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What Does Your Inner Critic Have to Say?

What does your inner critic have to say? - cartoon of person burdened by negative comments

We all have an inner critic hanging out inside our heads that makes itself known every so often. Chances are that the inner critic says things about you that are far harsher than you would ever say about anyone else.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and compassion-focused therapy (CFT) both pay quite a bit of attention to self-criticism. One ACT exercise is to come up with a job description for your inner critic. What skills does it have? What are its day-to-day job tasks, and what are its working hours? Is it expected to work overtime?

The Compassionate Mind Foundation has a Forms of Self-Criticising/Attacking and Self-Reassuring Scale that you can try to see how strong your inner critic is. Actually scoring it is a bit labour-intensive, as there are three subscales (reassured, inadequate, and hated self), but you’ll get a pretty clear idea of your pattern just by going through and answering the questions.

I don’t have a particularly intrusive inner critic. While that may seem surprising given that I have depression, in my case, the role of my inner critic has a lot more to do with my personality than my illness. My first episode of depression didn’t happen until I was 27, by which point my inner critic was relegated to the backseat.

I think that had a great deal to do with how I was raised. Other than occasional flare-ups of my dad’s temper, things chugged along quite smoothly in the Peterson household. I received positive feedback from my parents, and they were very responsive and available. Even in high school, when I felt very different from the “in crowd”, I didn’t tend to interpret that as something being fundamentally wrong with me.

My years of university were a very positive experience, and during that time, I started to really solidify my adult personality. I was comfortable with myself, and I liked how I was living my life.

During my first hospitalization, I apparently had delusional levels of guilt, but I don’t have any memory of that, so I’m not even sure what it was about. For the most part, though, I’ve maintained at least some degree of separation between my illness and my core self. That separation has allowed me to attribute the various aspects of the depression to the illness rather than to my core self.

When there are situational problems, I’m more likely to attribute those to external factors rather than blaming myself. In a way that’s good, but it can also lead to a sense of powerlessness.

I’ll also experience distress sometimes over my functional ability. However, I attribute that to the illness rather than see it as a failing of my core self. I’m fairly self-forgiving, as I know I’m far from perfect but have no expectations of perfection. I’m also okay with not being “normal”, as, in general, I prefer quirky to “normal”.

I know that many people have a very loud and persistent self-critic, so I feel lucky that I don’t. A lot of it has to do with my upbringing, but I think it also helps that I had a solid chunk of time being well as an adult. When my thinking patterns changed when I got sick, I had a “normal” frame of reference to evaluate against.

Does your inner critic cause a lot of problems for you? Is there anything that helps keep it in check?

You may also be interested in the post How Does the Inner Critic Get Started?

43 thoughts on “What Does Your Inner Critic Have to Say?”

  1. Ooo interesting, I hadn’t come across that scale before. Will take a look at that in a minute. I’m not sure how intrusive my inner critic is, it’s quiet than it used to be but it’s pervasive and pretty determined when it wants to be. Guilt is a big factor, like you mention experiencing. It’s interesting to get your view on your experience and the predominance of personality over inner critic.
    Caz xx

  2. Mine can be very harsh and mean but above all extremely demanding! ‘You MUST do this and you MUST to that’ and other more mean things. I learned to pauze, step out of the situation and ask myself: Would I think in such a mean way about my best friend, my dearest patient, … I discovered ‘of course not’ I’m not that mean. So why I am so mean to me? When I have enough energy it helps to set the inner critic a side or to muffle it’s voice. Sometimes it does not work and I’ll try to distract me and when that doesn’t work…. I let it be.

  3. My inner critic used to be extremely brutal and loud. For me, a combination of immersion into chaos theory and ACT was quite helpful to dampen his voice a lot. Speaking of ACT: Have you read Steven Hayes latest book? If not, I can highly recommend it 🙂

  4. Wow, thank you for sharing. You’re really lucky to have an upbringing where you were generally supported and had a good evaluation of your core self. Kids that don’t grow up with that can be in a battle for the rest of their lives if they also end up with depression.

    Do you use the scale you posted often? What do you do when you recognize that your inner critic is speaking up about you? I have a particularly nasty and talkative inner critic, but when I realize it’s talking I deliberately repeat things my loved ones and my therapist have said are true about me – that I’m kind, smart, productive, capable, and anything else I can think of that’s positive.

    1. The scale was something I just discovered when I was doing some research for this post.

      That sounds like a good strategy you’ve come up with. I try to remind myself that the negative stuff isn’t always there, so it can’t be universally true.

  5. I do have a pretty harsh inner critic, partly because my mom put a lot of pressure on me and I internalized that. And then there are the media cues… I don’t eat healthy enough or exercise enough. I failed at having a meaningful career and finding a life mate. And there’s also my own stuff… I want to be “better” at things. And I keep putting off doing what I intend because habits…

  6. The only thing I hear a lot from my inner critic is, “You’re a phony, you’re a fake, they’re all going to find out.” I actually started talking about this to my mother the other day because I’ve been learning a lot about imposter syndrome lately. She mentioned that she thinks she also has it, and we both traced it to the same thing. My grandmother, her mother, telling both of us that we weren’t sick when we were little. To this day, I could be vomiting and have a fever of 104 and still think I’m not sick enough to stay in bed or slow down. When I was little and my grandmother took care of me, she’d always say I was OK enough for school, so I am left with no idea what being “really sick” is like. In my mind I’m always just playing sick. Apparently it’s the exact same thing she did to my mom. Thankfully, I broke that chain with my kids. Still, I keep waiting to be declared a fraud — for what? I have no idea — but that’s the damn inner critic. I wish he’d take the Roger Ebert route.

      1. And ironically, I know my mom tried with me, but when childcare options were limited, I was stuck with my grandmother. Ironically, I missed her funeral in 2014 since I was in rehab…for being sick!!!! Karma…

  7. My inner critic can be pretty mean sometimes. And unfortunately I think that it stems from my parents. May they rest in peace. As much as I relied on them or wanted to rely on them for security, they didn’t always have the right words to say. My mom didn’t hold anything back usually and my dad was always fearful like me, so he would get angry if he couldn’t help me I guess. I don’t know. They really didn’t want to be a part of my recovery. They just wanted me well.
    You are very lucky that your family treated you so well. I feel guilty for saying how I felt growing up..but it’s truth. And I hope to one day have it in a book. It’s so hard to write though. Thanks for your article.

    1. I think it’s important for parents to recognize the lasting impact they can have with things they may not even think twice about. Writing a book would be a good way to get the message out there.

  8. Superb post, as always. My inner critic is mostly consistent, positive and constructive. Destructive, negative criticism wasn’t doing me any good. Some time ago it switched. Awareness, I suppose. Not sure if it’s as simple Self Love realized.

  9. I used to have a really bad inner critic one time for years. I put this down to my background not helping, along with the bullies in comprehensive. It was only during writing this blog I became more self aware to stop my inner critic through books and magazines. I think I blogged about some of the books one time, but with having a clear out on my blog, it may not be there no more.
    I have read no more books since and like someone has already mentioned, it’s just being self aware. I have done well I think the last few years with just a little bit creeping out at times that I have soon put in check.

    But these last few months, my inner critic and being unpatient with myself has vome out really bad. I have only this past week getting myself back in check with that.
    I can be at my worst when tired and I have been tired a lot as you know. But inner crtic has been put to bed as I make sure I practice my self-care.

      1. It is about recognising it. The books helped. But I had my first taste of being aware in my last counselling sessions I had some years ago. The books I were using were to work on it more and this helped with being more aware. I just slipup when tired sometimes and really bad this year. But eventually I got back myself back in check again. But it’s took a while and it has been hard to do it this time, because of my mind frame this year.

  10. Interesting post, Ashley.
    My inner-critic ha a field day on me from what took place this past weekend.
    I did hear back from my therapist last evening and we discussed all that had happened. I did ease up on myself and a future appointment has been made.
    Because of the combination fo being introvert and fear of crowds, what took place triggered me. I simply didn’t know how to handle that. I am grateful to have spoken to her.

      1. Sorry I deleted my other blog. I do still have the posts on my laptop, so may well incorporate some into this blog. But right now I’ve just made a complete fresh start and been using it like a diary…

  11. This is such an awesome post, Ashley (as always!). I am grateful to hear you had a frame of normal reference to balance the opposing side with. That is incredibly beneficial.

    My inner critic is very loud, very obnoxious and rarely is quiet. I am getting better at learning to discern when it’s the same ol’ same ol’ so to speak or something I really need to address. I didn’t have a good childhood. Far from. It was chaos, violence and constant upheaval. That definitely shaped the mind of a little girl in a way I wish I could undo. But the grace of God has kept me and I am learning each day how to regain my identity.

    I am going to have a look at your link. Thank you for sharing this. ❤ Give the guineas a big nose kiss for me 😀

  12. My inner critic criticizes everything I do. It says I’m ugly, should eat less and won’t have the future I want. It does not say things that my parents have said to me. Only what my peers have when I was younger and my own thoughts. I haven’t heard of having a self critic like yours. You are lucky

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