Mia Leijssen on Working with the Inner Critic

Interesting excerpt from Mia’s essay on Focusing, in this excellent book edited by Brian Thorne and Elke Lambers. Mia looks at working with someone who experiences interruptions from the ‘bad parent’/superego voice. She follows this with a brief illustrative case study.

‘Interfering character/inner critic/super ego

When the client has identified with some inner critic and grants it a higher authority than other parts of his or her experience, more process-directive interventions may be needed in order to help the client develop his or her own sense of direction. The attitude of unconditional positive regard doesn’t mean that we agree or are glad about whatever is coming, it means that we acknowledge what’s there and try to understand what might be its reason for being there. For the therapist to direct the client towards focusing is not the same thing as steering the client’s life in a certain direction or telling the client what to do. It aims at bringing to the fore the client’s deeper knowledge which has been suppressed by unfavourable growing-up conditions. Gendlin uses the term “super ego” to describe the part that attacks from within and interrupts the person’s every hopeful move. “Everyone who has studied people has found this part of a person. We recognise it under various names: “the super ego”, “the inner critic”, “the bad parent” (Gendlin). When the therapist does not recognise the interfering behaviour patterns, the chances are that the client will get stuck in his or her process, always in the same way, and will boycott every emergence of something new in him or herself. “The pattern is characterised by guilt, shame, humiliation, blame, fear, the inability to act freely, the avoidance of competition, the wish to give up one’s power, the conviction that one can never get what one needs, the habit of stopping oneself from acting to get what one wants, and many other variants. These avoidances of life and living are related to superego attacks” (Gendlin). “The super ego… has attitudes. It is usually negative, angry, hostile, attacking, mean, petty; it enjoys oppressing a person” (Gendlin). “When thought of as a manner of experiencing, the superego is inherently “not me”. What we call “me” pulls back, defends itself, hides, and becomes constricted under the attack” (Gendlin).

Brigit, 28, was sexually abused by her father between the ages of 6 and 16. In one therapy session, she gets in touch with a “deeply hurt feeling inside”. While talking about that, a shrill, scornful voice suddenly comes up in her, saying: “Don’t exaggerate! Are you really sure it’s true what you are saying?” She knows this voice very well because it is the one with which she always sweeps her feelings under the carpet. The therapist invites her to place this voice in front of her and see whether she can put a face to it. The client almost immediately “sees” the face of her mother who always reacted in this way when the client, as a young girl, tried to inform Mother of what Father did. The therapist invites her to put the image of Mother saying such things even further away and gives a message, inviting the inner knowledge to come to the fore: “You feel deeply hurt inside; give this more space; let us listen to that some more…”. The client is then capable of expressing her anger and pain about what father did to her as well as about mother’s reaction to it. The client terminates the session discarding the “voice” which denies her feelings and replacing it by an encouraging message in which she “hears” that it is all right to express her pain and anger.

Focusing: Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Conditions of Growth – Mia Leijssen

From Person-Centred Therapy: A European Perspective – Brian Thorne & Elke Lambers

(The quotations from Eugene Gendlin are from Focusing-oriented Psychotherapy: A Manual of the Experiential Method (1996))

Book links:-




Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter

Counselling in Exeter since 1994

This entry was posted in abuse, actualizing tendency, anger, blaming, Brian Thorne, childhood abuse, communication, compulsive behaviour, conditions of worth, emotions, empowerment, external locus, family systems, fear, growth, guilt, healing, internal locus of evaluation, non-directive counselling, organismic experiencing, person centred, person centred theory, power and powerlessness, sadness & pain, self, self concept, sexual violence, shame, shaming, therapeutic growth, therapeutic relationship, trauma, vulnerability, working with clients and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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