The Pathological Critic vs. the Compassionate Response

Yes, my thoughts exactly! This was yesterday’s topic in therapy.

Ever have one of those days where you walk into your therapy group and the topic you swear was written just for you!?  That was me for this particular session.

The Pathological Critic  is negative self talk that attacks and judges you. Everyone has one but people who self harm and have low self esteem have a more vicious and vocal pathological critic.

What Does It Do

  • It blames you for things that go wrong
  • It compares you with others, e.g. achievements and abilities
  • It sets up impossible standards of perfection and then beats you up for small mistakes.
  • It keeps a record of failures
  • It degrades strength or accomplishments
  • It calls you names, e.g. stupid, incompetent, ugly, fat
  • The critic reads others minds and convinces you of what they think
  • It exaggerates weaknesses, e.g. ALWAYS says stupid things  ( I say this!!)
  • ALWAYS screw up relationships
  • NEVER finish anything on time
  • The critic’s voice can be male or female, your mother or your father’s voice or perhaps your own voice.
  • The critic is almost always believed no matter how negative, distorted or false.
  • It puts your self esteem through the wringer
  • The critic is always with you – judging, blaming, finding fault


  • Your values and rules of living you grew up with
  • The more rigid and fixed your values and beliefs are, the more the critic can use them against you. There is no room for flexibility or mistakes (e.g. “a marriage should last forever” calls you failure after divorce. “A real man supports his family.” calls you a loser when laid off. “The kids come first” calls you selfish when you want a night off to do something for yourself.

THE COMPASSIONATE RESPONSE is an alternative to critical self talk directed at yourself.

To develop a compassionate mind, it is important to make a commitment to a different way of thinking. The old way was to judge and then reject. The new way requires that you suspend judgment for a few moments and substitute compassionate beliefs such as:

  • Understanding of the need you were trying to meet with the action at the time
  • Understanding of the pain or hurt that influenced your behavior
  • Accepting yourself as a human who has faults and makes mistakes
  • Recognizing you did the best you could knowing what you did at the time
  • Trusting in your worth, that you are deserving of compassion
  • Letting go of the burden of past hurt and pain
  • Letting go of guilt and remorse and the need to condemn yourself
  • Developing an openness to the belief that you are a “work in progress” and have within you all you need to grow as a person
  • Recognize that you can learn from your mistakes and gain strength from them.