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The Inner Critic

Unity of Birmingham Guest Writer Series:

By Jane Phillips

“It’s not what you say with your mouth that determines your life; it’s what you whisper to yourself that has the most power.”  Robert Kiyosaki

The Inner Critic, sometimes called the Saboteur, is an archetype, meaning that all humans have one. W.R.D. Fairbairn coined the term “internal saboteur” and defined it as one aspect of a three-part Ego: 1) the central ego (our inner adult, also called the Organizing Ego), 2) the libidinal ego (contains all our wants and desires as well as jealousy and envy), and 3) the aggressive ego (whose job is to manage our wild, uncivilized, childish behaviors and keep us safe). The Saboteur is the dark side of the aggressive ego.

Sigmund Freud called the inner critic a negative aspect of the Super Ego because when it fusses at us, it sounds a lot like the people who disciplined us as children. If our parents or caregivers were harsh and critical, if they punished us with whippings and hateful words, then that part of our ego will likely be mean- spirited and hateful—to us, and to others. If our childhood religion contained a lot of hellfire and brimstone, or “mortal sins,” and we were admonished in ways that shamed us and made us feel dirty and unholy, then our inner critic will be doubly harsh. We may feel ashamed of ourselves for even small offenses. The Inner Saboteur uses the internalized voices of those who shamed us as children. Even when the real people are long gone, and we are grown adults, those voices still exist to a greater or lesser degree within our psyches.

The Saboteur is not a nice fellow, and sometimes our best defense is a strong offense. Sometimes, it’s necessary to simply slam the door in his face. Often when we are trying to heal our wounded ego, we will attract people to us who embody the Saboteur. We may cower before their criticism just as we did with our parents when we were children.

But if we do our psychological/spiritual work (through therapy, study, affirmations, meditations and/or prayer), our adult (organizing) ego gets stronger—we grow in emotional maturity.

Then we can hear what the saboteur has to say, decide for ourselves whether there are any pearls of wisdom in it, thank him for his service, and politely show him the door.

As with all archetypes, the Inner Critic has a light and dark aspect. As light, he helps us to manage risky behavior so that we can be in stable relationships and live in a civil society, and as darkness, he sabotages our self-confidence and breaks our spirit. It’s entirely up to us which of these aspects we allow to dominate. Forgiveness is the key. Forgive the parents and caregivers who hurt you and forgive yourself. We are all one, we are all flawed, and love itself dwells in our brokenness.

And so it is.


Jane Philips is a retired Special Education teacher, Licensed Professional Counselor, and Licensed Massage Therapist. She has also lead Spirituality Groups, Wisdom Circles, drumming circles, and she wrote a daily blog for twelve years called Spiritually Speaking.

Jane is currently working on a memoir titled, Old Crazy Town. She is a fifth-generation quilter.

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