How to Set Boundaries with Our Inner Critic

The inner critic is an important part of our psyche that helps us be self-aware and look at the world critically. However, when we become too consumed by this voice in our head, it can lead to feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. Inner critics often come from childhood trauma or social conditioning. Learning how to set boundaries with your Inner Critic will help you find peace within yourself and live in present moment awareness without being constantly worried about what anyone - including you - think about yourself.

Who first coined the term Inner Critic?

The term 'inner critic' is rooted in the psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Both psychologists referred to the unconscious part of the mind that may self-sabotage or attack and remind us of the many ways we are not good enough. Freud termed this the superego, while Jung described it as the negative animus.

Other prominent figures in the field have used the concept of the 'inner critic' in their work, such as Neville Symington who explains individuals labelled as narcissists often have a very harsh inner critic. At the same time, Jay Earley and Bonnie Weiss have developed the theory further to include seven types of subtypes of the inner critic, such as the perfections and the guilt tripper.

What is the Inner Critic?

The Inner Critic is the voice in your head that tells you what is wrong with yourself. Inner criticism is when our inner voice, typically labelled as 'our ego,' observes and judges everything we do. The Inner Critic is often a perfectionist, a doubter or a guilter who makes us feel worthless and shame us when we don't compare to our impossible standards.

A preferred activity of the inner critic is to use our memories and emotions to impact the present moment. It does this by subscribing subjective meaning to memories that usually make us feel negative emotions subconsciously. Our society encourages us to judge each other and ourselves by creating a false sense of superiority. This is the inner critic doing its finest work.

How to Set Boundaries With Your Inner Critic

Setting boundaries is an important step in creating a life that is supportive of our wants and needs. If we always give our energy to someone else, how will we have any energy for ourselves? The Inner Critic is no different; boundaries must be set for the inner critic not to be the controller of our everyday experiences.

Setting boundaries with someone else can be difficult; setting boundaries with yourself can be even more challenging. When we've acted in certain ways for long periods of time, it's difficult for us to quickly and easily shift in our ingrained behaviour. Our neural pathways are used to us doing things one way, and when we step away from that path, the alarm systems go off.

Step One: Accept that Your Inner Critic is Here to Stay

The concept of setting boundaries with your inner critic must begin with the understanding that your inner critic cannot be completely silenced. Yes, it can be minimized, but it can never fully disappear - unless you become a monk or some other spiritual recluse.

I don't know about you, but most of the time, when I'm told I can't do something, all I want to do is do that thing. For instance, if I tell myself I need to stop eating junk food, all I think about is how badly I want to eat junk food; so instead of attempting to get rid of your inner critic, I encourage you to accept it for what it is - an extension of you.

Many scholars, psychologists and counsellors suggest that we name the inner critic. For me, I name her 'Petty Patricia' because I think Patricia is a perfect name for some stuck-up snooty lady who is deeply insecure but strives for greatness (sorry, all my Patricia our there). If this feels aligned, I invite you to name your inner critic. By naming your inner Petty Patricia something that suits their demeanour, you can distance your true self from those characteristics instead of slip into the illusion that everything your inner critic says is valid.

Step Two: Get Intimate with Your Inner Critic

Often, we avoid things that are unfamiliar to us, and looking inside of ourselves and questioning certain things we've done all our lives can be a terrifying thing. It can also remind us of all the things we've done that we believe are bad, wrong, or shameful. This makes us feel even worse about ourselves and enforces the belief system of the Inner Critic.

A great way to get familiar with your inner critic is to explore common Inner Critic thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

Common Thoughts:

  • This isn't good enough
  • Why do I keep messing up?
  • I'm useless and hopeless
  • Everyone will see me as an idiot.
  • There's something wrong with me.

Common Behaviours:

  • Self-criticism or self-loathing
  • Judging others and feeling resentment
  • Being overcritical of friends, partners, children etc.
  • Avoiding things that make you feel vulnerable; avoid intimacy with people too.
  • Pushing yourself to do more than necessary because you feel unworthy otherwise.
  • Attempting to control the other person, situation or environment

Common Feelings:

  • Feeling defeated, frustrated and powerless
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Guilt and shame
  • Overstimulation
  • Anger or rage
  • Loneliness
  • Exhaustion

Take some time to think about how your inner critic shows up in your life. Visit the bottom of this article for journal prompts on all 4 steps.

Step Three: Be Kind to Yourself, No Matter What

This voice of criticism has always been with us, but we've never had the tools or knowledge to deal with it. When provoked, the Inner Critic can turn into a complete d*ckhead. It's not uncommon for people, and their Inner Critic provokes them to think of suicide as a way out because they feel like nothing will ever change. Kindness towards yourself, true kindness can help prevent this from happening.

Humans very rarely take the time out of their day to be kind to themselves, and if we can't be kind to ourselves, how the heck are we suppose to be kind to each other? Prioritizing kindness in your life may seem fluffy, but it's essential to overcome any recurring drama within our control.

There are many ways for us to practice kindness towards ourselves. Meditation, for example, is a practice of kindness that I've become more and more fond of. It's been difficult to get into at first because it was different from my daily routine. Still, after investing some time and energy practicing meditation regularly, the results are that I am now able to disconnect from my ruminating inner critic thoughts that use to take over my waking hours.

Other acts of kindness come in the form of cooking healthy meals, taking yourself for a walk, carving out 15 minutes of your time, signing up for a painting class, attending counselling. If it's good for your overall wellbeing, it's an act of self-kindness.

All of this seems too hard? Start small, and work your way up. Start with 1 minute of meditation a day, and work your way up from there—small actions ass up to big changes.

Step Four: Accept (and Develop) Patience for The Process

Step four is really just an extension of step 3 but deserves its own spotlight. I'll be very blunt with you. Facing your Inner Critic can be a long, arduous process - at least it was for me. I personally wish someone would have been real with me and highlighted how patience is of the utmost importance in our healing process. I had tricked myself into thinking that just because I knew information on what I was dealing with meant that I was doing the work. Little did I realize that the real work isn't just in learning but integrating what you have learned into your day-to-day life.

Patience is something I encourage you to get comfortable with now. Without patience, the integration process will take an even longer time.

Patience is a virtue, as I'm sure you've heard the internet say.

I was the opposite of someone who embodied patience. I had an aversion to it, which indicated to me that it must be something standing in my way because anytime we feel resistance in our body, we feel our body's attempt at communicating with us.

Now, what is the best way to practice patience - honestly, I have no idea. For me, what it looked like was saying to myself repeatedly, "everything is impermanent" - a famous Ram Dass quote. It helps me remember that the good and the bad never last forever and humbles me when I get attached to the good times and self victimize when something bad happens in my life.

Do what works for you. Maybe it's meditating, and maybe it's doing a somatic release, maybe it's counting to 3 before you react to something stupid your neighbour says to you in passing. Whatever your practice for patience, treat it as such, a practice. And everyday practice makes the perfectly imperfect.

Step Five: Decide on What Boundaries to Set with Your Inner Critic

Recognizing what boundaries to set with your Inner Critic is your final step. Each person's boundaries will look different. Perhaps it's allowing the wild criticism to run wilds for 15 minutes each day by getting it our via a voice recording, or perhaps it's encouraging behaviours that prevent your inner critic when running wild when running a huge presentation.

It's important to recognize that the Inner Critic is not always right. In fact, it regularly needs to be challenged. For most of us, the Inner Critic has been running around wild and free for far too long, and we need to learn to confront it. Funny enough, we've grown accustomed to the criticism inside our minds, and it is often difficult to shake because we've become accustomed to hearing its talk. The Inner Critic is like that old friend that hangs around and complains all the time, but you've known each other forever, so you're friends for life. It's now time for you to have that conversation with that annoying friend. Go on, make a list of all how you want to set (and enforce) boundaries with your inner critic.

I know you can do this.

Not sure if it's the right activity? Ask yourself the question of whether or not you are challenging your Inner Critics voice. Are you reframing "you're not good enough" into "I am doing the best I can with what I've got," or are you reframing it with "you're not good enough, but you'll get better." Putting a positive spin on the perceived inability still very much affirms your Inner Critics voice - we want to do our best to avoid that.

If you're a perfectionist like me and need someone to confirm that you're doing it right, please reach out to me at

Journal Prompts

Self-exploration is clutch when you are looking to move forward in certain areas of your life. If you cannot name it, you cannot claim it, the old saying goes. Journalling allows your subconscious thoughts to flow, thus allowing you to claim parts of you previously gone unexamined.

  • SAFETY CHECK: Am I ready to face the harsh judgements of my inner critic?
  • Who is my Inner Critic (IC)?
  • What is my least favourite thing about my IC?
  • What is my favourite thing about my IC?
  • Does my IC have a name? If so, what is it? Does she/they/he have a tagline? (i.e. Petty Patricia)
  • What are some additional ways I can set boundaries with my inner critic?
  • When does my IC show up in my life the most?
  • When does my IC show up in my life the least?
  • What behaviours does my Inner Critic use to make other people do what it wants them to do?
  • What is my least favourite thing about my IC?
  • How does accepting my inner critic is here to stay feel to me?
  • What, if anything, makes me uncomfortable about facing my inner critic?

Leave a Comment