Befriending Troublesome Parts: the Critic and the Taskmaster

By December 30, 2022October 23rd, 2023Therapy
Befriending Troublesome Parts

Internal Family Systems Therapy, also known as Parts Work, is a heartwarming and efficient modality for helping to create a better relationship among the different Parts of ourselves internally.

The reason to do that is to create better coherence, balance, and stability within oneself, so that all the many sides of us live in peace internally. 

The Inner Village

We can think of the many Parts of us within as different inhabitants of a small town. There may be fights and feuds, boundary disputes or especially close relationships. 

The Self is the benign mayor, one who can unify and lead all the Parts who live in this community towards something that meets the needs of all members. Good Self-leadership internally leads to greater harmony, wholeness, and feelings of connectedness.  

Two Troublesome Characters: Critic and Taskmaster

Today I want to write about how to work with the Taskmaster and the Critic, two Parts who often make us feel miserable. 

Critic is the Part whose job it is to criticize us, to remind us of social expectations to which we are supposed to conform. 

Critic generally schools us in unkind, if not abusive, ways, through belittling, insulting, denigrating or shaming us, to get us to feel bad and therefore be motivated to change. If you have low self-esteem, or struggle to take a compliment, that’s a sign the Critic may be over-empowered. 

Taskmaster is the Part whose job it is to watch the clock, get us to work hard, tell us to hurry on up and to stop being so “lazy”. If you tend to fight your own inner timing and rhythm, perhaps struggling with overdoing it or obsessively driving yourself to the limit, your Taskmaster is probably over-empowered. 

Taskmaster and Critic are similar Parts in the sense that they are both oriented towards getting us to fit in “out there in the real world.” One stands off to the side telling us to hurry up: “More, more, faster, faster, get to work you lazy fill-in-the-blank.” (Inefficiency, rest, pause are not to be permitted). The other shouts unhelpful comments, such as “You think you can present this sloppy work in a meeting? What’s wrong with you? You’re such a fill-in-the-blank.” 

You can see that they both love to use labels to inspire us to conform to society. They’re both pretty mean – until we change our relationship with them.

Sound Familiar?

Is this one-two punch familiar to you? If so I would say it is because these are two of the most over-empowered and favored Parts in our society. 

When I say they’re over-empowered and favored, I mean that if we allow these two to rule our lives, we initially get social rewards, such as assistance surviving childhood and early adulthood. 

However, they come with a heavy cost in the self-esteem department: both insist that we are never good enough, that we have not earned, we are not proven, our worth has not yet been accomplished or demonstrated. 

Critic’s special toxicity is to judge us very harshly. Taskmaster’s toxicity lies in never letting us pause long enough to feel our human experience.

What’s the Solution?

The good news is there is a cure! The cure is to find a way to talk to these Parts, get their perspective, and befriend them. Through befriending our inner troublesome characters, we gradually turn them into allies working on the same team as our Self. 

When we dialogue, we try to be genuinely open, compassionate and curious, so that these Parts feel truly valued and may therefore speak directly to us of the burdens they have carried for so long. Once we deeply understand why these Parts are how they are, they’ll be relieved of their “job”.

Journal Time: Parts Dialogue with Critic and Taskmaster

Here is a suggested dialogue starter for getting to know your Critic, your Taskmaster, or both!

You: Hi there [Name of Part], thank you so much for being here. I would like to understand you better, as I realize that you are quite important, you have done a lot for me and that you are coming from a very good place of wanting to help me make it in this world. I want to understand better what it is that you do for me, and how I can support you to get your job done, so that you’re not so alone with the burdens you carry. What do you think? Are you willing to dialogue a little bit?

Journal out the rest and see what happens!

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