a woman looking in a mirror

Forgiving the Critic Within

“You’ll never be good enough.” “I can’t believe you just said that.” “What a stupid thing to do.” Have you ever said these things to yourself? The inner critic is a common internal voice that can contribute to anxiety, depression, and self-doubt. Why would we want to befriend such a demeaning voice? 


When we befriend our critic we can learn some valuable information about our beliefs and patterns of thinking. Instead of a passive monologue, engaging in a compassionate conversation opens up the door to greater wisdom and understanding. As a result, healing and self-acceptance become possible.


The Dynamic Internal Life 

Our critic is an integrated part of ourselves, and it is not going anywhere. It forms alongside the rest of the psyche, an extension of life experiences, traumas, and learned patterns. While we can’t change its presence, we can change our relationship to it. 


Think of it like a leaky faucet. The constant dripping is a nagging presence in the background. You try to tune it out, but eventually, it makes you irritable. If you let it go untended to, it can become an even bigger problem that takes extra effort to address. 



Similarly, the inner critic becomes bigger, louder, and more impactful when we try to drown it out. Even if you’re unaware of it, the subtle jabs and put-downs impact your well-being. However, you have the power to enter into a dialogue with the voice. By meeting the inner critic with curiosity and compassion, you can begin to heal the wounds at the root of the negative self-talk.


Vulnerability and Protection

Beneath the inner critic lies a wealth of vulnerability. Deep down, our critics are hurt and afraid and develop as a maladaptive form of self-protection. For instance, imagine coming home full of joy and pride over winning a drawing contest at school only to be teased by your older brother and his friends (whom you looked up to). This little person begins to lose her spontaneity and trust in her choices. The critic develops at a young age, as seeds of self-doubt are sewn into our fabric.



The inner critic makes quite the effort to protect us from painful experiences. It keeps us small, timid, and always on the hunt for ways to prevent shame, abandonment, and failure. With this framework in mind, we can shift the way we view this voice. As a wounded part in need of care, it yearns to be heard, held, and befriended. 


The Lens of Curiosity

In the gentle parenting philosophy, experts suggest getting down on the child’s level when offering a nurturing presence. This same approach is effective with the inner critic. Instead of towering over and looking down on it, try meeting it where it’s at. With a gentle tone and a warm approach, meet its demands with truth and curiosity. 



“I’m sorry you feel like you’re not enough in this moment. Where is that lie coming from?”

“It’s hard to feel like you can’t use your voice. What about this interaction is making you feel insecure?”

“We all make mistakes sometimes. Would you call someone else stupid for doing that?”


As you befriend your inner critic this can help you heal from the pain and fear behind its voice. By knowing it more you can discriminate between care and criticism. This, of course, takes time, compassion, and patience. Working with a therapist or coach to help guide your journey is most beneficial.


The Start of Forgiveness

It can be intimidating to imagine being kind to such a demeaning voice. Here are some suggestions for beginning on this journey to self-compassion:

  1. Keep a journal. Track the negative thoughts by putting it out where you can see. Time and date the thoughts and see if you notice any patterns. Use a different color for the compassionate voice to help you visualize your progress.
  2. Build internal resources. Foster a loving presence and develop the inner nurturer. Use imagery to draw upon when you need to enter into conversation with the inner critic. You might use the fairy godmother, the wise owl, or the caring teacher.
  3. Lean into the child parts of you. Acknowledge its presence by engaging in play, creativity, and curiosity. The inner critic is closely tied to our early experiences, making it important to form a connection to the young self. Take yourself on “play” dates to the park, an art class, or a funny movie.
  4. Find out what the inner critic wants. Is it trying to prevent you from failing? Is it protecting you from feeling shame from a mistake? Is it trying to reassure you that you are important and others notice you? Understanding its motives will help you build an arsenal of affirmations.



We all have an inner critic, it’s a part of human nature. While it’s impossible to get rid of, we can nurture an internal relationship that changes its power. Rather than taking its voice as a truth, we can find healing by challenging its beliefs and offering compassion. 


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