Most of us have critical or punitive voices inside our heads. In schema therapy, the punitive voice is a mode that can get triggered in any situation where one finds fault with oneself. For example, Marla has a tendency to binge on sweets at night. She’s overweight and wants to lose weight and is much more disciplined during the day. After she binges, she usually feels sick and starts to beat up on herself saying things like: “You’re pathetic. You’re fat. You’re weak”. The punitive voice is usually something that is learned and internalized in childhood.
When I work with people with strong punitive modes, which is most people, I encourage them to simply observe how often it comes up and in what circumstances. No need to push it away or judge it. Just observe.
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The process of observing is part of the cultivation and/or strengthening of the healthy adult mode. Observing creates an inevitable distance between the healthy adult (the observer) and the punitive mode. The distancing is empowering even though it can be painful at first when one realizes just how prevalent the punitive voice can be.
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By David B Younger, PhD, CGP, PC
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