Dealing With Your Inner Critics: The “Itty-Bitty Shitty Committee”

The “Itty-Bitty Shitty Committee” is a humorous, but all too accurate name for the chorus of negative, self-sabotaging, critical voices most folks in recovery carry around in their heads. These inner critics continually tell us, with a great deal of urgency, that we are not good enough, we are an impostor or fake, a loser, an idiot, a jerk, etc., etc.; that we don’t deserve good things, don’t deserve success, don’t deserve recovery, etc., etc. I could go on and on and on. I think you see where I’m going.

Many of us have lived with these mean-spirited voices in our heads for our entire lives. One huge problem with the committee is that very often, we are not even aware that the committee exists, and is holding regular meetings in our heads. We have grown so accustomed to the ongoing activities of the committee that it can come to seem like some sort of near-silent background noise.  It becomes so normal that we don’t even notice when its “in session” anymore. There, lurking in near-silence, way, way back in our heads, the committee can come to “rule the roost” and actually dictate the course of our entire lives.

This last fact is deeply disturbing. What it says is that, while the itty-bitty shitty committee rules the roost, we are NOT in control of our own lives. What is in control is a chorus of voices bent on sabotaging everything we do, and in keeping our destructive addictions alive and well. This is rather horrifying news. And it is true.

What can be done? There’s a lot that can be done, but paradoxically, we first have to give up the notion that somehow, through a herculean act of will, we are going to abolish and destroy the committee, once and for all. That is an attractive thought, but experience indicates that it’s totally unrealistic. To be honest, those negative voices are so deeply entrenched that they will be with us for the rest of our lives. They don’t completely disappear. BUT – they CAN be considerably disempowered, and no longer have control of our inner thoughts and feelings, nor of our lives in the world.

How? Again paradoxically, the path forward is the path of acceptance. It’s another case of “surrender to win.” We learn how to live WITH the committee, but to relegate its corrosive voices to decidedly inferior status in our psychic economy.

But how do we do this? The first thing necessary is to establish another, independent voice, a voice that is differentiated from the committee, that can stand outside and apart from the committee, and can learn how to “take over” committee meetings. This separate, differentiated voice is that of a “neutral observer”. This new voice is the REAL YOU.

The committee is NOT YOU, ultimately. It is a psychic residue of abusive voices, of emotionally sick caregivers, from our youth. As children we internalize this barrage of abusive voices, swallowing them whole (i.e. uncritically) and regurgitating them for the rest of our lives, if we don’t intervene. And this happens because, in large part, the voices of the “itty-bitty-shitty-committee” are UNCONSCIOUS. We have internalized them so deeply that we become almost completely unaware that they are in session, much less running the show.

So, the new strategy is, paradoxically, to AMPLIFY these voices; to make them CONSCIOUS. With practice, we can begin to make the committee voices conscious, bring them out of the shadows, and as we do this, these voices begin to lose their power to dominate our thoughts or our actions. We can make them conscious through journaling, writing down everything that we are thinking, and evaluating whether certain voices are really “us” or are just internalized critics, haters and naysayers. We can begin to “tease out” or separate out our true voice from the “crap chorus” that goes on automatically.

We can also quiet down and meditate quietly, trying to pay attention to the various negative threads running around in our heads. As we practice at this over time, we can improve our ability to consciously hear and separate out the various negative voices clamoring for our attention.

In either case (journaling or meditating), over time we can begin to insert a brand-new voice, the voice of our real/true self, and we can learn over time to take over as chairperson of these committee meetings. We can listen to each of these negative voices, and say “Thanks for sharing” to each of them, thereby depotentiating/disempowering them. As we say “thanks for sharing” over and over to all of these negative voices, they begin to lose their power and their volume. We can begin to insert rational statements by the true self, rebuttals to the negative statements, and positive affirmations to replace them.

We need to cultivate this new, separate, individuated voice of the neutral observer; our real self. As we cultivate this new voice and inject it purposefully into meetings of the “itty-bitty-shitty-committee”, we slowly but steadily disempower the committee and empower our true selves. We begin to regain control of our psychic life and of our own life in the world.

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