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Inner critic

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The inner critic or critical inner voice is a concept used in popular psychology and psychotherapy to refer to a subpersonality that judges and demeans a person.[1]

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


The inner critic often produces feelings of shame, deficiency, low self-esteem, and depression.[4][page needed] It may also cause self-doubt and undermine self-confidence. It is common for people to have a harsh inner critic that is debilitating.[5]

Neville Symington suggested that such a severely critical inner object is especially noticeable in narcissism.[6]

Jay Earley and Bonnie Weiss have labeled seven types of inner critics—the perfectionist, the taskmaster, the inner controller, the guilt tripper, the destroyer, the underminer, and the molder.[7]


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 Byron Brown based on the Diamond Approach,[8] by Robert W. Firestone and colleagues in their Voice Therapy approach,[9] and by Rick Carson in his book Taming Your Gremlin.[10]
  2. Treat it as an ally to be befriended and transformed. This is the approach recommended by Hal and Sidra Stone based on Voice Dialogue,[11] by Earley and Weiss based on Internal Family Systems therapy,[7] by Ann Weiser Cornell based on Inner Relationship Focusing,[12] and by Tsultrim Allione based on Tibetan Buddhism.[13] Pat Allen also takes this approach in her book Art Is a Way of Knowing,[14] as does Lucy Bellwood in 100 Demon Dialogues.[15] These approaches see the inner critic as attempting to help or protect the person—but in a covert, distorted, or maladaptive way. This perspective makes it possible to connect with the critic and transform it over time into a helpful ally.[14]

Some psychotherapists suggest that either of these two approaches may be appropriate depending on how the inner critic manifests. If the inner critic is intense and stubborn, a friendly approach of valorizing the inner critic's concerns could be helpful; if the inner critic is mild, it may be more appropriate to gently ignore it and make contact with "suppressed organismic experience".[16]

Robert W. Firestone and Lisa Firestone, in their book Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice,[9] discuss how the inner voice often seems to protect a person from being hurt or feeling abandoned when in reality it reinforces feelings of shame and guilt, sabotages intimate relationships, and leads to self-destructive behaviors. Their book presents a method for externalizing the critical inner voice in order to turn self-criticisms into statements that can be evaluated objectively.[17]

Meditation or mindfulness practice is considered one effective strategy for dealing with the negative effects of critical thoughts.[18][19][20]

Literary examples[edit]

  • Virginia Woolf considered all books as "surrounded by a circle of invisible censors ... [who] admonish us".[21] 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 customs officer checking her writing for contraband.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stinckens, Nele; Lietaer, Germain; Leijssen, Mia (March 2002). "The inner critic on the move: analysis of the change process in a case of short-term client-centred/experiential therapy". Counselling and Psychotherapy Research. 2 (1): 40–54. doi:10.1080/14733140212331384978.
  2. ^ Elliott, Kathy J. (Spring 1999). "The Inner Critic as a key element in working with adults who have experienced childhood sexual abuse". Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic. 63 (2): 240–253. The Inner Critic is roughly synonymous with the Freudian superego (Freud, 1923/1949a) ['The ego and the id']. However, there are important differences. Freud (1914/1949b) ['On narcissism: an introduction'] saw the superego as composed of two parts: the ego ideal, which sets standards, and the conscience, which punishes the person for not meeting those standards. AT's [anthetic therapy] concept of the Inner Critic is similar: The 'shoulds' are the standards (ego ideal), which are imposed by the Inner Critic (the punitive conscience).
  3. ^ Jung, Carl Gustav (1997) [1916]. "The transcendent function". In Chodorow, Joan (ed.). Jung on active imagination. Encountering Jung. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 54. ISBN 0691015767. There are, indeed, not a few people who are well aware that they possess a sort of inner critic or judge who immediately comments on everything they say or do. Insane people hear this voice directly as auditory hallucinations. But normal people too, if their inner life is fairly well developed, are able to reproduce this inaudible voice without difficulty, though as it is notoriously irritating and refactory it is almost always repressed.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "4 Ways to Overcome Your Inner Critic". Psychology Today. Retrieved 2020-06-13.
  6. ^ Symington, Neville (1993). Narcissism: a new theory. London: Karnac. pp. 108–110. ISBN 1855750473. OCLC 29518137.
  7. ^ a b Earley, Jay; Weiss, Bonnie (2010). Self-therapy for your inner critic: transforming self-criticism into self-confidence. Larkspur, CA: Pattern System Books. ISBN 9780984392711. OCLC 728324364. See also the authors' web site
  8. ^ Brown, Byron (1999). Soul without shame: a guide to liberating yourself from the judge within. Boston: Shambhala Publications. ISBN 157062383X. OCLC 39013815.
  9. ^ a b Firestone, Robert; Firestone, Lisa A.; Catlett, Joyce (2002). Conquer your critical inner voice: a revolutionary program to counter negative thoughts and live free from imagined limitations. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications. ISBN 1572242876. OCLC 53163537.
  10. ^ Carson, Richard David (2003) [1983]. Taming your gremlin: a surprisingly simple method for getting out of your own way (Revised ed.). New York: Quill. ISBN 0060520221. OCLC 51304177.
  11. ^ Stone, Hal; Stone, Sidra (1993). Embracing your inner critic: turning self-criticism into a creative asset. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. ISBN 0062507575. OCLC 26357001.
  12. ^ Cornell, Ann Weiser (2005). "Radical gentleness: the inner critic transforms" (PDF). The radical acceptance of everything: living a focusing life. Berkeley: Calluna Press. pp. 105–128. ISBN 0972105832. OCLC 63119783.
  13. ^ Allione, Tsultrim (2008). Feeding your demons: ancient wisdom for resolving inner conflict. New York: Little, Brown & Co. ISBN 9780316013130. OCLC 175286356.
  14. ^ a b Allen, Pat B. (1995). Art is a way of knowing. Boston: Shambhala Publications. ISBN 1570620784. OCLC 31410074. Instead, consider beginning to honor the resistance, consider getting to know the critic. The critic holds very valuable information.
  15. ^ Bellwood, Lucy (17 July 2018). 100 Demon Dialogues. Toonhound. pp. 43, 44, 54, 81, 89, 105 (Afterword). ISBN 978-0-9882202-4-9. I'm just a small, scared person trying to make good art in the world. Perhaps I'm not so different from this even smaller, infinitely more scared creature trying to keep me safe. So take whatever input that creature gives you, acknowledge it, and then make the choices that genuinely nourish you without fear of punishment or guilt.
  16. ^ Stinckens, Nele; Lietaer, Germain; Leijssen, Mia (June 2013). "Working with the inner critic: therapeutic approach" (PDF). Person-Centered & Experiential Psychotherapies. 12 (2): 141–156. doi:10.1080/14779757.2013.767751. The research demonstrated that a variety of strategies was used to encourage the inner critic into motion. A flexible approach, tailored to the nature and intensity of the inner critic, appeared to offer the best chance of success. A critic-friendly approach that is attuning to the critic's feelings and concerns and valorizing these appeared to be more beneficial when the critic manifested itself in a stubborn and intensive way. Where the critic presented a milder manifestation the critic could be more easily set aside at a distance or contact could be made with the suppressed organismic experience. Maintaining a uniform approach to the problem without any regard to the way in which the critic was gradually being expressed, appeared to delay the therapy process or even, in certain cases, to be counter-therapeutic, particularly where the critic was quite intense.
  17. ^ Firestone, Lisa A. (21 May 2005). "Steps to overcoming your critical inner voice". Psychology Today. Archived from the original on 30 June 2012. Retrieved 19 January 2014.
  18. ^ Firestone, Lisa A. (8 August 2013). "The power of choosing your thoughts". Huffington Post. Retrieved 18 October 2013.
  19. ^ Gilbert, Paul, ed. (2005). Compassion: conceptualisations, research and use in psychotherapy. London; New York: Routledge. ISBN 1583919821. OCLC 55679765.
  20. ^ Schwartz, Richard C. (August 2013). "Moving from acceptance toward transformation with Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS)". Journal of Clinical Psychology. 69 (8): 805–816. doi:10.1002/jclp.22016. PMID 23813465.
  21. ^ Lee, Hermione (1997). Virginia Woolf (1st American ed.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 523–424. ISBN 0679447075. OCLC 36786158.

Further reading[edit]