6. Confronting the Critical Parent Within
In our last session, we introduced Transactional Analysis as a way of sorting through the kinds of thoughts and feelings we experience. Chapter Four in "Growing in Inner Freedom" has an introduction to this method, and several informative web pages were referenced as well.
In this conference, I would like to continue using T.A., primarily to examine how the Critical Parent voice within contributes to codependency. The Parent voice, you will recall, is how we experience the rules and regulations we learned through the years. Generally, these thoughts are rooted in beliefs about how we ought to act in certain situations, and so we experience them in the tone of "should, must, or ought." That's not necessarily a bad thing, but when it comes to the "Critical Parent" voice, there is a judgment attached. It's not simply that we "should" do something, but that if we don't, we feel as though we are bad, inferior, shameful . . . punished! "You should, or else" is the tone of the Critical Parent.
More often than not, our inner Critical Parent beliefs were internalized from messages we heard from our real parents, teachers, ministers, and others. We were taught certain values, and when we violated them, we were judged harshly--sometimes verbally or even physically abused. This is how the developmental environment wounds the Child part of our nature while inflicting us with judgmental beliefs. Critical Parent and Wounded Child are two sides of the same wound, and both make us vulnerable to codependent behaviors. Healing both the Parent and Child part of the psyche are essential for breaking free from codependent relationships and situations.
A Few Critical Parent Themes
Let's examine a few common themes usually found in Critical Parent thoughts. See if you can spot these in yourself.
1. You must not allow your negative/unpleasant feelings to be expressed.
2. The needs of another are more important than your own.
3. You're being selfish when you desire your own happiness.
4. You must be "in control" at all times.
5. - Which ones would you add?
The problem with these, as we've noted, is that when you break these rules, there is a punishment of some kind. You're considered "bad, disgraceful, irresponsible," and so on. It's not simply a matter of your behavior being judged as out of line, but there's something wrong with you. You get lectured, ignored, rejected, ridiculed and punished in other ways.
Someone once did this to you, but now you do this to yourself.
That's the problem . . . and the key to the solution! Knowing this and seeing how it works, we can begin to dispute the Critical Parent voices within.
Breaking Free from the Critical Parent
The following steps work:
1. Identify the CP belief by paying attention to your thoughts and feelings. Remember, they feel like "shoulds" and carry a judgment with them. There is a heaviness and oppressiveness about them.
2. Express the CP belief in a clear statement:
E.g., "I should place the needs of others above my own or I am being selfish and it's sinful to be selfish."
3. See the consequences this belief brings to your life as much as you can, beginning with the most recent experience.
4. Dispute the belief with your rational mind. What part of it do you not agree with?
5. Articulate a new belief to guide your behavior and envision yourself acting out of it. Invite the Holy Spirit to guide you in this exercise.
That's it! You do this in your journal again and again, seeing how CP beliefs are making you miserable, disputing them, and projecting your future with new beliefs. This empowers your Adult, rational mind and enables a growing clarity within. It also frees the child part of your nature to become healed, for we cannot heal as long as we are shaming ourselves.
Read again the section on re-parenting yourself in Chapter Four of "Freedom from Codependency." Also, examine Steps Six and Seven from that chapter to see how to root this work in the Twelve Step program.
I can really identify with the Critical Parent. I never really realized how many shoulds and assumptions my mother had and how many were passed on to me until I married my husband. Over the years I've become more aware of a lot of guilt-producing shoulds, especially where expressing my true feelings (even tears in public) were looked down on. ("Everybody's looking at you.") And I got a lot of shoulding for not doing things around the house for my husband that I was never encouraged to learn to do when I was at home, even when I wanted to learn. But over the years I've been learning to confront those shoulds and come to my own conclusions. It's okay if I express my feelings, and if others choose to look at me, that's their choice. And as for things I "should" as a "good wife" be doing for my husband, that's something between my husband and myself, and we'll decide what works for us. And if at some point we need to learn to do things differently, we'll do it because we see the need for it, and not to please the CP. I really like the illustration in Chapter 4 of F From C about the person whose dinner was a failure. So often when I make mistakes, I start to beat on myself and feel like I'm the scum of the earth. Sometimes I'll verbalize those feelings in hopes that others will build me up so I won't feel quite so scummy. But I'm learning that neither extreme is the truth: I'm not the greatest human who ever lived, nor am I the scummiest. I'm just a human with strengths and weaknesses like everyone else, so I can be gentle with myself as I make decisions about my life and how I want to live it. I like the reminder that "should" and "ought", etc., aren't bad in and of themselves. But the shaming and humiliating of ourselves that we do has got to go!
That's really good reflection and sharing, Peggy. Thank you.
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