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Recognizing, Identifying, and Defining the “Inner Critic”

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

That millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane.”

- Erich Fromm, The Sane Society

We are what we think about all day long.”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Do you have any idea of the state of mental health in the United States today? How often do you watch the evening news and hear stories of a “Murder-Suicide”, or some other form of violence that doesn’t stem from money or drugs? How many times in an hour do you see commercials advertising ALL SORTS of anti-depressant medications? What about the school shootings or other violence at academic institutions? This has almost become an annual occurrence!

After reading that question, you’re probably thinking…”Well, it must not be good. But no, I’m not really sure about exactly how bad it is…”. Well, according to the CDC, approximately 75 MILLION U.S. adults (32.4%) suffer from a mental disorder every year. Mental disorders range from Anxiety Disorders to Depression to Addiction to Schizophrenia – the whole gamut. Those are some eye-popping numbers, folks!

1 in 3 American adults suffer from a mental illness.

Why did I start this post off with such alarming numbers?

Because it relates directly with what I’m talking about in this series focused on the “Inner Critic” (False Self). Many mental or emotional disorders are caused by genetics or biochemical imbalances, but equally guilty are culprits that are sociological and spiritual in nature.

Let me start off by saying that I am NOT a mental health professional. I am just a 26 year old guy who has had a fair share of therapy and treatment as a result of my own issues…mainly that I’m unable to drink alcohol “appropriately”.

You can find dozens, if not HUNDREDS of articles online that discuss the Inner Critic. Quite a few are highly intellectual, some are humorous, some are way too “New Age-y” for me. With this post, I am going to try to clearly and concisely give you an accurate idea of the concept of an “Inner Critic. At that point you should understand why I claim that a big reason for the poor mental health in this country is actually this cruel ‘voice in the head’.

We all have an Inner Critic

Our self-esteem and self-identity are ultimately derived from the way we talk to ourselves. You know that thought process that appears out of nowhere to critique basically ANYTHING about you:

  • your body/physical appearance (“You’re already balding! No woman is going to think you’re attractive!”; “My breasts are only a ‘B’. I will never get noticed!”);
  • your intelligence (“What’s the point? I studied my butt off and only pulled off a C! I’m just stupid.”);
  • your clothes (“You look fat in that.”; “This _____ makes me look poor/rich/preppy/nerdy/etc.”);
  • EVEN your job/income/education (“People are going to think I’m lazy if I’m not working.”; “You’re just a loser, you only earn $_____.”; “All you have is a degree from a Community College, so what!”).

The concept of the Inner Critic is somewhat newer in the field of psychology, but this doesn’t make it any less pertinent. Even Wikipedia states that it “…is a concept used in pop psychology…”. So for a little better clarity, we need to go back to “Psych 101“, and I need to get a little “Freudian” for a moment…

No matter how you feel about the man, Freud was brilliant, and much of his work has laid the foundation for the science of psychology. One of these concepts was his structural model of the psyche. You remember learning about the Id, the Ego, and the Superego? Well let me refresh your memory for a moment:

  • Id – Part of our mind that contains the most basic drives – for sex, food, nurturing, etc. Think of a newborn baby…they don’t have much going on (in terms of thinking), but they are born with certain innate drives, and the ability to cry to get their needs met. Basically, think of it as our ‘passions’.
  • Ego – Very much talked about, with multiple ways to define it. Just know that it is much more than just our identity or sense of self. According to Freud, the ego is obviously the largest and most clearly identified part of our psyche – containing defensive, perceptual, intellectual-cognitive, and executive functions. The ego is the part of our mind that perceives and makes sense of the world around us. Basically, think of it as containing our reasoning and common sense abilities and basic aspects of our personality/sense of self.
  • SUPEREGO** – I capitalized and highlighted this part of the psyche because IT IS SYNONYMOUS with the “Inner Critic. Freud presented it as our ‘conscience’…it’s purpose is to protect us and to maintain certain standards. We acquire it when we adequately identify with our parents or other authority figures in society (teachers, religious leaders, the voice of society in general).

So we see these newer terms like “Inner Critic“, or the “Internal Family Systems” actually have their basis in concepts from the “Masters” of psychology. They just happen to be a little easier to understand. As for the Superego/Inner Critic…what does it mean that we “…acquire it once we adequately identify with our parents…”?

Are our parents really to blame for this “Inner Critic“???

No….you can’t put blame on anyone or anything. Unfortunately, in the process of raising us, parents did play a contributing role. Through love, parents attempted to correct or “fix” problems they saw in us. This is natural, it is part of teaching a child how to take care of themselves – from how to dress, to how to fix one’s hair, the way we talk (and even when to talk), even to what is appropriate morally and culturally.

You see, we all have another side of us…what is called our “True Self“. This is who we are when we are being ‘real‘. It recognizes our “Oneness”, or how we are connected with the world around us – nature and other people. We feel safe enough to be vulnerable, to reveal our thoughts and feelings. Here are some descriptions of this “True Self“:

Spontaneous, loving, giving, accepting, communicating, expressive of feelings (without self-judgment), alive, energetic, fulfilled, creative, free

As I progress in this series, I am going to talk a lot more about our True Self. This is the ideal after all, isn’t it? Oh, and not to mention…this is the only version of ourselves that God knows.

Pretty important and powerful stuff! That was so freeing to me to learn that — that all these negative, critical, shameful thoughts I had about myself weren’t even recognized or acknowledged by God!

Looking Ahead…

I could go on for a few thousand words talking more about what the Inner Critic looks like and how it affects us, but I want to keep this easy to digest.

Part 3 of this series is going to be a crucial discussion to help you see the “How’s” and “Why’s” regarding the development of the inner critic:

  • HOW this voice – the Inner Critic/Superego – was developed.
  • HOW did we take lessons our parents taught us and turn it into this evil inner dialogue?
  • WHY are some of us more self-critical than others (especially if all of us actually have this Inner Critic)?
  • WHY do we even have this critic to begin with?? (What purpose does it serve?)

THANKS for reading!

If you have any other questions PLEASE voice them in the “comments” box below! Share any stories of how the Inner Critic has affected you or someone you know…or how you have learned to overcome this debilitating voice in the head!

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4 comments on “Recognizing, Identifying, and Defining the “Inner Critic”

  1. Lots to absorb, Troy. Great info. Must say, i usually hate having sunshine blown up my ass, but this is PRAGMATIC info. It is sad and true. I don’t feel as alone with my inner critic by reading this ENORMOUS amount of fantastic info. ;-)

    For today, i’m going to switch the “auto-critic-swtich”.

    Today i look great in my jeans (that is a no-brainer … i’ve worked on that forever) … i’m smart (relatively speaking) …

    Damn … still much work to do. But thanks for the fact, man. I appreciate you! xo

    • I have had so many struggles with my inner critic…

      Biggest step I took was actually learning what it was, and that this voice was NOT me. Guess I felt that I had enough experience to provide people a clear understanding…maybe help a few others start their own process of overcoming this critic.

      Hope you tune in for the later posts…plenty of good stuff yet to come!

      • Cool. This is good info. to look at. I’m at a bit of a standstill, turning point, and i’m hearing a lot of “oh, right you think you can do that” … or “how on earth are you going to do that”. I think if i can identify the voice (mom, dad) ;-) maybe my new voice “i am ME”, iamnotshe, i’ll get move-on. Peace within myself in a longstanding manner would be God’s greatest gift to me and to MANY others.

        Troy, don’t take me the wrong way, ok? I’m sorry. I’ve never seen you as a phony. You are quite smart, quite helpful, and the real deal. Plus you’re a fan of Jen. :-)

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