What if your inner critic doesn’t use words?

Continued reflection on Pete Walkers book on Complex PTSD.

Today I got to the chapter on “shrinking the critic”, and while talking about the “inner critic” seems kind of cliche to me and I didn’t expect to find anything new after having read the quantity of self-help pop-psych that I did, well … I did indeed find new stuff.

(If you know you have an evil inner critic, check out the helpful excerpt here.)

I used to think that I don’t have a massive (or significant) inner critic because I never hear inner voices telling me I’m an idiot or any such things (indeed, it kind of seemed bizarre to me that some people would when I read about it). Accordingly, I kind of didn’t drill the topic too much, considering it not overly relevant.

However, noteworthy fact: I don’t generally “hear” an inner verbal commentary the way some people claim to do (I still can’t fully believe it, given how intensely constant inner babble would be driving me nuts based on how much external over-talk does, but well … some claim there’s this thing called “inner monologue”). Obviously, though, I do have an inner life.

As far as I’ve observed it, it comes largely in two-three formats: visual imagination (remembering stuff visually, picturing visually what I’m going to do or where I’m going to go or what I’m going to cook / buy etc.) and kinaesthetic – I kind of pre-sense the movements I want to make, or I “sense” abstract concepts as some kind of combination of shape and movement in space (hard to describe but is the case). Actually there are other formats too, for example when figuring out what to cook I kind of also “picture” (virtually taste/smell) the taste of various things mixed together. So bottom line is, these thought forms are basically sensory, not verbal. I guess I often just think of the data in the format they naturally come in.

Then there’s another thought modality: when I think of people, I think it’s kind of like I “sense” their emotional aura or something like this – I evoke a sense of presence that has emotional but also kind of kinaesthetic (shape, movement, rhythm) elements. I used to also see their personal colours (presumably synaesthetic as they don’t seem to have to do with anything physical) accompanying some specific people.

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Why I am I mentioning all this? Because Pete’s book does a good job of showing what else the “inner critic” does in the mind and emotions apart from telling you verbally you are useless.

The chapter also explains that it’s not just a copy-paste echo of mean things people said to you – it’s a “creative process” – it’s using your innate creativity and imagination to refine the two main branches of its generative activity: insults and catastrophic fantasies.

For me the major discovery was 1) that (if you have C-PTSD) it’s an autonomous creative process growing and elaborating on the seeds sown by abuse and/or neglect, and me having a “rather” creative mind might explain why it in fact flourishes into shapes that don’t seem to resemble anything that ever happened in my life (like, multiple repetitive dream scenarios of full-blown, literal apocalypse?), and 2) that it precisely doesn’t only manifest through inner dialogue, but through images, fantasies (like these dreams), the paths your imagination takes, as well as thought patterns – not just verbal ones, but the way attention and logic work in general (also if I predominantly think in images). And, finally, it also manifests at the emotional-kinaesthetic (for me) level.

(Again, here‘s Pete’s detailed list of thought processes and imagination-avenues.)

Looking in these other places, indeed, I found “it”. I did find the non-verbal (visual or abstract or purely emotional-kinaesthetic) catastrophic scenarios. I found the mind’s auto-focusing on exclusively flaws, dangers and evils (though frankly I probably owe my editor job to the fact that mistakes jump out at me :D) … I deeply hate “positive thinking” (lying to yourself) and favour realistic thinking, but it’s true that I don’t always strike the balance of noticing horrible vs. good things that would keep my mental health afloat. However, most interestingly, I also find the emotional “energy” of insults and diminishment.

That’s actually serious detective work: the words that would betray these things aren’t there; so I need to switch to reading all the other signs, the signs that come in the natural languages of my mind – the emotional energy traces; the gut feelings; the behaviours or gestures. These do give a picture.

I think this is a valuable observation for other psychological healing work, too – in my own case, and perhaps in the case of other sensory thinkers (autistic or otherwise): talk to your mind in the language of your mind. If it’s images and smells, look for images and smells. If it’s sounds and colours, look for music and weird hues. If it’s “energy” and movement, listen and observe on that level. And trust this language – it’s really, really not less precise than words.

It isn’t less reliable either. Indeed, it’s far older and more universal (in an evolutionary view). What are the best healing and personal growth modalities for those of us who think in sensory ways?

I think it makes sense to use our sharpest senses to do the work done – even if (as in my case) it’s some friggin “energy” and colour synaesthesia sense that I can’t explain, but I need to understand its communications to understand myself.

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