Many people that I talk to are surprised to learn that I see the inner critic as 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 possible social shaming and shunning. For this reason, I often call the inner critic a "social guard" as it aims to keep you safely within learned social dictates.
Because the inner critic is formed in childhood when your survival depended on the approval of your caregivers, authority figures and peers, it is 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.
At, a certain point the inner critic is no longer an intuitive social protector as the growing intensity of negative messages can easily outweigh the inner critic's ability to read subtle social cues. 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 unreasonable criticism from others.
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 wants you to only show your best work to others.
Protector Role: This social guard role tries to make sure you are perfect, so 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 about your emotional coping behaviours 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. This protector 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 trying to be your best self.
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 love, understanding or respect.
Protector Role: This protector comes from early life emotional 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 even 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 may have done or the people you may have hurt. This critic is concerned about maintaining your relationships at all costs. It holds you to standards of behaviours - dysfunctional or not - that were prescribed by your family, community, religion 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 your 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-Encouragement
Self-affirmation and self-encouragement 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 that what it is saying to you is true, and then change it. Most inner criticism originates from critical outside social interactions. Labelling and standing back from your inner critic can support you to begin the process of internal self-affirmation and self-encouragement.