we refuse to face and experience our fears, we will continue to relinquish our power.

To stop the madness, we only need be willing to accept that feelings are a part of life. When we deny our feelings, we diminish our life experience and our awareness of our personal experience. Our life is only half lived and we are only partially conscious of ourself and our Being.  We cannot avoid avoid our feelings. Only our conscious knowledge of them. They exist inside us, creating havoc, whether we are aware of it or not.

We must be willing to experience those feelings that we have tried to avoid by control, submission, avoidance or manipulation.  Through our desire to avoid our fears, we hired these characters to enable us to resist, deny, ignore or suppress our feelings.

Feelings are Not the Cause of Our Emotional Reactions

We have been  conditioned to believe that feelings are the reason that we act irrationally. Not true. Emotional reactions occur when we have repress our feelings,  try to avoid certain feelings or judge our feelings or ourselves for having them. Emotional reactions, compulsions, impulsiveness, health issues are the result our repressed negative feelings. When we learn to experience our feelings and discharge them, we are free to choose our behavior.

My clients report that when they fully experience the feelings, their feelings do subside. Plus the situations that used to trigger these feelings, become less and less frequent and less intense. Often, the actual feelings are not as frightening as they had imagined.  And rather than constantly reacting  to the fear of experiencing a particular feeling, they begin to make decisions, choices, and take action  based on their goals, priorities, desires and dreams. Their life changes because their focus changes. Instead of resisting their feelings, they can focus on their dreams.

If You Don’t Deal with Your Feelings, They will Deal with You

When you spend all your time and energy avoiding, denying or suppressing your feelings by controlling or manipulating people and situations, you cannot focus your energy and awareness on your goals, dreams or enjoy your life. If you don’t deal with your feelings, they will deal with you. Thinking happy thoughts to cover your feelings only delays the inevitable.  Keep putting energy into a container, sooner or later it’s going to explode, no matter how much you affirm or visualize it staying contained.

Visualization is wonderfully effective  when used to create your own experience.  For example, when you experience fear, self doubt or anxiety about a situation or interaction, visualize yourself in that situation or interaction. Imagine that you are being, doing and acting as you would like to be, do and act and then believe that the outcome will be favorable.

Change Who You are Being and Everything Changes

Visualization is highly effective for changing who we are being. And who we are being, effects everything else.     If we are being a person that is resisting, avoiding or denying our feelings, then we are being fearful, irresponsible, controlled, and powerless. Those negative self talk characters will jump to our defense and we will react to their proddings. Only by having the courage and wisdom to experience our feelings and who we are being,  can we become a person that is empowered, insightful, purposeful, prioritized and free.

When we decide to face and experience our feelings, our self and our life, we are free to choose our response to each situation. With no call to action the self talk will fall silent and we will instead hear our own inner guidance.  And that message is always life enhancing.

A lifetime of suppressing or denying our feelings and the resulting negative self talk can be a challenge to overcome on our own. Just because a process is simple, doesn’t mean that it is easy. But believe me, the results are worth the effort.

If you would like some support with negative self talk or any other issue, please call or email me for a 30 minute free consultation.



Entry filed under: Feelings and Emotions. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

Claim Ownership of Your Life Empowerment from Within

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rhonda Olsen  |  August 3, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    Bravo! Well written. I think most of us can relate to these characters in one way or another. Thank you for such a brilliant and informative article. :0)

    • 2. laurenpkennedy  |  August 5, 2009 at 11:46 pm

      Hi Rhonda,
      I appreciate your comment.

      I put my heart and experience into these articles. Yet I can never be certain that I have communicated the message effectively or if the content is clear and beneficial to others.

      Thank you for your feedback.

      Lauren Kennedy

  • 3. Fergal  |  March 11, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    First of all I would like to congratulate you on a great post. I was particularly interested in the job roles and agendas that each of these types of self talk have. I havnt been able to find much more information on these agendas anywhere and I was wondering if you could recommend a website or book


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