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Where did my inner critic come from?

Your inner critic is part and parcel of your personality. So where did your inner critic come from?

In psychology, it is believed that your personality is divided into three parts. These are known as the

  • Id

  • Ego

  • Superego

Let us take these three parts of your personality one at a time to understand how they fit together.

The Id

This is the only part of your personality that you are born with. You hear a baby screaming and crying because she is hungry or uncomfortable, you are dealing with the Id. If you are holding the hand of a toddler having a temper tantrum and throwing himself on the supermarket floor, that is the Id.

The Id is the first part of your personality and resides entirely in your unconscious mind (outside of your awareness), it is known as the biological component and has no concept of the real world outside. The Id is responsible for your primal and instinctive urges, such as hunger, aggression and sex. It has no concept of the needs of others and is solely focused on what you need or want at any particular time.

Apart from the attributes already mentioned, the Id is also selfish, illogical and chaotic. It does not matter what thoughts or experiences you have in life, none of these will influence the Id. It has no thought processes, never matures and continues to be driven by desire throughout your life.

The Ego

Next up in personality development is the Ego, which is thought to develop between the ages of two and three. The Ego develops from the Id and ensures the Id’s desires can be expressed in socially acceptable ways in the real world.

Whereas the Id strictly resides in the unconscious, the Ego functions in the unconscious, preconscious and conscious mind. The Ego is the part of your personality which deals with reality, it is the part we all identify with and know best. It is what we would call our conscious mind.

A prime part of the Ego’s function is to regulate the Id, and aim to satisfy its demands in a much more realistic and socially acceptable way. Often it is not appropriate for an impulse to be satisfied immediately, so the Ego will seek to delay gratification until it is a suitable time and place.

The Id has been compared to a horse and the Ego to the rider. Without a rider, the horse can do what it wants, where it wants, whenever it wants. A horse with a rider can be reined in and guided.

The Superego

The Superego is the last part of a personality to develop. It is thought to develop between the ages of three to five years. The Superego is effectively your sense of what is right or wrong. Like the Ego, the Superego functions in the conscious, preconscious and unconscious parts of the mind.

The Superego contains your morals and ideals. These are acquired over time from your parents and anyone else who has an influence in your life, such as society at large. In terms of the Superego, it aims to repress the Id’s urges (especially ones forbidden by society such as aggression) and get the Ego to behave idealistically rather than realistically.

The Superego is divided into two systems:

  1. Ideal self: - the Superego has an ideal of what it believes the Ego should live up to and includes rules and behaviours the Ego should follow.

  2. Conscience: - holds ideas about things that parents and society may view as bad. Acting on these behaviours could lead to bad consequences, punishment or feelings of guilt.

The Superego holds this idea of an ideal self, and if you do not live up to this image, you may be punished by feelings of guilt. When you do live up to the image, you may experience feelings of pride. If the ideal self is unattainable, then whatever you do will be perceived as a failure.

How the Id, Ego and Superego Interact

This is all about how your brain behaves rather than distinct physical parts of the brain. Your distinct personality is the culmination of the Id, Ego and Superego working together.

From a high level, the Id will make demands, the Ego will look to satisfy those demands in a realistic way and the Superego will add its ideals and morality.

It is the Ego that mediates between the demands of the Id and the ideals and morals of the Superego and tries to reconcile these in a realistic way.

A healthy personality is where there is a balance between the Id, Ego and Superego.

You and Your Inner Critic

So, have you guessed which of the Id, Ego or Superego is responsible for your inner critic?

Drum roll, please. Your inner critic is, in fact, your Superego.

Most, if not all of us, have an inner critic. For some, it may only be a whisper, but for others, it can be all-consuming and overwhelming. For the majority, the inner critic will be an anchor that weighs down on your dreams and holds you back from daring to realise them.

In images, the Id is often portrayed as the devil with its primitive needs, wants and instant gratification. But in reality, it is an essential part of who you are and aids in your survival. The Ego is often pictured as the regular person, as it is your Ego which you most closely identify within your personality. The Superego is commonly displayed as an angel, the idea being that your Superego constrains your Id and gets you to aspire to greater things.

However, as you know, the Superego is no angel and can feel demonic at times when being a full-on inner critic. However, just as the Id is an essential part of your personality and is there to ensure your survival, the Superego is also playing its part in keeping you ‘safe’.

The Superego is trying to ensure that your Id does not get what it wants if it contravenes society’s laws or morals. The Superego has built up another database of rights and wrongs which it has collated from your parents and other influential people in your life, from childhood to your teenage years. This is based around punishments and approvals you received, mainly from your parents, but others too. When you break your Superego’s rules it produces feelings of guilt or anxiety.


This is an excerpt from my book: TAME YOUR INNER CRITIC, which is available on the link below:

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