The Inner Critic

How to Deal with Your Inner Critic and Claim its Gift

How you deal with your inner critic – the part of your psyche that causes much suffering (anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, relationship problems, self-sabotage) but that performs a necessary function in your development – is to understand why it criticises, how it works, and how to develop a conscious relationship with it so that you can benefit from its gifts. Because if you try to suppress, silence or get rid of it, it simply re-appears in new ways, and usually with greater power, just like any disowned self does. 

This post explains how your critical inner voice works, how to claim its gift for your growth and freedom, and how to use a 3-step method to stop a ‘critic attack’.

Most of us are aware of an inner critical voice. This voice criticises us about specific things or it becomes active in some situations. Or we experience it as an ongoing inner commentary about ourselves or a general feeling of not being good enough or worthy.

Self-criticism may feel as if it’s just ‘us’, and that the judgments we feel about ourselves are self-evident truths.

But self-criticism comes from a specific part of our psyche that develops in each of us to help us survive. It is an inner voice – or inner self – that psychologists Drs Hal and Sidra Stone named ‘the Inner Critic’ back in the 1970s when they first discovered that the personality is made up of many discrete selves.

Most of us struggle with our inner critic our whole lives, but we don’t need to.

When we understand how the inner critic works and we learn how to take responsibility for the things it has been taking responsibility for, we gain access to its gifts, just as we do with all our other inner selves.

Why Does Your Inner Critic Criticise?

Your inner critic criticises because it is concerned that you’ll be accepted / acceptable and therefore safe. It’s basically trying to help you survive.

This motivation – to keep you safe – is the purpose of all your primary selves. Primary selves are the building blocks of your psyche that together form your personality. Your primary selves develop to enable you to survive in your family, social groups and culture. Your inner critic is the inner self that has aided your other selves to do what they do, in the best way they can.

(See this page for an explanation of how your personality is made up of individual selves and/or watch this short video I created for my Instagram account for a simple introduction:

Your inner critic picked up judgments from other people, particularly from your parents and other caregivers during your childhood. As you grew older, your critic also took cues from your culture and social groups.

Some of those criticisms may never have been vocalised – simply a look or a pause in a conversation can convey an enormous judgment, especially to young children who are particularly sensitive to the feelings of those around them.

And even though as an adult you can dispute your critic’s claims with evidence and ideas from other, more supportive aspects of yourself and from other people who know you, it’s common to still experience your inner critic as an authoritative, all-knowing inner voice or feeling that holds immutable (critical) truths about you.

It is a remarkably clever self, with knowledge about all your innermost thoughts and vulnerabilities and ‘buttons’ that can be pushed, causing you to feel shame and other negative feelings. Many people even feel that it knows who they ‘really are underneath’.

How Does the Inner Critic Develop? – Examples

Your Inner Critic Makes You Please Your Parents with ‘Good’ Behaviour

If in your childhood generous and unselfish behaviour was rewarded and valued, and your caregivers expected generous behaviour from you, then every time you took the largest piece of cake for yourself or wouldn’t let your sibling or friend play with your toys, your inner critic would have noticed. It would have told you that you were not behaving the ‘correct’ way and would have admonished you about it.

It probably heard one of your parents chastising you for being selfish when not sharing or not offering to help with something. It realised that for you to be protected from their disapproval – something that would have been painful to you – it would have to get to you first so that you would behave ‘properly’.

That may have led you to feel uncomfortable each time you took or did something for yourself without considering others. And so you developed a primary self who values putting the needs of others first – the pleaser.

Later in life, this type of conditioning can make you feel self-critical even when you rightly take care of yourself and your own needs. You might get a feeling that you are not considering other people while caring for yourself.

Your Inner Critic Makes You Adopt Rules About Acceptable Appearance

Another example that’s almost universal is parents making you brush your hair before leaving for school. Your inner critic would have taken note of the required standard for personal appearance. If it heard your mother tell you that your hair is messy or that you’re embarrassing the family, your inner critic would take note.

Over time, you would have developed a rule about your hair needing to be tidy, and if you ever forgot to brush it, if a parent wasn’t around, then your inner critic would mimic them and tell you your hair was messy. Its concern would have been for you to follow the rule so that you would be acceptable.

This kind of motivation – the alleviation of anxiety about being unacceptable – is behind most of the inner critic’s original behaviour. It’s just that over time, most inner critics become so good at what they do that they just keep doing it all the time, even when we’ve left home and no longer need approval from our caregivers.

When Your Critic Can’t Win

Then there are situations where there’s nothing your inner critic can do to help you fit in.

When parents and caregivers constantly judge a child, even unknowingly, or project their own anxieties onto a child, then the inner critic can end up joining them.

If a parent has disowned aspects of themselves due to their own upbringing, then they’ll judge those characteristics when they emerge in their child.

The nature of what has been disowned, the depth of disowning, and the severity of consequences for expression of those energies, will effect the power of such an inner critic.

The inner critic can then become a serious inner abuser.

Change Your Relationship to Your Inner Critic

Once you understand that your inner critic is essentially trying to help you, and feels responsible for you, you can take that responsibility yourself.

When you take responsibility for your critic’s anxieties, and start to make conscious decisions about the kinds of things it’s concerned about, your inner critic will automatically become less severe.

And when it realises you’re serious about taking responsibility for its concerns, it will willingly work with you.

And that’s an opportunity to discover how you have unconsciously imbibed rules, values and behaviour patterns from your family (and society and culture) that may not be allowing you to be yourself and/or live your life the way you would like to.

The Unlikely Gift of Your Inner Critic

The gift of your inner critic is that the content of its criticisms reveals the values and rules of your primary self system – including the ones you’re not conscious of, but that you’re holding onto, that you’ve picked up over time.

Your inner critic can help you identify and see clearly the expectations you may be unwittingly trying to live up to.

So your inner critic can help you on your personal growth journey. It can help you become more conscious and grow into who you want to be.

How to Start Using Your Inner Critic’s Gift – Exercise

  • Think of something you criticise yourself for.
  • Consider if that thing was important when you were growing up. Did a parent have a rule about that thing? Were you ever teased, nagged, humiliated, punished, labelled about it?
  • Is there a part of you now who feels it’s important for you to do/wear/become the thing your critic feels you haven’t lived up to? That would be the self who imbibed the rules and values of whoever in your childhood also held those same rules and values about the issue.
  • Then when you’re aware of this part of you, consider if you agree with it.
  • Try to access an opposite viewpoint within yourself to experience another perspective.
  • Maybe there’s a more mature part of you who thinks this issue isn’t even important. Maybe there’s a teenage self who thinks it really is important? Maybe there’s a rebellious self with another viewpoint? Maybe there’s a younger child who feels hurt about this or who can’t see why it would even be an issue?
  • Sit with however many perspectives you can muster, considering the truth of each one.
  • Now you have a choice. You can go with the side that feels right to you, if that’s apparent. Or you can choose to give the issue more time and consider it further, keeping a number of perspectives in mind.
  • Notice how your inner critic changes in relationship to this thing/issue as you stay with this process.

To summarise:

  1. Consider what you criticise yourself for
  2. Identify the self within you that holds the rules about this thing
  3. Separate/unhook from that self and find other perspectives

A great way to connect with the wonderful array of selves within you, and to harness their perspectives, gifts and energy, is to read my ebook Which Self Are You?

3 Steps to Stop a ‘Critic Attack’

If you are starting to become aware of how your inner critic works but you are still having ‘critic attacks’, the following three steps will help:

  1. First acknowledge the criticism and say to your inner critic, ‘thank you for that information, I’ll consider it’. And then consider the criticism objectively. See if you can identify from where your inner critic got its judgement – a parent? teacher? sibling? magazine? friend? Think about why that person held that judgement. Why was it important to them. What did they fear might happen if the rule the judgement was based on wasn’t followed? Why has this become important to your inner critic? This examination will give you some distance from whatever your inner critic said.
  2. Now think of a time when you felt good about something about yourself – something you’ve done, made, achieved, helped others with, excelled at, or simply showed up for. Invite the feeling of how you felt at that time. Turn up its intensity with an imaginary dial and enjoy how good it makes you feel. Let it linger. Breathe in deeply and feel as though you are thoroughly immersed in the good feeling. Stay with it for as long as you can. This will help to counteract the criticism on an energetic and emotional level.
  3. Then decide to learn from the critic attack. Whenever a critic attack occurs, it’s a signal that you have been unconsciously following a rule system you have picked up in the past – either from your family or from the broader culture. So stop and pay attention. Question if you are living your life in the way you really want to live it. Consider if you have slipped back into habitual responses and are identifying with someone else’s rules. Set an intention to be more fully yourself and take responsibility for yourself.

If you take the above steps, your inner critic will soon become a valuable ally for your personal growth and development.

The Original Inner Critic Book

Get Dr Hal and Sidra Stones’ classic book about how to work with your inner critic from Amazon, Apple Books or Google Play.

Inner Critic Book by Hal Stone and Sidra Stone


Which Self Are You? Book

Which Self are You? Meet the Inner Selves that Constitute Your PersonalityMeet Your Inner Selves

Gain a stronger handle on your Inner Critic by expanding your self-awareness and self-understanding with this overview of 44 different selves.

This entertaining guide takes you on a journey through your selves, starting with the ‘heavyweights’ (the Protector/Controller, Pusher, Critic, Pleaser) and continuing on to the Joker, Romantic, Instinctual energies, Magical, Playful and Vulnerable Children, the Spiritual Self, Psychological Knower, and many others.

You’ll get a sense of which selves are primary in you, which are disowned, and how they all influence your life experience.

More about Which Self Are You?

Available from GumroadScribdAmazonApple Books, Google PlayBarnes & NobleKoboSmashwords

Inner Critic Video From PsychAlive


Remember to check out my ebook Which Self Are You? to begin to connect with your different selves and their perspectives so you can more easily befriend your Inner Critic.


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