One of the Voices in Your Head…

…is undoubtedly that of your Inner Critic, who makes sure you’re aware whenever you fall short of its high expectations. Of course, since the Inner Critic is a part of you, the expectations are really your own. What those expectations are and how you came to take them on may be easily explained or may take several determined years of therapy to get to the bottom of.

I’ve never been convinced it’s actually possible to figure out what caused what, psychologically speaking. There are simply too many factors, too many things we don’t yet know about ourselves—scientifically, psychologically, and sociologically, let alone about our personal histories—to ever be able to say we know absolutely, positively, without a doubt that the reason we think or do thing A is because thing B happened to us when we were six years old. The influence of Rene Descartes to the contrary, we are not the equivalent of machines, either physiologically or psychologically, and using that model on ourselves isn’t particularly useful or effective. In addition to that, our memories are notoriously inaccurate in regard to both significant and insignificant events.

Yes, it’s comforting to think we know. As a species we like mysteries, but only when they’re solved in books or on screen. What we crave is certainty; we want explanations and we want them now. Often any plausible explanation will do. The idea that we can figure out the ultimate why of anything is a nice fantasy that doesn’t do any harm in and of itself—as long as we recognize its limitations.


I’ve always found it a lot more useful to ask what instead of asking why. What is what matters. What is what’s so. Why doesn’t really get you anywhere except wrapped in a cozy fantasy of understanding. Understanding is a good thing, and I’m all for it. But even if you do manage to figure things out and you understand them one hundred percent accurately, you still have to ask yourself so now what?

In the case of the Inner Critic, what I want to know about mine is:

  • What is the sound of its voice and what is it saying to me?
  • How is it affecting me?
  • When does it tend to show up or speak up the loudest?
  • What can I do to deal with it?

I can ask and answer all of these questions without knowing anything about its origins. But there’s one factor that I believe plays an enormous role in the formation of everyone’s Inner Critic and that is Enneagram type.


Getting to know myself in terms of my Enneagram type has made it much easier to get a handle on my own Inner Critic and to recognize its voice. As an 8, a Doing type, not only do I manage to do a lot of things, I also take pride in the fact that I can accomplish a lot regardless of circumstances. My Inner Critic, however, is never ever satisfied with the magnitude of my accomplishments. It doesn’t matter how much I’ve gotten done. It doesn’t matter if I just completed a two-page to-do list. It doesn’t matter that I finally finished that nasty project I’ve been putting off for days (or weeks). It doesn’t matter that the circumstances I had to deal with in order to get something done were inordinately difficult. All those things are irrelevant to my Inner Critic, because no matter what I have done, there’s always something else to do, or something else I should have done in addition to/instead of what I did, or something I should have done last week.

Sure there are other things my Inner Critic harangues me about, but it needles me most about how I should be doing more, doing better, and doing all of it faster or sooner. So I am aware that whenever I have a sense of accomplishment, it will be accompanied by the voice of my Inner Critic hassling me about how I’ve still missed the mark. Most of the time, I just tune it out. Sometimes I tell it to shut up.

It makes sense to me that each Enneagram temperament gives rise to a specific type of Inner Critic, since different things are important to different types. The things we take pride in, the things that matter deeply to us, the things we fear and try to avoid are all fodder for the Inner Critic. So knowing ourselves is the key to knowing our Inner Critics. And knowing ourselves from the perspective of the Enneagram seems like a great place to get a handle on the nasty critter.


After finishing this post, I came across an article in The New Yorker by Anthony Gottlieb in which he critiques Homo Mysterious: Evolutionary Puzzles of Human Nature by David Barash–and the field of evolutionary psychology in general. One of the things he has to say is this:

What life was really like in the Stone Age no longer matters. It doesn’t make any practical difference exactly how our traits became established. All that matters is that they are there.

Gottlieb is speaking of traits that belong to humankind in general, but I think the same is true of our individual personality traits.


Best use of the word why ever. A beautiful song performed beautifully by Annie Lennox.

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