| Family Reflections |

The Inner Enemy

We must challenge our inner critic’s comments


Words can hurt, especially when they come from someone who’s supposed to love us, respect us, or otherwise be on our side.

“My brother made a sarcastic remark about me at the dinner table. I’m used to that kind of stuff coming from him. What threw me off completely was that my sister-in-law said nothing in my defense. That really hurt. She obviously didn’t disagree, but wouldn’t have made the remark to my face like he did. Why didn’t I see this before? She’s clearly never been a true friend,” says Bracha.

Did Bracha’s sister-in-law cause this deep and disturbing pain?

While it might seem that way, a closer look can reveal deeper dynamics. Consider the possibility, for example, that insults don’t invariably cause pain. When we’re insulted by a delirious person on the street, we’re not likely to feel rejected or hurt. We know their words are meaningless, and so we usually discard them. The only time  this kind of insult could cause pain would be if the remark actually hit home.

For instance, suppose that Meira struggles with her body image, always feeling flawed and inadequate appearance-wise. A clearly deranged person calls her “Ugly Woman” as she passes him on the sidewalk. Now, because Meira truly feels like an ugly woman, this remark cuts to the core, even though it comes from someone who doesn’t even know where he is at the moment.


Because the remark triggered her own inner voice. It awakened her inner critic, the part of her that constantly insults her appearance.

Two Inner Critics

In the construction of our personality, there are numerous separate parts. Many people are aware of a part called “the inner critic.” In an earlier parts-model of personality called Transactional Analysis, the inner critic was seen as having two natures: one constructive, powered by the yetzer tov, and the other destructive, powered by the yetzer hara.

The function of the constructive critic is to help guide other parts of the personality, offering both correction and encouragement, much the way an actual parent might do for her child. For example, a parent might come into the room where her son is building Lego towers, to suggest it’s time to study for tomorrow’s spelling test. The parent offers this guidance in a respectful, encouraging way. The purpose of the parent’s remark is to help the child do what he needs to do in order to succeed. The parent awakens the child’s constructive inner critic — the seat of his conscience — and the child willingly puts aside his Lego for the time being.

However, even real parents can be overtaken by the destructive inner critic. Such a parent, upon seeing the child playing when he should be studying, goes into an insulting and angry rant about the child’s lack of responsibility and likelihood of failing miserably in life. Clothed in the appearance of caring, the parent’s remarks are highly destructive to the child over the long run.

Constructive Critic vs. Destructive Critic

The constructive critic brings us to our better selves, reminding us along the way that we’re good. The destructive critic, on the other hand, brings feelings of shame, inadequacy, and self-loathing. The constructive critic puts things in perspective, while the destructive critic focuses on the worst possible scenario. Did the sister-in-law really reject her friend? Or is it possible that the sister-in-law remained silent because she knows from past history that correcting or contradicting her husband in public would lead to marital conflict? The destructive critic in the scenario above leads a sister-in-law to the worst possible conclusions, which bring about the worst possible feelings. Yes, it may really be that bad. But most often it isn’t.

Moreover, we know that Hashem wants us to fight negativity wherever we find it. When we find it in the form of inner chatter — chatter that produces painful and crippling emotions — we need to look for and uproot it.

But how?

By asking ourselves for an alternative perspective, a different storyline. “Is there another explanation for my sister-in-law’s behavior?” “What is positive about my appearance?” A simple question challenging the inner critic’s assumptions makes room for the truth. We need to remember to ask that question whenever our current thought process produces poisonous emotions. Whether we feel overwhelming guilt, or assume we’re being mistreated, we need to ask ourselves for another possible perspective. Could there be another interpretation, perspective, or explanation? Just ask.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 843)

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