Inner Critic

by Innokentii Arseev

Analytical Psychologist (MAAP), University Lecturer (RSUH, MSUPE, IPCP)

There is one method of text analysis, according to which you consider characters of literary text as sub-personalities of the author. It can be a useful exercise and in this article I invite you to think about some characters from The Harry Potter books as the embodiment of our Inner Critics.

Inner Critic is a part of our personality, which evaluates our decisions, tortures us with doubts, makes us regret our mistakes and plans upcoming activities. In Hogwarts, described by Rowling, we meet with different educational models, which are sometimes equally effective.

The Potions Master, Severus Snape, is being hated by most of the students but nevertheless he maintains perfect discipline. He can maintain it through fear of punishment - mostly unexpected, severe and unfair. We act alike like this when we smash ourselves to smithereens beat ourselves up because of the smallest mistake or imperfection; when being late for five minutes makes us feel completely disappointed about our discipline and when the only a simple mistake completely undermines our self-confidence.

The "Snape" critic doesn't take into account our need for rest, outer obstacles, conditionality of requirements - to him we're always not good enough.

But he paradoxically wishes us good, as he seeks a high quality standard from us. At the same time we can see that behind his behavior is a deep trauma of rejection and loneliness, an attempt to reach a high level as a saving straw. He tries to compensate his feeling of otherness or inferiority through elevating himself upon others. 

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Professor McGonagall is an example of another approach to inner discipline; not less severe, but much more just.

She allows the possibility of mistakes, because she knows that one can learn from them; she won't demand more than you can do, but at the same time she won't let you to relax and show a the result, that which would not be be not worthy of your potential.

McGonagall will hardly violate established order, but she'll do what she can to achieve a worthy level. And for that she is being respected – because everyone feels that care, hidden beyond her rigor.

However, McGonagall has quite  a one-sided and rigid point of view. Professor Lupin represents a much more flexible model of behavior – he is very creative, ready to ignore some rule-breaking, quite gentle and empathic. He is being respected because he has interesting lessons and also because he uses an individual way of rating for each student. His tolerance and understanding are borne from his own suffering; and none of us should be too strict on ourselves, if we’ll accept our personal history of traumas, lying beyond our mistakes and imperfections. Lupin is the follower of a practical approach, so his influence in our life manifests itself through inner permission to experiment and face one’s fears. On the other hand, Lupin is always at the edge of becoming obsessed with affect – blind fury, which destroys everything, despite situation, our tasks and plans or feelings of others. It happens with us when the object of Inner Critic’s attention reminds us of bitterness, shame and offense, which haven’t yet been realized yet. 

But sometimes Inner Critic just can’t cope with his task – we can consider Gilderoy Lockhart as an example of this. Despite of all of his entourage and pathos, he isn’t able neither to heroism, not to teaching neither able to teach nor be a hero. All he cares for is his image; he is completely self-centered and desperately needs for confirmation of his exclusivity. We’re under his influence, when we put a good face on our performance, when for us shape is more important than content, when we’re ready to spend our last strengths just to make a bright impression on others. Lockhart frantically searches for popularity and tries to hold it; his critic is concentrated only on how effectively we do the same. But we do need his advices sometimes – after all, fine dress helps to impress; and besides in addition, that, self-care provides us with necessary emotional resources.

Another image of an unproductive lucky Critic is Sybill Trelawney, Divination teacher. She lives in illusions, trying to persuade herself and others of her outstanding abilities. Through choosing quite an ambiguous field, she plays on the emotional needs and superstitions of her students.

She is in at charge, when we rely on chance, make grandiose and unrealizable plans, surround ourselves with a lot of talismans, omens and rituals, which remove our responsibility. But along with this, she reminds us about the influence of the unconscious, spiritual aspects of our actions and the , importance of listening to our intuition.

The third example of an unproductive critic is Dolores Umbridge, an example sample of formalism and demagogy. She is a complete fake and hides her hatred towards children behind a mask of friendliness. She perverts the basics of education and rational critic by focusing kids on mindless subordination and scrupulously following the letter of the law - even if this law is meaningless and inhuman. 

Such attitude towards oneself appears through rigid conformism, reverence for superiors, condemnation of yourself for individuality and bold ideas. But even in Miss Umbridge there are some resources - she represents the connection between personality and society, forces us to think about the consequences and risks of our action and helps to establish necessary borders. 

But, probably, the most harmonious variant of Inner Critic is Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts. Students and teachers listen to him, because they trust his experience and wisdom; he looks like a wise man who he knows everything and can foresee different scenarios of events. It He is an the image of a Sage, whose silence is as precious as words.

From the point of view of analytical psychology, it is our Self, the deeper center of psyche, which regulates both conscious and unconscious; it is the source of collective wisdom and insights. We can feel its influence when we stay calm amidst the storms of life, when we spend our resources reasonably and when we aren't in a hurry, acting precisely when we mean to. 

But Dumbledore also has shadow side - he can leave us in confusion without clear instructions; his advisees are can be so symbolic that sometimes it's too difficult to use them it in everyday life. 

All these characters can live in one person, replacing each other as Inner Critic; each of them has his own positive and negative sides - our task, amidst all this variety, is to comply with the principle of inner democracy, keeping balance between different points of view on our life. Then we'll be able to become true wizards by finding endless source of wisdom and strength.

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