Understanding the Inner Critic

Understanding the Inner Critic

(Based on the writings of Hal Stone Ph.D. & Sidra Stone Ph.D.)

The Inner Critic is a voice within each of us that criticizes us mercilessly.

It takes upon itself the task of evaluating us and always finds us falling short of expectations.

It will crush, cripple and thwart us, keeping us unhappy, frightened, constricted and ineffective.

It constricts our ability to be creative, compares us unfavourably to others and makes us feel “less than”.

It is terrified of being shamed and so monitors all our behaviour to avoid this.

It causes us to suffer from low self-esteem, and possibly depression, because it tells us that we are not good enough.

It doesn’t allow us to take in the good feelings that other people have towards us and makes us susceptible—and often victim—to the judgments of other people.

The Inner Critic is often directly involved in anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, addictions, and a variety of self destructive behaviours. It is usually a key factor in dysfunctional or abusive relationships.


Most of us are not even aware that there is a voice or a self speaking inside of us because the Inner Critic’s constant judgments have been with us since early childhood and its running critical commentary feels quite natural. We forget that we are more than the story we tell ourselves and we fully identify with our inner critic.


In the process of socializing a child, even the most gentle and accepting parents must discourage or change certain behaviours, set limits, convey expectations and teach basic elements of personal hygiene and appearance. Parenting usually involves a certain amount of going against the child’s natural inclinations. No matter how this is done, there is an implication that there is something unacceptable about the child.

We are all essentially relational beings so we develop our sense of self through our interactions with our environment. We need good enough mirroring in order for us to even feel/know that we exist and that we have the right to exist.

The Inner Critic is basically relationship-oriented and has developed in childhood to make our relationships less painful and to help us to avoid humiliation. It carries with it an underlying fear that we will be found unacceptable and therefore will be rejected or abandoned.

If the messages we have received from our environment is that we are not accepted as we are (we’re either ‘too much’ or ‘too little’), there is no way for us to learn how to approve ourselves and our existence. In order to protect ourselves from the pain and the shame of always being found ‘less than’, a voice develops within that echoes the concerns of the environment (our care givers, culture, social media or other people who are important to us).

Our external reality then becomes our internal reality. We internalize a stance of disapproval which becomes our truth, the only reality we know – and our character is then formed on this entrenched set of belief that we are inadequate and defective.

The more difficult or abusive the childhood, the more vicious and abusive the Inner Critic is likely to be.

This Inner Critic is formed as a separate sub personality that criticizes us before the environment can.

This Inner Critic is extremely anxious, almost desperate, for us to succeed in the world and to be accepted and liked by others.

The Inner Critic’s original function is to spare us shame and pain. As we leave childhood, this Inner Critic continues its attempts to make us acceptable to others. Unfortunately, it often does not know when to stop. The Inner Critic does not know when enough is enough. It has a tendency to grow until it is out of control and begins to undermine us and to do real damage. At this point, its original intent gets lost.