Inner critic

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The inner critic or "critical inner voice" is a concept used in popular psychology to refer to a subpersonality - universally present in at least some form[1] - that judges and demeans a person.

A concept similar in many ways to the Freudian superego as inhibiting censor,[2] or the negative Jungian animus,[3] the inner critic is usually experienced as an inner voice attacking a person, saying that he or she is bad, wrong, inadequate, worthless, guilty, and so on.


The inner critic often produces feelings of shame, deficiency, low self-esteem, and depression.[4] It may also cause self-doubt and undermine self-confidence. It is common for people to have a harsh inner critic that is debilitating: Neville Symington suggests that such a severely critical inner object is especially noticeable in Narcissism.[5]

Earley & Weiss [6] identify seven types of inner critics—the perfectionist, the taskmaster, the inner controller, the guilt tripper, the destroyer, the underminer, and the molder.


A number of self-help books deal with the inner critic, though some use other terms to denote it, such as "the judge" or "the gremlin." There are two main approaches to working with the inner critic:

(1) Treat it as an enemy to be ignored, dismissed, fought against, or overcome. This is the approach recommended by Brown [7] based on the Diamond Approach, Firestone, et al.,[8] and Carson.[9]

(2) Treat it as a misguided ally, to be befriended and transformed. This is the approach recommended by Stone & Stone [10] based on Voice Dialogue, Earley & Weiss [6] based on Internal Family Systems Therapy, and Allione [11] based on Tibetan Buddhism. These approaches see the inner critic as attempting to help or protect the person, though in a distorted, dysfunctional way. This makes it possible to connect with the critic and transform it over time into a helpful ally.[12]

Robert W. Firestone and Lisa Firestone, in their book "Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice: A Revolutionary Program to Counter Negative Thoughts and Live Free from Imagined Limitations," discuss how the inner voice often seems to protect us from being hurt or feeling abandoned when in reality it reinforces our feelings of shame and guilt, sabotages intimate relationships, and leads to self-destructive behaviors. Their book introduces a method for externalizing the critical inner voice in order to turn self-criticisms into statements that can be evaluated objectively.[13]

Meditation practice or mindfulness is considered one strategy for dealing with the negative effects of critical thoughts.[14]

Literary examples[edit]

  • Virginia Woolf considered all books as “surrounded by a circle of invisible censors...[who] admonish us”.[15] She named one major figure 'The Angel in the House', a female voice telling her to be less hostile to/placate men; another 'The Spirit of the Age', an elderly male voice like a custom's officer checking her writing for contraband.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pat B. Allen, Art is a Way of Knowing (London 1995)
  2. ^ S. Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (PFL 2)
  3. ^ C. G. Jung, Man and his Symbols (1978).
  4. ^ Paul Gilbert, Overcoming Depression (London 1998)
  5. ^ Neville Symington, Narcissism: A New Theory (London 2003)
  6. ^ a b Earley, J. and Weiss, B. (2010) "Self-Therapy for Your Inner Critic", Pattern System Books.
  7. ^ Brown, B. (1999) "Soul without Shame", Shambhala
  8. ^ Firestone, R.W., Firestone, L., and Catlett, J. (2002) "Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice", New Harbinger.
  9. ^ Carson, R. (2003) "Taming Your Gremlin", Quill.
  10. ^ Stone, H. and Stone, S. (1993) "Embracing Your Inner Critic", HarperOne.
  11. ^ Allione, T. (2008) "Feeding Your Demons", Little, Brown & Co.
  12. ^ Allen[full citation needed]
  13. ^ Firestone, Lisa (21 May 2005). "Steps to Overcoming Your Critical Inner Voice". Psychology Today. Archived from the original on 30 June 2012. Retrieved 19 January 2014. 
  14. ^ Firestone, Lisa (8 August 2013). "The Power of Choosing Your Thoughts". Huffington Post. Retrieved 18 October 2013. 
  15. ^ Hermione Lee, Virginia Woolf (1996) p. 523-4

External links[edit]

The Inner Critic – Free Yourself from its Hold