Critical Inner Voice

What is the Critical Inner Voice?

The critical inner voice is a well-integrated pattern of destructive thoughts toward ourselves and others. The nagging “voices,” or thoughts, that make up this internalized dialogue are at the root of much of our self-destructive and maladaptive behavior.

The critical inner voice is not an auditory hallucination; it is experienced as thoughts within your head. This stream of destructive thoughts forms an anti-self that discourages individuals from acting in their best interest.

How Does the Critical Inner Voice Affect Us?

The critical inner voice is an internal enemy that can affect every aspect of our lives, including our self-esteem and confidence, our personal and intimate relationships, and our performance and accomplishments at school and work. These negative thoughts affect us by undermining our positive feelings about ourselves and others and fostering self-criticism, inwardness, distrust, self-denial, addictions and a retreat from goal-directed activities.

What Are Some Examples of Common Critical Inner Voices?

Some common voices include thoughts like “You’re stupid,” “You’re not attractive,” or “You’re not like other people.”

Some people have voices about their career, like “You’ll never be successful,” “No one appreciates how hard you work,” or “You are under too much pressure, you can’t handle this stress.”

Many people experience voices about their relationship, such as “He doesn’t really care about you,” “You’re better off on your own,” or “Don’t be vulnerable, you’ll just get hurt.”

Where Do Critical Inner Voices Come From?

These inner voices usually come from early life experiences that are internalized and taken in as ways we think about ourselves. Often, many of these negative voices come from our parents or primary care takers, as children we pick up on the negative attitudes that parents not only have towards their children but also toward themselves.  Our voices can also come from interactions with peers and siblings, or influential adults.

How is the Critical Inner Voice Different Than a Conscience?

Many people think if they stop listening to their critical inner voice, they will lose touch with their conscience. However, the critical inner voice is not a trustworthy moral guide like a conscience. On the contrary, the critical inner voice is degrading and punishing and often leads us to make unhealthy decisions. These negative voices tend to increase our feelings of self-hatred without motivating us to change undesirable qualities or act in a constructive manner.

How Can I Conquer My Critical Inner Voice?

In order to take power over this destructive thought process, you must first become conscious of what your inner voice is telling you so you can stop it from ruining your life. To identify this, it is helpful to pay attention to when you suddenly slip into a bad mood or become upset, often these negative shifts in emotion are a result of a critical inner voice. Once you identify the thought process and pinpoint the negative actions it is advocating, you can take control over your inner voice by consciously deciding not to listen. Instead you can the actions that are in your best interest.

Read More About the Critical Inner Voice

We are all aware of those nagging thoughts and doubts that increase our nervousness and interfere with our performance at various times. However, most of us are unaware that these sneering, belittling self-criticisms are only the tip of an iceberg. They are merely the more obvious fragments of a larger, well-hidden enemy within each of us that influences our actions, interferes with the pursuit of our personal and career goals, and has an overall negative impact on our lives.

Watch a Whiteboard Video on The Critical Inner Voice

What is the Critical Inner Voice?

The critical inner voice can be thought of as the language of the defensive process. It has been defined as an integrated system of thoughts and attitudes, antithetical toward self and hostile toward others that is at the core of an individual’s maladaptive behavior. The concept of the “voice” is not restricted to cognitive processes but is generally associated with varying degrees of anger and sadness. The term “voice” is used to describe a form of intrapsychic communication that represents a split within the individual between forces that are life-affirming and those that are antagonistic to the self .“Listening” to the voice, that is, believing its prescriptions and prohibitions leads to self-limiting behavior and negative consequences. In other words, people often make their actions correspond to their self-attacks. See Video Clip.

Watch Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. Introduce the Concept of the Critical Inner Voice

Being for Yourself or Against Yourself

All of us are divided within ourselves. On the one hand, we have self-regard–we have traits and behaviors that we like or feel comfortable with. We have natural tendencies to grow and develop and to pursue our personal and vocational goals, as well as desires to be close in our relationships and to search for meaning in life. These qualities all make up who we really are; they reflect an undefended part of our personality and a friendly, compassionate view of our self.

The positive part of us consists of our unique characteristics–physical abilities and attributes, and emotional temperament, as well as positive traits that we naturally incorporated from our parents. It first develops and grows as a result of our parents’ and other concerned adults’ nurturing qualities and behaviors, and the love and care they direct toward us. Then it is further influenced by what we learn, what we enjoy, and the experiences that facilitate our personal growth.

The Critical Inner Voiceinner critic ecourse CIV

The Critical Inner Voice is the part of us that is turned against ourselves. It is the defended, negative side of our personality that is opposed to our ongoing development. The voice consists of the negative thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that oppose our best interests and diminish our self-esteem. It encourages and strongly influences self-defeating and self-destructive behavior. This hostile, judgmental advisor also warns us about other people, promoting angry and cynical attitudes toward others and creating a negative, pessimistic picture of the world.

The critical inner voice exists to varying degrees in every person. It undermines our ability to interpret events realistically; it triggers negative moods and sabotages our pursuit of satisfaction and meaning in life. These destructive internalized thoughts lead to a sense of alienation–a feeling of being removed from ourselves and distant from those we love. The critical inner voice is not an auditory hallucination; it is experienced as thoughts within your head. If we “listen” to its destructive point of view and believe what it is telling us, we will fail to challenge it and instead we will act on it. This process has a seriously negative consequence on our lives.

Although most of us are conscious of some aspects of this inner voice, many of our negative thoughts exist on an unconscious level. At times, we may recognize what our critical inner voice is telling us, while at other times, we may be unclear about our negative thinking and simply accept it as being true. We are often unaware of the destructive impact that these thoughts are having on our emotions, actions, and the overall quality of our lives.

The Critical Inner Voice is Not a Conscience

The critical inner voice is not a conscience or a moral guide. What most distinguishes the inner voice from a conscience is its degrading, punishing quality. Its demeaning tone tends to increase our feelings of self-hatred instead of motivating us to change undesirable actions in a constructive manner.

Challenging your Critical Inner Voice

You can take power over your critical inner voice. When you become conscious of what it is telling you, you can stop it from running your life. The challenge is to identify and ‘flush out’ this internal covert operation. To do this, be on the lookout for when you slip into a bad mood or become upset. Investigate: what caused the shift? What happened and, most importantly, what did you start telling yourself after the event? The fact that your mood shifted from feeling optimistic or relaxed to feeling down or irritable is probably a sign that you are interpreting the event through your critical inner voice.

Now that you have identified that your critical inner voice is advising you, what is it trying to get you to do? When you pinpoint the actions that it is advocating, you can take control over your critical inner voice. You can consciously decide to take action against its directives, thereby acting in your own interest.

Staying on the Right Side of Yourself and Not Listening to Your Critical Inner Voice

The balance between our two different sides is delicate and can be easily tipped. However, we don’t need to be the victims of our moods as they tip back and forth between our positive and negative feelings about ourselves. By identifying the critical inner voice and the role it plays in supporting our negative self-image, we can take action against it and significantly change our lives. We can reject attitudes that oppose our best interests and diminish our self-esteem. We can stop self-defeating and self-destructive behavior. We cannot tolerate angry, cynical attitudes toward others that turn us against people.

As you emancipate yourself from your critical inner voice, you will be free to engage in your pursuit of satisfaction and meaning in life. You will feel at peace with yourself and close to those you love. You will enjoy a compassionate view of the world and an optimistic outlook on life.

See a Complete List of Articles, Blogs, and Videos on the Critical Inner Voice

About the Author

PsychAlive PsychAlive is a free, nonprofit resource created by the Glendon Association. Help support our effort to bring psychological information to the public by making a donation.

Related Articles

Tags: , , , , , ,


Lynn Masterson

Very helpful article and a great site. Been looking for good informational websites like mine with relevant info to share with others and this is definitely going to be one of them! Thanks!


I was born deaf, raised in boarding schools that punished students for signing and a state school for the deaf that uses full ASL with no holds barred. I got shafted by an only older sibling who learned he was dying and shunned by community and local relatives afterwards for years. Can you imagine how I am feeling? Shunned as if I got the plague after years being surrounded by relatives and members of the community now that my parents are no longer around to protect me from Audism. I need to talk and be listened to and be taken seriously. There are millions of Deaf individuals who shares my dilemma. I would like to provide informations based on my experiences so that you may help others understand Deaf People and help empower Deaf People and restore their low self esteem due to audism practices from all walks of life.

Winnifred Karnopp

Wonderful web site. A lot of useful info here. I’m sending it to a few friends ans also sharing in delicious. And naturally, thanks for your effort!


Super article on your little, inner voice. Yes, when your little, inner voice becomes critical, we develop all sorts of insecurities and inner, emotional dependences. We may even lose touch with our emotions and live a way of life that detaches us from a healthy understanding of reality.

debbie hooper

am on a CBT cognitive behavioural therapy course uni and found this article of great value and insight into my studies…great article and beneficial. many thanks


Can your CIV become extreme enough to the point that you start feeling detached from it (as if it feels like there’s another “person” growing & mocking you from the inside) & even cause some physical distress if you try to resist it’s criticisms, or is that probably something else entirely? Do you know what that could be?
I’ve dealt with that when I was younger but never found out what exactly it was & couldn’t really talk about it with anyone at the time, so I couldn’t really identify it.

Jina @

Yes, the critical inner voice can become that extreme. It sounds like you may be experiencing some disassociation, because of the detached feeling you mentioned. Talking about these thoughts and feelings with a mental health professional, especially one trained in Voice Therapy, could be very helpful. You can find information on how to find mental health resources here: Get Help


I have just read your great article and found that I was nodding my head in agreement – “Yep thats me”. It is always good to know that you are not the only one who is going through the struggles of managing that critical inner voice. I have written a blog about my critical inner voice who I have named “dirty Harry”. I have also named Angel as my”positive inner voice” Here is the link to my blog post

My First Step on my Reinvention Journey – Dealing to Dirty Harry & Listening More to Angel – I am very new to writing blogs – a bit of trial and error. Writing more from intuition and how I feel at the time. Not a lot of research and so would love to get your thoughts/feedback.

mary brower

I am truely greatful to have read this. it certainly answers questions and provides answers for a person trying overcome self destuctive berhaviors. ty


I feel like I have already grown the monsters so much that there is no me… watching this actually made me cry… I dont understand myself anymore, I dont know who I am…


im 17 and i have created a monster in my head, i have this belief of questioning my natural abilty i constantly have this crictical inner voice in the back of my head asking me how am i doing this? and it triggers paralysis by anylisis in my sporting ability that makes perform poorly and not up to my full potential and also interferes with me in my social life most of the time my head is in the clouds or not me anymore should i be worried or scared about this.




I don’t demonize the critical voice and make it the enemy. For me doing so creates a physic warfare. I do my best to listen to the critical voice with a neutral stance. I actually love my critical voice… it is trying to tell me something. I don’t act on what it says. For example, I don’t do well on a project at work. I hear the voice ‘see, you are stupid’… I pause, feel the emotion, then, from a neutral place process ‘you are stupid’. Deconstructing ‘you are stupid’, I choose to agree that I didn’t do well at work and did my best at the time. The neutral voice says, I am going to do some research on how I could have done better. Result, no warfare, I accept that I did the best I could and the inner critic helped me to understand that I needed to learn something. anyway… King… you are awesome that you recognize and are aware!


I am 42 yrs young. I have been “self-critical” for most if my life! Wow! Just reading that sounds sad. 🙁 I have been through a lot. I have a loving husband and 4 amazing children. I have a lot to be thankful for. I have become more aware of how my self-hate is affecting my relationship with my husband and how my children watch and mimic me. I REALLY need to start loving myself again…not only for them but…for ME! It is so destructive and hasn’t solved a thing. I deserve to love myself and be proud of me! It won’t come to me instantaneously…but…I am willing to put in the time and awareness. ?❤


I’m feeling so bad,,I m getting my friend voice inner
If I started taking with my friend 1hr or 1/2n hr I’ll get frnds voice inside,,when I’ll talk something alone
I’ll get her voice in mind, if I said some thing inside my mind for myself I’ll get there voice.what to do,I can’t concentrate o my studies…..y? 🙁


Sounds like you might be an Empath. Look in to it and learn how to control it while you’re young. It’s a gift but also very challenging to control Good luck!

Saad Akhtar

Saad here, Trying to fight against my critical inner voices which are with me since my childhood . . . !


This is so true.
My voice inside appeared when i finished with my boy friend and it was filled with negative destructive words. eg. men only love me because im pretty and not for my personality. i cant love . i dont have a brain. i dont have a heart. im not human. im a bus. im a piece of iron or house. messed up stuff. now i try to think logically and rationally and talk to my.inner voice takes time. but can be beaten. eat healthy exercise and stay strong on the outside can also help vanish the inner bad voice and reality will be a bteeze again


What does it mean when it’s gone?
Recently mine was treating me like an old friend and just teasing me,(I called it a them and they were my inner demons), maybe because we had a common goal,(I like a girl), but it disappeared a few days ago​ after I had a really sad thought that turned into a story.
Now I’m lonely because it’s gone, and I’m not even sure if I still like the girl, because my Demons became my Angels and now negative and positive thoughts about myself feel fake and meaningless.
So I need help because at the end of the day they were my friends and now instead of having a billion conversations with them, I now think with no response from the inner voice.
It feels like nothingness, like them being gone is bittersweet, like everything’s different but the same.

Mario S.

I have been dealing with my critical inner voice for as long as I can recall. It wasn’t until very recently that I learned what it was actually called, and what caused it. I am constantly trying to convince myself that the relationship I am in is doomed, even though there is no physical, real world, evidence to support that idea (actually, much to the contrary.. I have been with the same person for 13 years, and we are madly in love). I never knew why I constantly spent days completely introverted, lost in my own thoughts, convinced that the worst possible things were on the horizon. Every time something positive happened, I would wait, on the edge of my seat, for the other shoe to drop. Within my relationship, I would create a story and over-analyze every one of my wife’s actions. I would create a reality with no basis in fact, and convince myself that the things I was creating were real. God bless my soulmate for hanging in there, even when it would’ve made more sense not to. I certainly didn’t make it easy on her. My inner voice would make it impossible for me to trust anyone, especially her. I always tried to convince myself that either she didn’t love me, she was lying to me, or she was being unfaithful. That reality could not have been further from real reality. It also made me a cynic and a pessimist. I always seek out the worst in every situation. I immediately force situations, no matter how positive, into a negative light. I find the negative in the most positive situations, and most of the time it is completely irrational. It leads to a “boy who cried wolf” situation, and when things come up that warrant a negative or skeptical interpretation, I am often discounted as “just being pessimistic”. It is no way to live.

Luckily, now that I have identified it, and it’s cause (anxious attachment disorder) I can start to address the problem, and learn how to lower the volume on that inner voice. Whenever my inner voice starts to write its own story, I am able to more clearly identify it, analyze it, and silence it. My quality of life has already begun improving, and for the first time in a long time, I am excited for the future. I have turned to meditation to clear my mind and basically hit the “reset” button on my thoughts (if you are struggling with a critical inner voice, I HIGHLY recommend meditation). Most often, it is not more difficult than identifying the negative or critical thoughts, analyzing where they are coming from, and asking myself “Why?”. Most of the time, it helps to reinforce how irrational my thought process is, and how self-destructive it is to think that way.


hello, this may sound weird but your story sounded oddly familiar to me, and i am going through these same problems. who is this?


Thank you very much. I appreciate this a lot, I´ve started to construct the puzzle of my mind 4 years ago and now I know myself much more than ever. This article helped even more in my introspection work and now I have developed some good strategies to keep going with my life journey


This makes it sound like any positive thoughts are “authentic”, “realistic” and helpful, whereas any negative thoughts are unrealistic and unhelpful.

Shouldn’t the goal be to have a realistic view of self, world, and others, whether the assessment turns out to be negative or positive? Isn’t a proper critic, a voice that assesses one’s own positive and negative traits realisticaly, and same for that of others, essential for knowing oneself, acting wisely, improving oneself, and wisely choosing relationships?

Brett Ainscough

This article had so much relevance to me. Thanks for publishing, at least I know I ain’t going mad.


Wow, I suffered severe emotional abuse as a child, particularly from my stepmother. I have always believed she systematically tried to crush my self esteem and confidence. I had a brutal inner voice that was the last thing I heard at night and the first thing I heard when I woke for so many years. I am 55 years old now. A recent traumatic abusive event incapacitated me and forced me to take time off work to address it. I started reading about the effects of childhood emotional abuse on adults andrealised where that horrible voice came from. I sought counselling which hasn’t started yet but for the past week the voice has disappeared. I can not believe it. I am so happy to be free of it. It’s like revealing and knowing about it robbed it of its power and neutralised it. I feel so much better already and regret that I did not do this years ago. That shit belongs to my father and stepmother and no longer belongs to me. I also now understand so much more about myself and how I have behaved in life in the wake of that abuse and now want to work very hard to rewrite the script even if it is at the age of 55!


Internal “enemy”? Singers and common people encourage a voice that is kind and works in best interest.


My inner voice thinks it’s a parent,only more authoritarian. I’m in my 30s now and deal with a lot of stressors,most of which do not involve me and are beyond my control. I’ve had self-esteem issues most of my life as well. My inner voice does not offer me a solution to the problems that are within my control;instead it threatens me that I better rectify said situation or there will be consequences. It also wants to yell and scream at me,but I ignore it. Thankfully I either go nuts filling my hard drive with useless stuff or just end up crying when I’m alone.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *