The inner critic and self-compassion

Our inner narrative which accompanies us throughout the day, suggesting we get up, put the kettle on, get on with some work or offering a commentary on our day, is an amalgamation of our thoughts, feelings and our relationship with ourselves.


A harsh commentary coming from inside might urge you to try harder, be better, faster, stronger. If you stop to notice this inner voice, you might also begin to be aware of the feelings accompanying or arising from this.

What is the inner critic?

An inner critic is a harsh inner voice offering judgement, reaction and response to the inner world we inhabit.

Often, this voice is created because of what we feel our caregivers (as we grow up) want from us or tell us they want, other figures of authority or status in our lives demand and what we believe about ourselves.

If we believe we are lazy, incompetent, inattentive and disorganized, then our inner voice shouting this at us, may make us jump, might compel us to greater efforts but the feeling is likely to be similar to being shouted at, by another person. 

An inner critic may not be the result of cruel or thoughtless caregivers but might stem from efforts to instil discipline, high achievement, good standards or even that person’s own desire to get things right or worry that the child will not keep up or attain goals.

The big but is that this critic can eat away at our esteem, and create or maintain anxiety. Witness any child who is regularly yelled at, and it is unlikely that they believe they are a great person. deserving of good things and positive experiences. Setting positive attainable goals, firm boundaries and praising effort and intent, are much better motivators. Children who learn to treat themselves harshly in their inner world, are likely to become 

Adults who struggle to know when they have done enough, tried hard, can stop working, and are in fact good enough, whatever they do or don’t achieve.

We can learn as adults to temper and challenge this critic with self-compassion. Noticing where and when and how your critic shows up, pausing to attend to the feelings arising and offering yourself a different perspective, can support you to begin to be gentler with your precious self.

Practising self-compassion

Imagine you are your own best friend and begin to treat yourself as well as you would that person. Therapy can support you to disentangle the beliefs you have developed about yourself, the way they emerge fully-fledged in your current life, and explore how you might begin to develop a compassionate inner voice, which supports your esteem, strength and presence in the world.

Exploring why you feel or think you are not enough, or good enough as you are, may also support you to build esteem and compassion. Starting to catch these thoughts, to offer a different response to ourselves and to challenge an acceptance that we are less than we need to be, or to compare ourselves to others negatively, can be a new way of living.

Therapy offers exploration in a safe, non-judgmental environment with a neutral person, who can reflect back the views, feelings and patterns you have forged in your inner world. We are often so immersed we do not actively notice or reflect upon our inner world. Therapy gives you a dedicated time to do this and to really begin to unravel the threads which keep you in the same patterns. Why not book an introductory meeting today?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Nottingham, NG5
Written by Fiona Corbett, Accredited BACP and EMDR therapist and Clinical Supervisor
Nottingham, NG5

Fiona Corbett BACP and EMDR Association accredited therapist

I work in Nottingham with individuals,. My training is in Humanistic counselling, Psychodynamic psychotherapy, and EMDR I also offer supervision. I work with a wide range of issues.

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