How a Harsh Inner Critic can Affect your Life in a Negative Way

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Could have a harsh Inner Critic that is dominating your life?

Do you always look at yourself in disgust and say the words that come with it?

Do you worry all the time about what people think of you?

Do you always feel that no matter how hard you try, you can never get certain things right?

The Inner Critic is that voice in your head; that internal chatter that if it is harsh and toxic, often doesn’t stop, and can make you feel terrible about yourself.

In this article I will explain:

  • What is your Harsh Inner Critic?
  • How it differs between a healthy Inner Critic which we all need and a Severe one
  • Where it Comes from
  • How it can affect your life
  • I will provide some tips on what you can start to do about it.

What is your Harsh Inner critic?

The Harsh Inner Critic could be thought of as a negative, demeaning conversation we often have in our own heads. Or it could be constant negative criticism or comments. All given by ourselves, to ourselves about ourselves.

It can feel powerful and relentless and very overwhelming, disarming us even if at times we can be quite confident. We could end up feeling totally helpless and worthless.

These thoughts, attitudes, and views directed towards ourselves are at the core of our behaviour and affect, how we perceive ourselves and others, what we think, feel, and eventually what we do. It is so much a part of who we are, that most of the time, we don’t even notice it as even being a problem.

You just believe that your “Inner Critic” is normal and even true where we don’t even question the things you say to yourself.

How your Harsh Inner Critic differs from Healthy Self-Criticisms

We all need an Inner Critic as it acts as a moral compass guiding our day-to-day actions. To help us to look after ourselves and the other people in our lives. To guide our actions and also our reactions to things. Contrary to a lot of things you might have heard, there isn’t anything wrong with having an inner critic. As I said it is our moral compass, our conscience as it were and we all need this, as it is the difference between us being full-blown narcissistic sociopaths.

So, what is the difference between what’s constituted as an acceptable inner critic and one that is harsh. I’ve tried to explain with the following:

With an acceptable inner critic, we can reflect on our mistakes, or our particular issues then learn from them. If your Inner Critic is harsh, you would use your mistakes as a stick to beat yourself up with.

How other people view us and what they say about us, trumps how we see ourselves.

Where someone without a harsh inner critic would just weigh up the information given by others and then make an informed judgment.

Our words about ourselves are often attacking and demeaning with a harsh inner critic.

Would you tell those words to other people? Those without a harsh inner critic would be fair with their words with themselves and with other people.

Where does the Harsh Inner Critic come from?

A harsh Inner Critic comes from our childhood experiences in the following ways. Bear with me while I try to explain it.

Psychological Theory – The Super Ego

There isn’t any need to go into any depth here about the biological and psychological reasons why children absorb so much from their environments. However, just understanding what the Super Ego is, will help.

The super Ego is the unconscious part of all of us that guides what we do, how we do things, and trying to do things right in our lives. In other words, it is our conscience. We all have a conscience unless we are full-blown Narcissist or Sociopath.

Our childhood experiences, whether good or bad, feeds our Super Ego and give us the blueprint to guide our lives as we get older. We can shape and adapt, depending on our experiences but our childhood experiences here form the foundation.

The problem with a severe inner critic here is that our Superego goes into overdrive where it is completely over conscious.

The Super Ego is so reactive that it sees, senses perceive things that are not necessarily there.

Child abuse

A harsh inner critic comes from a difficult or challenging childhood experience and those experiences shape your Super Ego also known as your conscience.

Still sticking with childhood experiences, when a child goes through trauma or abuse, their nervous system becomes over-aroused. They constantly need to react to things happening in their environment, and they find themselves on high alert. The body then gets locked into what we call the “sympathetic nervous system” which is designed to help the body prepare to Fight or Flight. It helps the body respond to danger whether a child is worried about their father coming home drunk or running from a tiger.

As the body is locked into the sympathetic nervous system, the child is also hypervigilant about dangers, even when they are not around, especially as they get older. A child would, more than likely due to their physical vulnerabilities and not having anywhere else to go, become hypervigilant as their options on how to respond are restricted.

The problem is that this hypervigilance becomes normal for us and even as we get older, we don’t know how to switch that off.

That Hypervigilance makes us feel that we are constantly under attack. It also makes us predict dangers or have expectations about how others would treat us.

With that comes our “lack of faith in ourselves” to manage. Because we naturally couldn’t cope as children, we still feel that total insecurity within ourselves, so we are constantly on the alert to protect ourselves.

Emotional Neglect

If a child received constantly negative feedback, sarcasm, criticism, contempt or just the omission of positive feedback. As children, we absorb those messages.

Emotional neglect is very much about what you didn’t get as a child. We all need Attention, Affirmation, and Affection. If we miss any of these growing up, our lives become a desperate race to try and get them, even if they are in ways that are not healthy.

For example, many of us with a harsh inner critic was expected far too young to know things that were beyond our capabilities. Our parents expected far too much from us without providing any approval. As children, we then learn early on to keep trying to get our parents’ approval, to reach a level of expectations that is unobtainable.

With emotional neglect as well, a parent may be kind and loving but because the Affirmation was lacking, a child didn’t get the reassurance they needed to feel secure within themselves and others.

Our parents were too powerful to blame, so as children we naturally blamed ourselves.

You can’t give as a parent what you haven’t got

If as a parent, you have a severe inner critic, that would naturally guide the words you say about yourself, your behaviour, and your emotions. Your children will, unfortunately, witness that. Even if they can’t put words to it, they will sense that something isn’t right.

When it comes down to it, it isn’t the experiences such as divorce, bereavement, job losses, or natural disasters that cause trauma to a child. It is the emotional intelligence of the parents to navigate their way through it.

A child will learn about themselves, how their parents handle things.

How having a Harsh Inner Critic Can affect you?

Here are some ways a harsh inner critic can affect you:

Being a perfectionist – there isn’t a mark when anything is good enough and getting it wrong isn’t an option

Being a workaholic and not being able to stop working and knowing when enough is enough

Imposter syndrome where you just don’t feel good enough for what you are clearly qualified to do. Somehow you feel that you will be “caught out” then humiliated for being less than. That fear is constantly there especially when you start something new.

Self-Hate – You just don’t like yourself very much

Difficulty in self-care – you dislike or struggle taking time out for your own needs. You see yourself as less as a priority. You could even go as far as demeaning yourself if you are “resting” or “sitting down”

Social anxiety – Because you are so overly conscious about how you feel others see you

Also remember, these are not all or non i.e. you have it or you don’t. The symptoms can range on a spectrum from mild to very severe.

What can you do about your Harsh Inner Critic?

Starts with Self-Care – the Story of Health

The benefit of self-care is that the more you take care of yourself and build yourself up, you are giving yourself the message that you are worth it. Practically this helps you to start to replace some of those demeaning messages you keeps saying to yourself.

However, it means doing those things that are good for your body, spirit, mind and who is in your environment, DAILY. It doesn’t need to be anything big that’s going to take up a lot of time and money. It just needs to be personal to you and not what you think you “should” be doing, then using that as another opportunity to beat yourself up.

The Story of Health from the Reach Approach is a great way to start with your self-care. The Key is to start small and often. You are better off meditating for five minutes a day rather than spending three weeks in a retreat every other year.

Learn to Understand your Inner Critic

The most important thing to understand about the inner critic is that the aim isn’t to get rid of it because thinking this way would make you feel defeated before you have even started. The aim is to manage it so it’s not overtaking your life in the way that it currently is.

So, educating yourself about the Inner critic would help. Reading books or listening to podcasts on things not necessarily called the harsh inner critic but could be related to how things affect you such as perfectionism and social anxiety as these will help with some of your symptoms as understanding the Inner Critic helps you to understand where those symptoms have come from.

Reading books such as “The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steven Green”, Complex PTSD from Surviving to Thriving by Pete Walker and The Soul without Shame by Byron Brown are all perfect start.

Have more self-compassion

Having more self-compassion is the key to all of this as this is the start of changing the language you are using about yourself.

It starts by responding to your Inner Critic as a separate person rather than who the voice says you are and accepting it as the truth. That would often mean treating yourself with care and compassion and responding in a way to defend yourself. To stand up for yourself as you would do your own children or someone else you see downtrodden.

Self-compassion also involves being patient with all of this and knowing that this all won’t happen overnight, that recovery, like a child learning to walk that falls down all the time, isn’t in a straight line.

It is also important to try and be consistent, even if you miss a few times, being compassionate with yourself encourages you to continue on this journey.


What to do next

Today I explained what a harsh inner critic is and how it differs from a healthy inner critic which we all need to act as a moral compass.

I also gave some explanations of where a severe inner critic could come from as it generally comes from a difficult childhood, but it can happen in different ways. I provided some details on how it could affect your life and introduced you to some ideas on what you can start to do about it.

The main point here is that it is about managing your severe inner critic as it’s not possible to get rid of it completely, nor would you want to really. Also, to get to the point in your life where you are not overwhelmed by your inner critic takes time and consistent work which feels difficult at first but with consistent practice will get easier to do over time.

Hope you found this useful. Would be great to hear back from you about what you thought as this encourages me to keep doing these podcasts and lets me know what you find beneficial.

The Story of Health – Link to the Reach Approach Website

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Do you have a Toxic, Emotionally Immature, Narcissist, Co-dependent, or Parent with an Addiction? Have you struggled with their behavior for most of your life? Maybe your Childhood wasn’t the best but you want to make sense of why it still affects you now.

You may find yourself struggling in so many ways.

I am an experienced and qualified Online-Therapist based in the United Kingdom helping you on your road to healing from your Toxic Parents. 

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