Inner Critic versus Inner Child

In my last blog post (link here), I mentioned going down the rabbit hole on anger management.  Well, the rabbit hole continued deeper and led to podcasts on the Inner Critic (critical voice), which led to reading more on the Inner Child (wounded child).  I hadn’t really separated out in my mind these two different concepts.  This post is an attempt to clarify these concepts for myself and it’s a “heavy” post.

While I found interesting similarities between the how an Inner Critic and a wounded Inner Child came to be, I also found some differences in understanding them both.

The Inner Critic is part of your conditioned mind – the now habitual responses begun in childhood where you learned what was “acceptable” to feel safe and loved.  Your Inner Critic is not always a bad thing – it wants to keep you safe!  The Inner Critic wants to protect you and believes the conditioned responses that kept you safe in the past are the right responses still.  And so, it criticizes you when you stray from those behaviors.

One aha for me was that the voice of the Inner Critic can take different forms. It can be the “mean girl” voice putting you down (you’re fat, you’re stupid, you’re not enough.)  It can come out as your own voice expressing should’s/should not’s.  Or it can be heard just in those moments of Compare & Despair (everyone does this or that, has this or that, is this or that …. but not me). 

My Inner Critic has me locked in the cycle of protection against being abandoned.  It keeps me being the good one, the smart one, the one to make no mistakes, and the one to follow the rules.  I need to keep others happy by accommodating their needs, not disappointing them, and meeting their expectations.  If I do all that, I will be safe.  When I fail to do that, I need to be berated and the Critical Voice emerges.

The Inner Child is not a childlike personality, but closer to your true authentic self – the intuitive, playful, safe, and open to possibilities self that was present at birth.  

Everyone has the same core needs – whether child or adult: 1) Identity & significance, 2) Safety & security, 3) Connection – relationship & belonging, 4) Autonomy, 5) Experience variety, and 6) Growth – evolving & changing. Responses to childhood stimuli (including wounds, even unintentional) created conditioned patterns of thought and behavior to get core needs met. Childhood feelings of being ignored, rejected, dismissed, neglected, abandoned, or even abused all created a Wounded Inner Child set of perceptions and behaviors. So a child might have learned to achieve to earn love and therefore performance became most important behavior with a fear of failure and need to never slow down. Or she learned to not misbehave, be the bad girl, or make mistakes so not to be abandoned or rejected.  Or he learned to be invisible so not shamed or have things taken away (loss of significance). 

I found the descriptions between a well-nurtured Inner Child and wounded Inner Child helpful:

Nurtured Inner ChildWounded Inner Child
Safe & Secure
Internal Validation
Limitless Thinking
Possibilities and Abundance
Multiple perspectives
Disciplined self-care
Honors personal boundaries (energy)
Open to play & creativity
Feels Unsafe
Compares to others/External Validation
Fear-based thinking
“Not enough”
Black & white/absolutes
Self-harming behaviors
Lack of boundaries

The Inner Critic now plays the role to keep those wounded Inner Child’s conditioned thoughts and behaviors in place!  

For me this became a both/and – both nurturing the wounded Inner Child and recognizing when the Inner Critical Voice is in play (when I’m should-ing on myself, doing Compare & Despair, telling myself I’m not good enough).  I’ve been consciously working on my Inner Critical Voice, working to swap the judgmental critic for a more compassionate and empowering coach.  (I’m better than I was and also have more work to do.)

So, how can I nurture the wounded Inner Child?  Some ideas from my readings:

  • Understand what things (words/behaviors) trigger my “wound responses.”
  • Recognize how I have all the core needs being met today – make sure that reflects what the Inner Child truly needs.
  • Add in a daily hug (the “butterfly hug” was recommended) with breath work from self-talk book (“inhale my friend, exhale my friend” – link here.) 
  • Try Loving Kindness Meditation for internal validation.
  • Allow the Inner Child out – continue to take time to play.
  • Honestly forgive myself for mistakes – practice self-compassion.

And next time I make a mistakes or regrettable action?  Here’s my new mantra: “You. Are. Human. Mistakes or regrettable actions are an inevitable occurrence of being human. Making a mistake does not mean you are a bad person, does not mean you’ll be abandoned. People will still love you even though you did/said something you regret.“

I believe working through my grief is helping me to better understand both my Inner Critical Voice and my Wounded Inner Child.

Picture: Me letting my Inner Child be happy – a blue ribbon at the Flower Show! (And no idea how to not have my head cut off )

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11 thoughts on “Inner Critic versus Inner Child

  1. Another thought-provoking post, Pat. I appreciate you sharing the things you can do to nurture your inner-child and your new mantra. I can personally put those to good use.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My inner child was starved for attention and I always felt I had to be the ‘good girl’ to be seen. My inner critic has always been there constantly evaluating whether I’m ‘good enough’; although lately I’ve been telling her to “F-off” more & more – I guess that comes with age!!! LOL

    I’m going to explore the Loving Kindness Meditation you mentioned to see if that can help me quiet that inner critic even more.


    1. Sharon – Being the good girl is my place in the family. The good one, the smart one, the one who didn’t get into trouble, the one who met or exceeded expectations. Sometimes I want to be bad. Not bad enough to land in jail, or ruin my marriage, or hurt myself. Just a little bad. Oh dear, what will my inner critic say about that! Probably I’m not good enough at being bad. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Good information here. I relate to the wounded inner child list because I was that, but sometime after I turned 40 I became aware of my wounds and morphed into a more inner nurtured child. It wasn’t easy but I found my way. I especially relate to your idea of allowing the inner child to come out to play and learning to practice self-compassion. Those two behaviors have helped me lighten up along the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ally, good to know it is possible to nurture that wounded child. Learning to practice self-compassion is something I do need more work on. But play… that I’ve been working on – I’ll be posting about my playfulness in crafting today.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve been led through life by my inner critic and the somewhat broken child who was basically ignored. It took me to my 50’s to even recognize this was what drove me, and my aim for the second half of life is to try to notice when it’s happening and to bring “grown-up and wiser me” into the situation. It’s been a struggle to see what’s true and what’s not, and to let stuff go……but we’re all much further along than we used to be – and I’m so much happier and more content as a result.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Leanne, Your statement about being so much happier and content these days rings true for me as well. Even during this challenging time, the work I’ve done to understand my inner critic and inner child has definitely helped the situation. Still working on “things”, but life is settling back into more normal living.


  5. I read this just before having supper, though I was a little nervous when you said it would be a “heavy” post. It’s not that I have any problems with “heavy” realities, but I was feeling a bit vulnerable myself today and I thought, “Maybe I’ll wait until I feel more…” More what?
    As always, your post touches the core of something real. “You. Are. Human.” We need reminders of that. Fabulous work. Gosh, you are doing great stuff. And congrats on that blue ribbon!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. John – Thank you for your kind words. Sometimes I wonder if the heavy stuff is too revealing, but then others tell me it touches them and it makes me feel so much better for sharing! I am still needing to remind myself… I. Am. Human!


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