Tapping your
inner critic

Jettisoning baggage from
childhood helps prevent
relationship sabotage

You hear that haranguing voice in your head again, scolding: "You idiot! How many times do you have to make the same mistake? Don't you learn anything? What's wrong with you?! I'm going to ring your neck!"

But it's not your mom or dad's voice anymore; it's your own.


As belittling as it is, psychologist and author Joyce Catlett says using this critical voice can help men and women who have problems with intimate relationships.

Catlett and her colleagues from the Glendon Association in Santa Barbara, Calif., will be speaking tomorrow on "Overcoming Barriers to Intimacy," helping those in the psychotherapy industry to teach their clients how to keep their love alive. The all-day professional symposium is for American Psychological Association members attending the organization's convention at the Hawai'i Convention Center.

Catlett has co-written 10 books with Dr. Robert Firestone, who is responsible for formulating "voice therapy" after 20 years of research and following couples' case histories. Firestone's therapy helps people to rid themselves of the pervasive influence of the distorted, even "absurd" self-talk that ruins their lives and romantic relationships.

"If kids grow up with a secure attachment to their parents," Catlett said, they don't have this nagging voice distorting everything they experience. But she said many people don't grow up with healthy relationship with their parents, and they end up driving a husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend away because intimacy is too uncomfortable, even if it's what they want most, she said.

There's a tendency for people to become like the person who most persecuted us, or to subconsciously fall in love with someone who has the same character traits as our tormentor. In a perverse streak of human nature, not only are we our own worst enemies, sometimes we become like our worst enemies, according to "Fear of Intimacy," the 1999 book that explains voice therapy.

One of the most popular birthday greeting cards or logo-type T-shirts shows a woman exclaiming: "E-e-e-ek!! I have become my mother!"

The voice doesn't have to originate from one's parents; it can be a teacher who humiliated you or an older brother who could always manage to set you off. The point is not to listen or give credence to destructive talk.

Voice therapy essentially involves writing down what this critical voice says to you in the second person, as if someone else is scolding you. For example, you would write on the left half of a page, "You'd better not blow this relationship like you've done in the past" instead of starting with "I'd."

Then on the right side of the page (or following the critical comments), write a "more realistic, congenial answer" that points out your good qualities, Catlett said.

"You'll be surprised at some of the feelings that are revealed as you are writing them down. Most people can make long lists of the horrible things about themselves but find it hard to write good things about themselves," she said.

"Even more important than identifying these thoughts, say them out loud in the second person. When people say things out loud, it reveals the anger they have at themselves, and the sadness for such distortions, which are not based on reality. Then they feel compassion for themselves and for their partner, which gives them the strength to do the behaviors to save the relationship," she said.

"Do this about the guy (or wife/girlfriend), too," she added, because people tend to blame their partners instead of working on themselves and growing up.

"Gather some self-knowledge. You don't have to be victimized and keep making the same mistakes over and over again, or give up (relationships)."

Identifying self-critical thoughts also helps people recognize "degrading stereotypical thoughts (i.e., man-bashing) about the opposite sex that are not necessarily correct."

The fear of intimacy is based on one's fear of death, either losing the other person through death or one's own death. People fear losing someone they love or the sadness and pain they felt when they were not treated with respect as children, Catlett said, adding, "Everybody does this." So they withdraw or pull away, rationalizing to themselves that "it's not going to last anyway."

She advised, "Take a chance on getting rejected. It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

Catlett will be speaking with relationship experts Lisa Firestone and Ayala Malach-Pines, and Jon Carlson. More information on the convention is available at The Glendon Association is a nonprofit organization that holds nationwide workshops and provides education on solving relationship problems. Its toll-free number is 800-663-5281 and Web address is


helps people overcome
fears of vulnerability

It's that old Scarlett O'Hara/Rhett Butler syndrome: Two lovers are too full of pride to let the other know how they really feel about each other.

Whether it's the classic "Gone With the Wind," the typical romance novel or real-life love affairs, the conflict is the same. No one wants to be the first one to say "I love you," because if the other person doesn't feel the same way, it would be giving them the upper hand. And once that happens, you're toast.

Time and angst are wasted in the process as misunderstandings pile up, until the couple end up not caring about the relationship. And the solution is as simple as one person having the guts to say, "I love you," or "You hurt me when you said/did this."

Dr. Robert Firestone, a psychologist and co-author of 10 books on relationships, developed a method to get people to put aside their fears and defenses in telling one another how they feel about each other not only at the start of a relationship, but throughout it.

In "Fear of Intimacy" (published in 1999 by the American Psychological Association), Firestone and co-author Joyce Catlett explain how "voice therapy" works. Firestone has used the therapy with dozens of couples and friends over 20 years to help them find their own voices instead of adopting others' destructive relationship patterns.

In one case study, a woman he calls Mrs. J. realized it was her mother's voice that resulted in her forming a sexual stereotype about men: "They only want women for sex. They don't really care about women. They're always unfaithful. In the end they will always hurt you."

Mrs. J's parents divorced when she was a girl. Her mother became bitter toward men in general. When Mrs. J became involved with a sensitive, tender partner, her mother's voice still warned: "You can't have anything nice in your life. You're never going to have a nice man! I'll make you believe he's wrong for you!"

She also heard her father's recriminating voice: "You know you're my favorite. How could you go away from me. ... I love you and need you, and I'm going to die without you."

As a result, Mrs. J. doubted her decision to be with this man. But voice therapy helped her to realize, "I'm continually attacking myself for being phony when I express my loving feelings toward you (her partner). But it's a voice, it's not really my belief. It feels so nice to really be close to you and be loving, but it goes against everything I ever saw in my family."

The authors concluded, "Mrs. J's progress in healthy relating depends primarily on whether she has the courage to remain vulnerable and open in this relationship. She needs the ego strength to tolerate the inevitable anxiety and guilt involved in making basic character changes, to continue to challenge and overcome her voice attacks, and gradually to adjust to her new identity as a loving woman."

Another case study followed Ralph, who withheld affection, and Karen, who was trying to find the kind of love that would make up for the lack of affection she felt as a child.

As a child, Ralph protected himself from his mother's criticism by becoming suspicious and self-contained. He often misinterpreted Karen's natural sexual desire as desperation or excessive dependency, and resented the tremendous burden of meeting her expectations.

In response to Ralph's withholding affection, Karen became childlike and dependent, and gave up hobbies and activities she enjoyed. She refocused most of her energy on getting Ralph to show he loved her.

"You're trying so hard, and ... you still can't satisfy him. You still can't make him happy," Karen said to herself. "It was such a familiar feeling because it was how I felt all my life in my family. I could never get it right. I could never get them to like me, or be the right kind of girl."

Later, Karen said, "I recognized that I had turned him into a bastard. ... I had become a victim of a man who is mean and not understanding of my needs ... (but) as I've become more open and more myself and 'adult,' he has responded lovingly."

She began to alter behaviors that reflected her constant focus on Ralph's responses to her, which enabled both to recognize how they had been repeating past patterns to find security.

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