Inner Critic

Inner Critic Judging Her WorkInner critic refers to an inner voice that judges, criticizes, or demeans a person whether or not the self-criticism is objectively justified. A highly active inner critic can take a toll on one’s emotional well being and self-esteem. In some cases people who struggle with frequent or debilitating self-criticism will seek help from a therapist or counselor to change their thought patterns.

What Is an Inner Critic?

Many people experience difficulties with self-esteem and confidence, even when they appear confident, successful, or well-adjusted to the external world. A person’s inner critic can play a significant role in shaping one’s identity and sense of self. This inner critic can be like a nagging voice that questions each decision and undermines each accomplishment, and it can leave a person with difficult feelings such as shame, inadequacy, or guilt.

The inner critic is largely a concept in popular psychology, not an academic psychological term. However, it is similar in some ways to the Freudian superego, which acts as a conscience. The inner critic generally has more negative connotations than the superego, however, and typically serves to undermine accomplishments rather than encourage appropriate behavior and obedience to cultural norms.

People tend to develop self-criticism as a result of their life experiences which may include social, cultural, and familial influences. In some cases self-criticism may be a symptom of a diagnosable mental health condition.

Understanding the Inner Critic

People frequently seek out mental health care when they cannot seem to shake off nagging doubts and chronic feelings of low self-esteem. When these doubts are not based in objective reality—such as when, for example, a student who graduated at the top of his or her class feels that he or she is an academic failure—therapists may work to help people address factors that have contributed to the development of the inner critic.

There are different approaches a professional counselor may take when helping someone overcome their self-criticism. This might include classical psychoanalytic therapy, in which a person revisits childhood events that contribute to current problems. Cognitive behavioral therapy is also a common approach for addressing the inner critic. Cognitive behavioral therapists work to help people detect their self-defeating thoughts and shape these thoughts so that they are healthier and less destructive.

Sometimes, the nagging sensation of an inner critic is the product of depression or anxiety. People experiencing these conditions sometimes feel chronically inadequate and are highly critical of themselves. In these cases a mental health professional will treat the underlying issue in therapy which in turn may lessen or alter the impact of a person’s inner critic.

References:

  1. Silencing the voice that says you’re a fraud. (2009, June 16). The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124511712673817527.html
  2. Walsh, V. (2012, March 4). A CBT technique: Silencing the inner critic. Veronica Walshs CBT Blog. Retrieved from http://iveronicawalsh.wordpress.com/2012/03/04/a-cbt-technique-silencing-the-inner-critic/

Last Updated: 08-10-2015

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  • Kate

    December 13th, 2020 at 3:29 PM

    Please help me. My “inner critic” reams me out, not just for my own actions a d shortcomings, but for the misdeeds of others. Every time I see/hear/know about someone doing a bad thing, my ‘inner critic’ lambastes me for it. Therapy and self-help techniques have t helped, maybe because my inner critic knows about these just as soon as I do. (Whenever I read a self-help book, for instance, she’s reading it along with me & can therefore “block” the techniques, in some way that I don’t fully understand.) Please help.

  • Random

    December 28th, 2020 at 7:23 AM

    Hi Kate. Consider ignoring your inner critic. After all, it’s simply a voice in your head, not a super-being.

  • Kate

    February 8th, 2021 at 6:20 PM

    No, ignoring doesn’t work. I try to ignore, but nothing happens. Please actually help.
    I am so ashamed at my failure to cause ignoring to actually work, that I waited a couple of months before responding. I tried to respond on the web-site, but the page always froze, so I feel ashamed about that too and my inner critic is attacking me for it too.

  • Emily

    August 11th, 2021 at 8:30 PM

    Hey Kate,
    I think you just have to fight it. It’s all you can do. Don’t just let it attack you, fight back. Tell YOURSELF that you’re not at fault. Constantly. Tell your inner critic that it’s wrong, and start believing that you are not in control of everything, and that that’s okay.

    All love,
    Em

  • Kate

    August 12th, 2021 at 4:36 PM

    I’ve done all this (fighting and talking back to her) for at least half a century (I am 58 years old), and I am losing the power for continued battles, as if she is feed8n* on th3 energy of my struggles.
    Whe; I fight her, I don’t win, she doesn’t weaken (but grows stronger: maybe from all the exercise?), and — more and more — from fighting her, I lose the energy to do anything else. What’s next?

  • Liz

    September 1st, 2021 at 11:06 AM

    Kate, I am so sorry you have and are having such a struggle dealing with and “fighting” your inner critic. I know firsthand how exhausting this can be! I hope what I have to share will help; try thinking about how your inner critic is embodied, physically. As a yelling coach or an exaggeration of an authority figure from the past? what color would you give it? Does it show up in a specific place in your body? Give it as much context as you can, even maybe name an animal as your inner critic.
    Understand that the inner critic shows up when there is fear and it is trying to keep you “safe” even though what she says does not seem like kind things. what is the fear? what does she fear in diff. circumstances?
    sit and meditate on this if needed, and then (this may seem weird) but have a conversation with your inner critic and assure her that you are in control. that she will be coming along, but that you are in control.
    If you would like to talk any more I would love to help where I can.

  • Kate

    September 21st, 2021 at 2:14 PM

    Liz, I have been doing all of this literally since I was 5, because it was all that I can think of to do at the time (shortly before I had the first of many therapists: the one who told me I was crazy for doing any of this). I am now 58. It would seem to me that any good that I may get from such procedures, I would already have gotten: given those decades.

  • Ruby

    October 9th, 2021 at 3:20 AM

    Hi Kate!
    Hope you’re doing okay. Have you tried emotional freedom technique or tapping? I use tapping when my inner critic is too loud. It’s been a lifelong struggle for me to listen to my inner bully. Tapping is helping me release my emotions. The tapping solution app is great. And the tapping solution summit is a great introduction to eft.

    Sending love,
    Ruby

  • Kate

    October 14th, 2021 at 1:36 PM

    The techniques you mention have … not been good for me. That’s all I’ll say.

  • Kate

    October 14th, 2021 at 1:38 PM

    They made things worse.

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