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Separating from Your Inner Critic

“If you were emotionally abused as a child, the chances are high that your inner critic is undermining your self-worth every day of your life. Its voice is so insidious, so woven into the fabric of your very being, that you seldom if ever notice its devastating effects.”

Beverly Engel

Who is Your Inner Critic?

Your Inner Critic is that inner critical voice, expressed as thoughts, that you hear in your head. Your Inner Critic’s voice comes from significant others in your life who interacted with you, such as parents, relatives, teachers, or peers. It’s typically a voice from the past when you were a child, an adolescent, or a young adult. If you internalized the nasty negatives and the ‘should/should nots’ from significant others who criticized you, they become part of your Inner Critic’s playlist.

Frequently, the Inner Critic is a parental voice. You can hear it whether you live with your parents and whether or not they’re still alive. As the stern parental voice, the Inner Critic may insist on telling you what you should do, which may conflict with what you want or need to do. This voice insists on enforcing specific rules of behavior and expects you to abide by them. He or she views the world in black-and-white terms of should and should not.

The Inner Critic’s voice can also include nasty negatives. For example, she may tell you you’re fat, you’re stupid, you’ll never amount to anything, and no one likes you.

Types of Inner Critic comments include the following:

  • Critical or insensitive comments
  • Judgmental comments
  • Unsupportive comments
  • Self-righteous or moralistic comments

Why is the Inner Critic Damaging?

Constant critical or unsupportive comments from significant others produce feelings of shame, deficiency, inadequacy, low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression.1 You don’t feel valued; you feel flawed, even hopeless.

Why Separate from Your Inner Critic?

Separating from your Inner Critic enables you to take back control of your behavior; thereby reducing or eliminating the Inner Critic’s influence over you in your interactions with the external world. Without the Inner Critic’s domineering thoughts, you are free to self-actualize and become the person you want to be.

Separating from your Inner Critic results in the following:

  • Relieves you from hearing hostile statements that are untrue.
  • Prevents you from buying into or believing the Inner Critic’s untrue statements.
  • Frees you to develop your own values and points of view.
  • Enables you to grow and blossom into your own person.
  • Weakens or destroys the Inner Critic’s negative influence over you.

How to Separate from Your Inner Critic

As a survivor, you may hear your Inner Critic’s voice routinely. The first step is to recognize the recordings on the Inner Critic’s playlist. You’ve heard them before. Over and over, like a parroting repeat.

When you can recognize the Inner Critic’s voice for whom it represents, it frees you to interrupt the recordings and instead, consider your thoughts and feelings without being drowned out by the Inner Critic’s nasty negatives or black-and-white rules.

To separate yourself from your Inner Critic, follow these steps:

  1. Locate a sheet of paper and a writing instrument.
  2. Identify the voice of the Inner Critic, and record the owner’s name.
  3. Record the Inner Critic’s comment.
  4. Identify your emotions in response to the Inner Critic’s comment. Whatever the emotions are that you feel, whether anger, sadness, depression, or anxiety, identify and record them.
  5. Objectively determine whether the Inner Critic’s comments are True, Partially True, False, or Partially False and why. False comments have no power over you!
  6. If the Inner Critic’s comments are True or Partially True, acknowledge that you do struggle in that area and improvement might be desirable. Write the action steps you are taking or intend to take to work on or resolve the issue.

By the end of the exercise, you’ve revealed the Inner Critic’s identity, message, your reactions to it, the veracity of the message, and the steps you’re taking to resolve the issue, if any. You can repeat the exercise for multiple Inner Critics.

Example of a Completed Separation Exercise

  • Inner Critic: Mom
  • Inner Critic’s Comment: “You didn’t make the cheerleading squad because no one likes you.”
  • Emotions: bewilderment, confusion, depression
  • True/False: False because I have a circle of close friends and many acquaintances.
  • Action Steps: I will continue to take weekly jazz lessons and widen my network of friends and acquaintances.

Carol Ann’s Inner Critics

As a survivor recovering from substance abuse in the ‘80s, I learned about the Inner Critic from my therapist. I have two types of Inner Critics—the Perfectionist and the Taskmaster. Additional Inner Critic types include the Inner Controller, Underminer, Destroyer, Guilt-Tripper, and Conformist.2

The Perfectionist insists on perfection in the performance of all tasks, whether in the workplace or at home. This voice sets high standards and holds high expectations that I will fulfill them, making it difficult to release a project as complete when I wonder whether it meets the gold standard.

The result is that it’s easy for me to go over and above what is required or expected to fulfill the Inner Critic’s high standards. The Perfectionist does not accept the substandard of “it’s good enough.”

The Taskmaster expects me to work hard at all tasks so I will succeed. This voice is impatient and demands that I learn new tasks or concepts quickly and retain them in memory once learned. Or else.

The voice of The Perfectionist is critical, judgmental, and rule-based. This voice says I should accept every social invitation I receive, I should send out Christmas cards so they are received by the recipients before Christmas, and no matter what, I should always be on time.

How I Benefited by Separating from My Inner Critics

My Inner Critic’s voice represents my mother who was a critical and judgmental perfectionist. Identifying the voice as belonging to her allowed me to see her for who she was. Identifying her voice and acknowledging that I am a separate person from her enabled me to disengage from her critical point of view. I am no longer controlled by her thoughts or her expectations. I am free to set my own values.

Today, I reached a compromise with The Perfectionist. I decide whether a task needs to be as good as I can get it or whether ‘good enough’ is acceptable, given time, energy, and the importance of the task in my life.

And today, I decide how hard I want to work. I control the amount of time and energy I spend on any given task or project. I don’t feel automatically controlled by the little woman behind the curtain.

After years of personal growth and inner awareness, my Inner Critics’ voices have faded. I looked the tigress in the eye. She slowly turned and retreated into the background. She is now a muzzled memory, a relic from the past, rather than a directing force.

Related Blog Post

How to Self-Parent Your Inner Child

References

1 “Inner critic.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inner_critic. Gilbert, Paul (2009) [1998]. Overcoming depression: a self-help guide using cognitive behavioral techniques. Overcoming series (3rd ed.). New York: Basic Books. ISBN 9780465015085. OCLC 435672915.

2 “The Seven Types of Inner Critics.” By Ph.D. and Bonnie Weiss, LCSW. IFS Growth Programs. https://personal-growth-programs.com/the-seven-types-of-inner-critics/

“4 Steps to Conquer Your Inner Critic.” By Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. PsychAlive. https://www.psychalive.org/4-steps-to-conquer-your-inner-critic/

“The Origin of Your Inner Critic.” By Esma Verma. September 28, 2021. https://mentalhealthmatch.com/articles/anxiety/inner-critic

Additional Reading

Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice: A Revolutionary Program to Counter Negative Thoughts and Live Free from Imagined Limitations by Robert W. Firestone, Lisa Firestone

Healing Your Emotional Self: A Powerful Program to Help You Raise Your Self-Esteem, Quiet Your Inner Critic, and Overcome Your Shame by Beverly Engel

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