Many people who are critical of others secretly wonder why “I’m so critical of everyone”. When anger has been repressed in childhood it doesn’t go away – it just leaks out in other ways. One of the biggest ways the anger unknowingly leaks out in the present is through criticism – being critical of self and others.
I’m so critical of everyone – Christie’s Story
When Christie started therapy, she was 36 years old. Her ten-year marriage to a wealthy, successful businessman had produced three children. They lived in a lovely home, the children attended private schools, and by all accounts, Christie had everything you were supposed to have to make you happy. But she was miserable.
She’s an attractive woman who consistently presented herself fully made-up and beautifully dressed. People often said to her that she was so nice. When this happened, Christie always thought to herself “if only you knew what I’m thinking about you”.
You see while she was smiling attentively and being helpful to people on the outside, a critical diatribe unleashed in her head about the person she was talking too.
The person had no idea that she was criticising everything about them. From how they looked to what they said and how they said it, whether they were successful of not, overweight or not, wealthy or not, smart or not – everything you could imagine. Anything that she could use to rip them to shreds in her mind she did.
Christie struggled with her critical inner voice
Christie often wondered “why am I so critical”: she struggled with this incongruence in herself. This nice outer persona and the harsh inner critic. She felt guilty when people said she was so nice when she was so critical and judgemental of them.
The problem was that this harsh inner critic was also unrelenting on Christie. It drove her to be perfect. And although Christie was good at nearly everything she did, she struggled under the burden of chronic self-doubt, a superficial self-confidence, and an almost non-existent self-worth.
This super perfect nice persona that Christie presented also meant that she went out of her way to avoid conflicts and arguments or to upset anyone. If friends came to stay, she wouldn’t let them lift a finger to help and insisted that she do everything. Needless to say, Christie felt enormous resentment towards them when they left.
The critical voice was a symptom of deeper pain
Christie didn’t realise that her relentless inner critical discourse was a symptom of the deep anger and rage that leaked from the depths of her unconscious. She had so completely repressed and suppressed her angry feelings as a child growing up that she never got angry in life except at herself.
Angry feelings were not allowed in her family. Only her dad could get mad which he did when he got drunk. Then he would beat her mother. Instead of getting angry Christie would get sad and cry.
Many underlying dysfunctions in Christie’s family contributed to her low self-worth, lack of identity and co-dependence – too many to document here but one of the main themes was how much she had to change herself to please her mother. Christie had to almost give up her sense of self to become what her mother needed her to be.
Always doing her best to make others happy
For as long as Christie could remember she had adored her mother. She did everything her mother said growing up, and she was her mother’s biggest fan. She took on everything that her mother said and suggested without question. In her eyes, her beautiful mother was always right.
Christie even saw her father as the enemy. He was someone who hurt her mother both physically and emotionally, and she did everything she could to protect her mother from him. For Christie’s mum, this was the first time anyone had taken her side and protected her in her life.
This enmeshment was so complete that Christie didn’t even know she was enmeshed until she was well into the first two years of primal therapy. Slowly Christie started to discover that she didn’t know where her mother ended and she began.
Even Christie’s birth was when her mother had wanted it to be. Her mother did everything she could to bring on Christie’s birth two weeks before the due date. Then when Christie was being born her mother physically held her back. She put her hand on Christie’s head as she was crowning to stop her being born before the doctor arrived.
Doesn’t sound like a big deal but a few seconds of being held back to a newborn becomes a life-long imprint.
So many mixed messages
This cocktail of mixed messages, of being forced to arrive according to someone else’s time frame and then being held back in the birth canal would be the blueprint for Christie’s life. It started with nightmares of not being able to breathe when she was two or three.
Then came the frequent accidents as an infant, toddler and child. Always tripping over and falling off things. That was followed by constant daydreaming and inattention at school – then bulimia in her late teens and early twenties.
To Christie, the problems were well repressed. In her mind, the problems did not start to surface until she was in her mid-30’s. In therapy, Christie found that she doubted herself so completely that she didn’t trust anything that she wanted to do. She had to run it by her mother and a myriad of friends before making a decision in case it was the wrong one. Making a mistake was unforgivable in her mind.
Slowly connecting to the deeper pain
When Christie started primal therapy, she did not trust the feelings that were beginning to surface. She thought she was making them up. In her mind, she’d had a good childhood. But as Christie allowed herself to feel she slowly started to connect with her chronically low self-worth, her self-loathing, her loneliness, confusion and fear as a child.
She even connected to not being wanted by her mother and the profound sense of abandonment this brought up in her.
It had taken a while before Christie began to get in touch with the anger and rage she felt at being used to make her parents (particularly her mother) happy. The rage at being more like a mother to her mother than a daughter.
Christie finally got in touch with how angry she had been as a child and how she’d had to hide it. Her rage at her mother’s lack of presence and real attention or interest in her (other than saying what was wrong with Christie). Her rage at the endless hours and days that she and her brothers were left totally unsupervised starting from a very early age.
The rage at being woken up in the middle of the night by the drunken screaming of her parents fighting. The rage at having to pull her father off her mother as he strangled her one night while both her older and younger brother cowered terrified in their bedroom. The rage at having to put on a happy family face.
The anger at the ongoing expectation that Christie performs – be good at sports, be funny and entertaining, be attractive, marry well – be anything except herself when all the time her mother kept telling her to be herself. Christie had no idea what being herself meant. She’d spent a lifetime being what her mother needed her to be in order to get her love and acceptance.
The journey to healing and health
Eventually, Christie experienced being held back in the birth canal and the oxygen deprivation she experienced. She also felt the foetal distress she had in the womb. The panic and terror this brought up explained her fear of moving forward in life. It explains why she started new projects but could never finish them. Why she had a constant feeling of being stuck and held back in life.
Getting in touch with all the feelings that Christie had repressed and suppressed was a slow and painful journey for her. It is for many people who have learnt to deny their anger and who they are.
Connecting to her anger meant that initially, Christie was angrier out in the world. She was less tolerant and less willing to put up with what she had put up with before. Christie even found she had become more confrontational, unreasonable and less pliant at times. That was difficult initially as she’d built her whole persona and life on being a nice person.
The more Christie raged, the less critical she became
She was scared of being rejected for being more herself. It was difficult for the relationship with her mother as gradually Christie stopped agreeing with everything her mother said, and this began to cause waves. Her mother consistently questioned the validity of the therapy Christie was doing as she was not as ‘nice’ or as giving or as caring as she used to be.
But Christie was beginning to feel better about herself. The more she allowed herself to rage, to be spiteful, nasty, vindictive and vile in the sessions the clearer it became for her what had happened to her as a child. She almost had to start from scratch finding out who she was without her mother.
Christie continued with her feeling sessions as the intense rage lasted for about two years. As the rage started to diminish, it began to integrate into a new assertiveness. Christie found that she was able to speak up for herself without having to get angry to do it.
And the best thing was that the never ending critical inner voice, which brutalised Christie and others began to lose its potency. Christie began to hear the wounded child behind the voice and used it as a signal to take care herself and her needs.
The courage to be herself
As Christie dealt with her angry feelings directly and openly and allowed herself to express them in the safety of her primal sessions, she no longer had to criticise other people in her head as an unconscious outlet for her anger.
The nice passive, over giving and ever pleasing Christie became a more grounded and self-centred individual. Her superficial confidence transformed into a deep self-acceptance and self-caring confidence. She was able to stand on her own two feet and was less co-dependent.
Needless to say her mother, other family members and friends found this transformation hard to live with and accept. Christie took care of herself instead of taking care of them, and they didn’t like it. But Christie felt so much better about herself; so much happier being herself.
Christie became so clear in who she was and who she wanted to be that she was willing to lose their approval to gain herself. That takes enormous courage and inner strength.
Christie said she could not have reclaimed herself until she had rescued the parts of herself that she had shut away and only primal helped her do that.