It is, it seems, an unavoidable part of the human condition to have a super-ego or inner critic, a part of you that is directed towards keeping you within certain bounds of appropriateness at all times.
Long ago, when you were very small, you needed the adults around you to do this for you but now you’ve internalised those voices, or at least a distorted version of them, and they’re quite able to keep you in line even when there’s nobody else around.
And now, that harsh inner voice, the voice that can wound you at the slightest opportunity, is vigilantly on the look-out for the signs of disapproval from others that it takes as evidence of your shortcomings. Before you’ve even thought about it, it has inserted its judgements into your stream of thoughts, scolding you, judging others. That raised eyebrow? It’s because you irritate her, obviously. That offhand comment? You’re clearly an idiot. When she didn’t congratulate you on your work? Because you’re not up to much. He didn’t return your call? Because you’ve let him down.
None of these, I hope you can see, are necessarily the case.
The inner critic can turn even the most innocuous of comments into a perceived attack, and amplify a genuine attack so that it’s much more wounding than the attacker intended. And then, you’ll collapse and deflate, or rise in rage and indignation, and the strength of your reaction will surprise both you and your interlocutor.
And, in many cases, you’ll be reacting not to them at all but to this phenomenon that’s going on inside you.
Being under attack from others is made so much more difficult by the relentless attack you’re under from yourself.
Photograph by Justin Wise