The Inner Critic –A Major Component of Depression and Anxiety

The Inner Critic is a major component in depression, eating disorders, anxiety, self-harm, low confidence, low self-esteem etc. and yet it is not really talked about to any great extent.  Everyone has an inner critic. For some it is extremely harsh, judgemental and critical and it is so ingrained that it feels like second nature. It can be a real obstacle in feeling good about oneself and one’s achievements or in achieving one’s goals/true potential.  Some people may even be unaware that they have a critical part.

Here are some examples of a critical part in action:
Never feeling good enough either as a person in what one does or how one looks.
A person may be very successful in their job but deep down they feel a fraud and they fear being found out, which in turn causes them anxiety.
Constantly feeling guilty and bad over what one said or did /didn’t say or do. It can monitor all interactions.
Constantly undermining oneself and often others, seeing the negatives and faults in what one does and what others do.
Image is very important and it feels important to be seen in a positive light by others.
Perfectionism - needing to have and do everything to a high standard.
Constant comparisons to others, never feeling good enough, there is always something wrong with how situations              are dealt with. Seeing oneself as lacking in skills, not strong enough, or as weak- the list is endless.
Never wanting to rock the boat/upset anyone for fear of what they may think. Adopting the chameleon approach.

The critical part develops at a young age. There are several factors that contribute to the development of the critical part and they include parents who may be critical either overtly or covertly, emotionally unavailable, who have high expectations or may not give a lot of affirmations or reassurance to the child. Children who have a predisposition to depression tend to internalise and exaggerate the expectations of parents. It can also originate or be compounded if there has been a history of sexual, physical or emotional abuse or indeed bullying. Figures of authority such as teachers, religious etc. and peers also play a part and they often think that they are helping or being constructive with their comments while, in fact, they are not. Again some children may exaggerate the expectations. The age that a person becomes aware of their critical part varies from always knowing that it was there, to late teenage years. Often it is when a person begins therapy that they start to become consciously aware of it.


The critical part can be heard as a voice or simply as thoughts. It can be subtle, and can sound very rational and normal or it can be harsh and unrelenting. The impact of it can range from a person just not feeling good about themselves, constantly striving and achieving goals and having high expectations to depression, self-harm, binging, anorexia or body dysmorphic disorder. The critical part plays an active role in the above especially when a more constructive coping part is absent. It can have a person constantly questioning themselves, looking for answers to questions that there are no answers to at that present time but expecting themselves to know and have these answers. It can tell them how they should think, act, feel, behave etc. or the way that they are behaving is not good enough.

The list is endless. When the person cannot come up with the ‘right answer’ the inner critic can tell them that they are worthless, a waste of space, and it constantly points out that all the things  that  the person is doing are wrong and, in severe cases, hurls abuse at them. All of this causes a person to withdraw, feel more isolated and, in turn, feel more depressed. Anxiety can be part of this depression. When the critical part is extremely strong it is abusive, bullying and /or undermining. It is at this point that a person may self-harm, binge/starve themselves.
Worthless, failure, rejection, abandonment, feeling unlovable, these are just some of the main themes of the critical part. When a person does not do what the critical part requires of them, this then gives the critical part free reign to do what it does best, criticise, berate and undermine.

The good news is that there are ways of dealing with the inner critic and these will be explored in my next blog.