Most us have heard of the concept of an “Inner Critic” and some of us have probably been aware of our own at various times. It whispers, pokes, and practically lashes us with it critiques. It knows just how to push our buttons although it has an unfair advantage—having access to our innermost secrets and shortcomings. The critical inner voice contributes to depression, low-self-esteem, shame, anxiety, and exhaustion. It can be a potent saboteur of action, creativity, performance, relationships, and happiness.
Some people are disdainfully aware of their inner critic, but most people are unaware they even have one and are so used to its critical commentary that it feels like a natural part of what they consider their “self”. The inner critic criticizes you for all things you did, thought, felt or didn’t do, think or feel. Its job is to find fault. If it were a painter it would paint in all black. If there were 2 ways to do something, you did it the wrong one. This Inner Critic takes upon itself the task of evaluating us with a fine-tooth comb. Needless to say, it always finds us falling short of expectations. It assesses us and reviews our behavior with the highest of expectations, and remembers every negative thing. The inner critic knows our weak spots and attacks us from all angles. It is like a law enforcement officer and every new rule you take on becomes fuel for criticism.
For many of us, it comes on the scene early in childhood, absorbing the judgments of others and the expectations of our culture, and surprising to most, it is actually trying to protect us from disapproval, hurt, or abandonment. Its job is actually to protect your self from outside criticism by criticizing you first to ensure that your speech and behavior is beyond anyone else’s criticism. Therefore, its mantra is that “better me than them”—in other words, it is better for your own inner critic to whip you into conformity before you have to experience the hurt of someone else criticizing you. It has a remarkable underlying anxiety about life and what other people think, because again, its job is to protect you from others’ judgments. The goal of the inner critic is to help you avoid disapproval, shame, humiliation and make relationships less painful.
So while the inherent goal of the critic is to help us maintain social esteem and avoid disapproval, like too much of anything, an over-identified inner critic can be tormenting. As will be explained in further detail later, the problem is not with the existence of the inner critic but rather unknowing identification with it. So if your inner critic is one of your main players it can have the tendency to get out of control and not knowing when enough is enough; thus criticizing you to the point of undermining action, creativity, self-esteem, and functionality in the world. However, it is possible to make friends with and embrace your inner critic.
In the next blog post we will begin that process of becoming allies and working together instead of the constant torment.
In the meantime, here is a self-reflection exercise for you:
Inner Critic Self-Reflection
What percentage of the day do you feel/hear your inner Critic?
List 3 things your inner critic is fond of saying
What is the motivation or goal behind your inner critic?