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  • Writer's pictureAbi Sims

Outer Critic: What Is It & How to Shrink It

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

In people who have complex post traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD), the inner and outer critic are typically very loud. We previously discussed the inner critic and how to shrink it. For a refresher, you can click here to read about the inner critic. In this post, we're going to focus on the outer critic: why it exists in people who have CPTSD, what it does, and how to shrink it.

When the outer critic has taken ahold of the mind, people are too horrible and dangerous to trust. The outer critic views everyone as unworthy and flawed. It's the counter part of the inner critic; it uses the same type of endangerment against the self and perfectionism tactics that the inner critic uses, but focuses on other people. Because humans are never perfect, the outer critic decides that they can't be sure other humans are safe.

But how did we get here? How did the outer critic even develop? You guessed it: our parents. When children have parents who are too dangerous to trust, the outer critic develops reactions in response to those parents. It's helped these children to become hyperaware of the tiniest signal, facial expression, gesture, tone of voice, etc. that the parent is about to step into their most dangerous behaviors. As time progressed, the outer critic grew to believe that eventually, everyone would become as untrustworthy as their parents (Walker, 2013).

As these children grow up and become adults with CPTSD, the outer critic isn't necessary anymore because typically, these adults are no longer living with their parents and don't need to use their outer critic to survive. But...that's not how CPTSD works. It doesn't stop just because we're not around our abusers anymore. The outer critic lives on, and it alienates us from other people. It attacks people, scaring them away, or keeping us in isolation from others as we create laundry lists of people's "exaggerated shortcomings" (Walker, 2013).

Like inner critic attacks, outer critic attacks are usually silent and internal.

If we want to heal, we have to break the outer critic's dictatorship of the mind.

How the Outer Critic Looks for Each 4F Types

  • Fight Type & The Outer Critic - When in an emotional flashback and the outer critic is loud, fight types attempts to control others by using the outer critic to prevent people from abandoning them while simultaneously remaining prickly to prevent people from getting too close.

  • Flight Type & The Outer Critic - When in an emotional flashback and the outer critic is loud, flight types use their own perfectionistic striving to harshly judge others as inferior.

  • Fawn Type & The Outer Critic - When in an emotional flashback and the outer critic is loud, fawn types use self-hate to censor themselves and avoid being vulnerable with others, preventing them from having authentic relationships.

  • Freeze Type & The Outer Critic - When in an emotional flashback and the outer critic is loud, freeze types hold the all-or-none belief that everyone is dangerous.

Shrinking the Outer Critic

In order to reduce the outer critic, it requires a lot of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the process of becoming aware of oneself, everything that's happening inside you, including your thoughts, sensations, feelings, and images. When we're doing outer critic work, it's important to become mindful of the emotional and cognitive content of our thoughts.

As the same with shrinking the inner critic, the cognitive work for shrinking the outer critic involves rebuilding our thoughts and substituting them. The emotional work for shrinking both the inner and outer critic is grief. We have to grieve our childhood anger and the lifetime of abandonment (Walker, 2013).

We can also shrink the outer critic by working the transference. Transference, also known as projection or displacement, is when unprocessed feelings from the past hold weight in our present feelings. One way we can tell that we're having an outer critic-dominated flashback is when we start placing emotional pain from the past onto our current relationships. Transference distorts our perceptions of our relationships with others, and it can even cause us to view someone as harmful when they're actually not. Transference typically has a mind of its own when the outer critic is running wild. The outer critic uses anger as fuel to push others away. When the critic needs some fuel, all it needs to do is tap into the unworked and unexpressed anger about childhood hurt. "The anger work of grieving the losses of childhood is so essential because it breaks the critic's supply line to this anger." - Peter Walker (2013).

Another way we can shrink the outer critic is through the use of healthy venting. There are times when the outer critic's judgement of others is accurate. Sometimes, people are acting just as abusively as our parents did when we were children. In this case, the outer critic can actually protect us from abusive people when someone really is attacking us.

Things to Observe

Have you ever found yourself becoming overly irate from minor irritations? For example, road rage. Have you ever found yourself screaming at how stupid the driver is in front of you for a minor mistake, or calling those drivers, whom you've never met, horrible names? Or maybe you're grocery shopping, and the person checking out in front of you is taking a long time unloading their groceries, so you start audibly huffing, puffing, and rolling your eyes.

Pay attention to how you respond to these minor irritations in life. It's your outer critic speaking, and there's a high chance you're having an emotional flashback.

Experiment with yourself the next time this happens. Ask yourself, "What's this situation reminding me of? What's this feeling reminding me of?" When we become more mindful of the every day things in life that really annoy us, we can look deep within ourselves, below the tip of the iceberg, for any of the old, unexpressed anger we experienced in childhood and the hurt in brings up from out past.

Remember to keep compassion at the forefront of all the inner work you do. You're healing, one day at a time.


Walker, P. (2013). Complex PTSD: From surviving to thriving.


At Root Counseling, our primary work is centered around CPTSD and attachment. We're passionate about helping clients break free from their inner and outer critic and living a life they deserve. To schedule an appointment, you can visit our therapists here.

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