The Purpose of Your Inner Critic

Updated: May 5

Many people that I talk to are surprised to learn that the inner critic is a social protector. It is difficult to see that the inner critic is a protector because it paradoxically undermines and attacks you in order to protect you from social shame. For this reason, I call the inner critic a "social guard."

Because the inner critic is formed in your childhood when your survival depended on the approval of your caregivers, it is both simplistic and inflexible. As you grow and mature through life, the inner critic needs to be reassessed and recalibrated to the subtleties and ambiguities of life.

If you do not take a closer look at your inner critic's negative voices, over time it becomes easier to self-criticize and to accept criticism from others. At, a certain point the inner critic is no longer a social protector as the growing intensity of negative messages can easily outweigh the inner critic's ability to read subtle social cues.

7 Types of Inner Critic

Inner Family System's Therapist Jay Earley has identified 7 different kinds of inner critics. Read on, to see which kind of inner critic takes precedence in your inner life.

1. The Perfectionist

Motivation: This critic tries to get you to do things perfectly. It sets very high standards for everything you do. It has difficulty completing things because it wants you to only show your best work to others.

Protector Role: This social guard role tries to make sure you fit in, and that you will not be judged or rejected by others. Its expectations probably reflect those of people who have been important to you in the past.

2. The Inner Controller

Motivation: This critic tries to control your impulses: eating, drinking, sexual activity, and so on. It is polarized with an "indulgent part, an inner addict who fears that you could get out of control at any moment.

Protector Role: This protector tends to be harsh and shaming in an effort to protect you from yourself. It is motivated to try to make you a good person who is accepted and functions well in society.

3. The Taskmaster

Motivation: This critic wants you to work hard and be successful. It fears that you may be mediocre or lazy and will be judged a failure if it does not push you to keep going.

Protector Role: This pushing protector often activates a procrastinator or a rebel that fights against its harsh dictates. It is motivated to be seen as a success by others.

4. The Underminer

Motivation: This critic tries to undermine your self-confidence and self-esteem so that you won’t take risks. It makes direct attacks on your self-worth so that you will stay small and not take chances where you could be hurt or rejected for your magnitude.

Protector Role: This protector is afraid of your being too big, too smart, too bright or too visible in order to protect you from social judgment.

5. The Destroyer

Motivation: This inner critic makes pervasive and devastating attacks on your fundamental self-worth. It shames you and makes you feel inherently flawed and not entitled to basic understanding or respect.

Protector Role: This protector comes from early life deprivation or trauma. It is motivated by the belief that it is safer not to have a unique expressive self or even that it is safer not to exist in a social context.

6. The Guilt-Tripper

Motivation: This critic is stuck in the past. It is unable to forgive you for wrongs you have done or people you have hurt. This critic is concerned about maintaining your relationships. It holds you to standards of behaviours - dysfunctional or not - that was prescribed by your family, community, and culture.

Protector Role: This protector tries to protect you from repeating past mistakes by making sure you never forget them or feel free to forgive yourself. This protector want you to hold onto your social ties at all costs - even if they are not good for you

7. The Conformist

Motivation: This inner critic tries to get you to fit into certain standards held by society, your family or culture. It wants you to be liked and admired by others.

Protector: This protector aims to protect you from being abandoned, shamed or rejected. The Conformist protector fears that the Rebel or the Free Spirit in you would act in ways that are unacceptable. So, this protector keeps you from being in touch with and expressing your true nature so that you will fit in with society.

Self Affirmation

Self-affirmation can be very useful to offset self-criticism. When you hear an inner critical voice saying you are inferior or deficient, you can choose to first doubt it, and then change it. All inner criticism originates from critical outside interactions. Labelling and standing back from your inner critic can support you to begin the process of internal self-affirmation.

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