Origin Of Inner Critic

A wake-up call for parents and leaders.

Photo by Liliya Grek on Unsplash

Are you susceptible to a negative self-chatter that refrains you from showing up? Do you care too much or want too much? Are you often focusing on failures, inadequacy, and worthlessness? Do you fight the temptation to dream bigger? Do you flee from the option of greatness?

If you answer with yes, you might have been busy with something else: your inner critic.

I recently had the chance to discuss with a few fellow writers who are used to over-polish their drafts. Because of that, they pulled into a habit that undervalues all those beautiful successful pieces they have published in the past.

This brought me to the question of where the inner critic comes from and why it blinds us from recognizing our achievements.

Throughout these conversations, we looked at the reasons we have this inner critic, judgmental mind, or this habit of beating ourselves as writers? Many among us looked back at their history, searching for an authority figure who criticized their work.

Some writers confessed to having had a critical father or mother. Very influential judgments of their siblings surrounded other writers. For many writers, there have been specific messages from managers, leaders, society, or institutions that kept judging them. Some writers belonged to minority races, sexual orientations, or religions.

Although we might have faced criticism in childhood, the inner critic feels very real and present in our lives. We know from psychological research conducted by Sigmund Freud in the early 20th-century, that there is a part of the mind, referred to as the superego, which develops very early in infancy, and helps us to fit in.

Our families, cultures, organizations, and societies have a lot of norms and values. There are ways of doing things and classification of what is right and wrong.

According to Freud’s theory, as very young vulnerable infants, we need to learn quickly how to fit in, how to optimize a sense of love and belonging, and how to get acceptance and approval from people around us.

We learn very early that losing appreciation and affection is tragic and deeply painful. That is why the superego programs a beliefs system that influences the young person’s behavior, feelings, impulses, or actions. This makes sense because we are social beings and nobody wants to be left behind alone.

When the inner critic’s voice resonates in me, sometimes I can clearly hear, “oh that’s my mother,” or “that’s my dad’s voice.” You too might recognize how people who raise you, talked to you or criticized you as a kid. You can also hear the critic’s voice in the way how adults talked to themselves, how they were very ungracious and judgmental about themselves.

Well, you will say, this happened 10, 20, or 30 years ago and is long forgotten. Our mind is powerfully programmable, and it creates the ideal self-image. During the past years, there’s been increasing research on metacognition, which simply means knowing that we know. Results suggest that over time, the inner voice, story, judgment, resentment, guilt, or criticism get established in our mind as a core beliefs system. It becomes deeply rooted. We lose track of the origin of how the critic started.

The superego leaves us with a very habitual judging mind, painted in the past and controlling our present.

Unfortunately, the superego goes along with an inner voice that mostly employs a sense of shaming, according to Barbara M. Newman, a professor emeritus at the University of Rhode Island.

The voice inhibits us from doing or behaving like what’s perceived as the wrong thing that would make us vulnerable and fragile. From an evolutionary perspective, in the dawn of humanity 2 million years ago, during our hunter-gatherer lifestyle, being vulnerable meant being rejected or, worse, being hurt.

When we get clear about the origin of the inner critic, we can take the voice a little less personally. It is not my voice. This is just my history. It is unfruitful to treat my inner critic as an enemy to overcome. I try to be a friend to it and transform it. I say to myself, “now I am here and I am grateful for doing great.”

Not only writers may truly spark the celebration of their accomplishments, regardless of the circumstances. Let your inner critic become a wake-up call in your life today.

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Michel Kana, Ph.D

Michel Kana, Ph.D

Top Medium Writer. Fellow of Harvard University. AI Expert. Certified Learner. I help curious minds become life practitioners.

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