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A Road Map to Dealing With Depression: Our Internal Messages

Image of a mountainside road going into a tunnel. Raleigh Psychotherapy, counseling, depression, Katherine Broadway

Have you ever wondered why one criticism or piece of feedback will wipe out ten compliments? Are you confused about feeling down and depressed for no apparent reason? That happens because of the Harsh Inner Critic.

Children who grow up with adequate parents are able to develop into their individual selves; their true selves. They learn that they have positive qualities and not so good qualities. They learn that, in their core, they are valuable because they exist and their value and worth does not depend on being “good” all the time. Needs are a normal part of life and mistakes are valued as teaching tools. They learn that feelings are valuable, transitory and important messengers.

When one or more parent is inadequate, the child decides he or she is somehow to blame for the parent’s failure. The child comes to believe that these problems are caused by having basic needs. They are convinced their needs, feelings and desires are bad. They must come up with a survival strategy. It is important that this occurs mostly on an unconscious level.

How the Harsh Inner Critic Develops

When a disruption occurs in the relationship between a parent/caretaker and a child, an insecure attachment is created. This is an attachment where the child cannot depend upon the parent. A child needs a strong, trustworthy and dependable parent/caretaker in order to thrive. Because the human psyche is so creative and flexible, a solution can be created; he or she develops an internal parent, who is always with them, constant and dependable. This parent takes the form of an internal message system. I call it the Harsh Inner Critic. Others call it the Internal Parent.

The Child Believes S/he is Bad

Unfortunately, this leads a child to believe he or she is bad and a problem to be fixed. This internal parent is harsh, critical and never satisfied. This internal parent always knows what to do and freely tells the child what to do, often far into adulthood. This usually involves telling the child how bad they are, how much they need to change and if they will only work harder and do more they can make life better. An important part of the solution is to make life easier on the parents, caretakers and adults in their life.

Needs are Bad

The Harsh Inner Critic is focused on the external world with no regard for the needs of the child. If the child does have needs, the Harsh Inner Critic calls the child a failure. Therefore, the child comes to believe that he or she should never require help satisfying basic human needs, because to do so is “bad.”

The Harsh Inner Critic, with all its demands and negative messages, becomes the child’s defense against feeling helpless, vulnerable, and hopeless. No matter how bad these messages feel, there is always a solution. The internal parent tells the child that the answers to these feelings are to develop a way of life that requires no outside help.

The good news in all of this is that this allows the child to survive an impossible

situation. A child cannot survive if its parents are not able to take care of them, so by caring for his or her own missed needs, the child avoids the impossible situation. The bad news is that this leads to depression.

In a previous article, I talked about two causes of depression: loss and disappointment. In the case of the harsh inner critic, the loss is of the “good” self and the disappointment is because you are not good enough. These feelings of not being good and being a disappointment may be hidden and unconscious. It may come in the form of a vague feeling that things are not quite right. Messages such as: “I am not working hard enough” or “I could do more if I tried harder”. It could be a feeling that you cannot make life better for someone you love. Your conscious mind may know that these messages are not true but still they plague you.

The depression that is caused by these negative messages inside that say, “We are bad and that our needs and desires are bad,” tells us that we need to find the root of these messages. By finding the origins of these messages, we can rework the old messages into more realistic experience of ourselves. The events of our everyday lives trigger these messages and can lead us to the places we need to find in order to clear the depression.

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