Nine Types Of The Inner Critic

Everyone has an inner critic and yet what is says, how it says it and our relationship to it is different for everyone. The Enneagram describes those differences to help us change the relationship we have with our own inner critic.

Everyone has an inner critic.

It is normal part of the psychological structure. (Referred to as the “superego.”)

We all have an inner voice that can be critical, controlling, negative and mean.

As awful as it is somedays, it has a purpose. But that does not mean we have to live with it forever.

What is the inner critic?

I recently finished reading “Deep Coaching” by Roxanne Howe-Murphy. In it, she discusses her perspective on what the inner critic is and what it looks like for each type.

Howe-Murphy describes the inner critic as the internalised voices of authority from our childhood. And that “authorities are made of rules, standards and dictates.”

The voices of authority from childhood tend to be our parents, caregivers, and influential adults. That can include adults we are exposed to through our early childhood activities, such as school, church, television, sports, dance, and so on.

As we grow up, our peers, celebrities and global leaders can influence us, although the older we are the less influence it might have on the structure of our inner critic.

5 second reflection: Who are the four adults who come to mind first when you think of people who influenced you in early childhood?

As for the “rules, standards and dictates” most adults believe there is a “right” way to do something, and tend to impart that belief system by telling the child what they should and shouldn’t do.

Everyone’s experience will differ, but as someone who currently lives with a toddler, that could includes things like the need to wear clothes when leaving the house, to sitting at the table to eat dinner and no feet on the table.

Depending on your cultural reference, these might seem like sensible things. But for someone else, a completely different rule system might apply.

For example, one rule my inner critic adopted was about the value of art-making. As a young child I was already telling myself my art-making was terrible. As a teen, I was told to have a sensible Plan B (ie, as a lawyer) because art doesn’t pay. That is a rule I absorbed through a range of influences, some of which are hard to recall.

5 second reflection: What are 2 to 3 “rules” your inner critic enforces for you? (Whether you appreciate the rule or not.)

It is important to remember that the inner critic is not “our” voice, it does not reflect rules we have chosen for ourself, but rather the standards of other people, both our family and society.

What is the role of the inner critic?

The purpose of the inner critic is to help keep the personality in place. That is the armour, mask or defensive systems is maintained. As Howe-Murphy says “it keeps the rest of the personality in check.”

She adds “And when we are in its grip, the inner critic tells us what we can and cannot do, feel, experience or express and can give harsh feedback if its dictates are not followed.”

When we violate that voice, we can feel guilt, shame, anxiety and more.

Healing the inner critic

In order to reduce our defensive reactions to situations and give ourselves more choices in how we react to a situation, we need to free ourselves from the grip of our inner critic.

And we do that by:

  • being able to acknowledge the voice in our heads as not being “the one true voice”
  • developing an inner observer who can watch the inner critic as it arises
  • cultivate other voices, such as the inner coach, to counter the inner critic
  • exploring the rules and beliefs we hold and deciding whether they continue to serve us
  • healing any underlying wounding that contributes to guilt, shame, anxiety, anger, and so on.

Recognising our inner critic

The first step is to start catching our inner critic in action.

I remember the first time I did this. I was 20 or so and standing naked in front of a mirror. And I was filled with self-loathing berating my body for its imperfections based on the current social and cultural standard I was ingrained with.

Somehow I paused. And asked myself “is berating going to create change?”

No. It was not. And as I stood there I realised I needed to change how I spoke to my body. I needed to let go of the critic inner voice and find another way to speak to myself.

Change didn’t happen overnight, but eventually it did happen.

But the inner critic is sneaky.

Just the other day my Enneagram mentor pointed out to me that my inner vice was only focused on the negative aspects of my art-making. It never had anything good to say.

And I hadn’t noticed!

I had just thought this was usual. “Doesn’t everyone critique their art?” I thought.

But there is a difference between critiquing and criticising. And in constantly criticising my art I was removing my ability to make art and to be in flow.

And is I started practicing only saying positive and appreciative things about my art. And you know what, it made me want to paint more. I was excited to keep playing and learning, rather than being shutdown from feeling like a failure.

5 second reflection: What aspect of your life does your inner critic seem the most negative or disempowering right now?

The nine types of inner critic

The following descriptions based on Howe-Murphy’s are not designed to help you recognise your own inner critic, but to understand how each inner critic operates. And what it requires each person to do, in order to stay sated and feeling okay.

Of course you might recognise your inner critic’s pattern in here, and if so, please be kind to yourself.

Type One

The One’s inner critic insists they only do what is right. Their inner critic can actually sound like the voice of their key parent or caregiver, and requires the One to do what it deems to be right if the person is to feel okay about themselves.

As the One’s inner critic is quick to judge, that often leads them to be highly critical of themselves and others. The inner critic runs a “constant commentary” on what is going on around them filled with should-statements and obligations.

To start changing their relationship with their inner critic, One’s need to know their inner critic. Spending time every day writing down its messages starts to create a little distance from what can seem central. Observe how the messages are not invested in your wellbeing but in the inner critic’s own survival.

Type Two

The Two’s inner critic is quick to judge how others treat them. And it is very clear on which behaviours mean they are liked, valued and loved and which fall short.

For example, if someone they care about doesn’t take their advice or doesn’t smile at them over coffee in the lunchroom, the inner critic will tell the Two that’s evidence they aren’t valued or loved. That they haven’t done enough to be loved.

To satisfy the inner critic, the Two has to sacrifice their own needs, but doing so leaves them stuck in a cycle of resentment. To reduce its hold the Two needs to spend time alone reconnecting with what they ned, and then learning how to ask for it.

Type Three

The Three’s inner critic requires them to appear successful, and be rewarded for it in some way. Otherwise it tells the Three they are as failure and have no value. It requires them to sacrifice their authentic desires for outer achievement.

To reduce the hold the inner critic has over them, it helps for the Three to pause and ask themselves what is true about the current situation. What is really happening versus what the inner critic saying is happening.

Type Four

The Four’s inner critic rewards them for being “authentic.” That means abiding by the truth of their feelings. If they are sad, they must be sad, maybe even dramatically sad (or stoic or angry, depending on the subtype). By being dramatic their inner critic tells them they are being authentic.

The Four’s inner critic requires them to live in emotional turmoil. By trying to analyse their feelings or getting into action, they create some space from their feelings and their inner critic, allowing them to live more from the present moment.

Type Five

The Five’s inner critic insists on the Five being an expert of some kind. Mastering ideas, information, being a subject matter expert and knowing more than others on any given topic.

Breaking the cycle, requires the Five to get out of their heads and into their bodies and hearts, so they can be more present for their emotions and relationships.

Type Six

The Sixes inner critic requires the Six to be vigilant to what is expected of them and to fulfill those expectations. Constantly figuring out those expectations can be exhausting, but the inner critic reminds them how unsafe it is to not know.

The Six can reduce the hold the inner critic has on them when they remember what’s going well in their life, come into their body and start to trust their own authority and inner knowing.

Type Seven

The Seven’s inner critic tells them they need more. It requires a continual search for new experiences, material goods, or other forms of variety. It promises the Seven that it must keep searching for the one thing that will fulfill them. But the inner critic, and that need, can never be satisfied.

Breaking free of the inner critic requires the Seven to slow down, reduce the amount of events in their diary and observe what they are over-consuming and to reduce it, little by little.

Type Eight

The Eight’s inner critic requires them to be strong and in control. To always impose their control and truth over a situation.

To reduce its hold, the Eight needs to learn how to moderate their strength. To cultivate a voice that helps them know when to relax and when to take charge.

Type Nine

The Nine’s inner critic requires everyone to feel good. It tells the Nine it’s not okay to feel good if others are upset, in pain or uncomfortable. Stuck in that cycle, the Nine will continue the impossible task of keeping the peace at the expense of their own priorities.

(Nine’s may not “hear” their inner critic as a voice. When merged with others, groups or routines, their minds can be silent. They need to learn to wake up and hear their inner critic.)

To reduce its hold, the Nine needs to spend more time alone, away from the influence of others. Here they can start to tune into the other voice that already exists within them. The voice that knows what it wants and has the energy to follow through on making it happen.

Working with your inner critic

To change your relationship with your inner critic, start to get to know it better. Pick an area of life you want to make change in. Write down what it says about every aspect of that. Review the list, what do you notice?

What is the opposite of what it’s currently saying? (For example: negative versus positive, past versus future, hate versus love, focus on others vs focus on self)

Find an activity that is the opposite of what the inner critic requires you to do (or of what it says), and give yourself permission to start doing that everyday. Just a little. A very little.

A little everyday will start to create some distance from your inner critic.