Archive | February 2014

Transform the Self-punishing Inner Voice

Notice the inner perpetrator

 SELF-PUNISHING INNER VOICEAs you go through your journey towards a healthier lifestyle you may sometimes discover that you fall back into old habits. In your efforts to learn new lifestyle skills you might make mistakes and discover that you are not as skilled as you hoped that you would be.

You may find that you have internalized an inner self-punishing (inner perpetrator) voice that attempts to motivate you through harsh and demanding messages. Have you noticed that? I did for myself. Have you perhaps noticed that beating yourself up doesn’t seem to help you make effective changes?

During my journey of change, I found that I had internalized just such a punishing inner voice (from messages that I received during my childhood). I also had developed the habit of trying to be perfect (a perfectionist) and had unreasonably high standards (which I could not keep).


The Unholy Trio

  • High expectations (being a perfectionist) causes me to set impossibly high standards. I should be Mother Theresa–I should be like her.

  • The pusher part of me whose job it is to implement what the perfectionist wants and dreams up. It generates an endless “to do list”…that I can’t possibly follow though on or complete.

  • The “inner critic” looks at the standards of the perfectionist and at the demands of the pusher and judges that I’ve failed and have NOT done enough!! I’ve not measured up…SO, get with it! Hallmarks of a robust inner critic:

    • It speaks with absolute authority.

    • It cannot be pleased no matter what you do. It gets you coming or going!

    • You cannot feel successful when the inner critic is out of control.

    • It can find something to criticize any time, any place, and about any person. Loving-Kindness: Learn to Befriend Ourselves and Others

    • It always plays a part in depressed or angry emotions.

    • It almost equally criticizes you (inner states) and everything else you do (outer world).

    • It can become an internal killer OR be transformed to discerning wisdom (see links below for transformative wisdom).

    • Awareness is the first most essential tool in working with an out-of-control critic.

    • Mindful attention to the present moment makes the inner critic vanish and can bring clear discernment in it’s place. Take time to connect with the Eternal Wisdom that is deep within you.

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I went to counseling to help me notice these messages (and inner voices or parts of myself) when they arose and I began to unravel and change them. Here are some insights that my counselor helped me learn. Explore the ACE Study: Champion Your Inner Child! to understand how our childhood experiences dramatically influence our present relationship that we have with ourselves and the way way we talk to ourselves.

  • My counselor asked me: Would I consider releasing the need to punish myself when I can’t do it perfectly? He suggested that I notice the inner conditioning that prods me “No matter what I do, I should have done it better or differently, and then the consequences would have turned out right.” Notice that I’m ready to invalidate everything I’ve done.

  • When my self-critical voice takes over I’m ready to overthrow everything I’ve attempted. I feel “there is basically something wrong with me…or my life would work out better. My life is proving to me I’m a failure. It proves I’m not worth anything–that I should be dead and I shouldn’t have been born”–the voice says. It is helpful for me to watch how that voice terrorizes me and judges me and promotes fear in myself. The more I listen to this voice, the more paralyzed and frozen I become.

  • The voice says, “There must be something wrong with me or else the things I try to do wouldn’t fail. I’ve failed or I’m at fault because the outcome is so different from what I had imagined it to be.” When I fail, then I tend to punish myself unmercifully. I’m playing God and judge. My counselor suggested that I watch my perfectionism and notice that it does not serve my well being. Perhaps ask myself: Did I learn something from the experience? Can I take another step from it? What can I learn?

  • Watch pushing me and beating me up (the perfectionistic side). Just notice the judging mind. Don’t fight against it nor follow that path of thinking. Watch trying to be perfect. Celebrate the path of failure! Experience whatever is right now. Be with whatever emotions are present. Be in the moment. The emotions are the path. Be with them. Don’t reject them. Perhaps ask yourself, “What do I need to learn? What do I need to understand?” Practice letting go of all effort.

  • My counselor also suggested that I don’t torture myself with intense discipline so that my body feels like a prison. I was encouraged to practice kind discipline (see article link below).


  • My job is to free up judgments that cause me to condemn myself. I can’t change the pattern of experiments that I do during my life. I’m willing to grow and learn and have new experiences. Because of that, as I’m learning a new skill I will make mistakes. It is very valuable to remember that mistakes are practice! They are only steps towards a goal and do not prove that “I’m a mistake,” just that I’m learning new things. I will become more proficient over time. That process is how everyone learns.

  • Notice that when things go wrong that I can get out the whip and start to beat up on myself and torture myself. Ask myself: “How can I help myself to intervene when in the process of self-torture?” This voice is an internal thing…a part of me that abuses myself. Notice that I’ve so internalized the perpetrator (the spiritual Gestapo with high spiritual ideals) that it becomes an automatic response. Ask myself: “Am I acting as if I’m the perpetrator? To me?” “Is this attitude or feeling feeding the self-punishing part of me? Am I taking sides with the perpetrator against my inner child (inner emotional self)?” Would I consider taking the strait jacket off of me? How about practicing unconditional kindness for me? Remember that the perpetrator part of me wants my total self-destruction. Consider the value of releasing this old conditioning, letting it go…as I practice new ways of responding.

  • My counselor also suggested that I reflect on giving up the hero role and to stop trying to fix circumstances that I can’t overcome. Explore Thoughts On Healing and Helping Yourself and Others.

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         Do you experience a self-punishing inner voice, an inner perpetrator? 

        What are the typical messages that you notice?

          Consider below ways to explore and transform them.

Additional Article Links to Nurture a Friendly

and Supportive Inner Voice

Nurturing nibbles posters:

Additional resource:


Making a Change for Good: A Guide to Compassionate Self-Discipline and Self-talk (Paperback) by Cheri Huber (Author) Explores the inner voice that we all have, and how to change it. This is a very insightful and practical book. Please visit Cheri’s own website for access to her many other wonderful books.