The Invisible Audience

Dr. Keith Witt Intrapersonal, Perspectives, Psychology, Video, Witt & Wisdom: Live with Dr. Keith 2 Comments

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he “Invisibe Audience” is composed of many different voices. Some are your own — your darkest shadows, your hidden fears, your inner critic and wisest self. Others are voices that you have internalized over the course of your life — your parents, your peers, your mentors and role models. All of them sit behind your eyes and provide a constant stream of feedback for your actions and intentions.

Watch as Dr. Keith and Corey have a fascinating discussion about these unconscious observers, helping you make these inner audiences just a bit more visible to you.

A Note from Dr. Keith

We feel observed all the time. We feel observed by our conscious selves and inner critics. We feel observed by others–by our real and imagined tribes, by the people we pass on the street—because we are tribal beings, evolved to need each other. We feel observed by our inner selves constantly, because self-aware consciousness is self aware. Collectively, I call all the felt observers the invisible audiences. The invisible audiences help us be moral and self-regulating, guide us socially, and encourage us to be good. The invisible audiences also can torment us. We especially suffer from our inner critics, the most difficult parts of us to deal with as well as necessary partners in our personal evolution.

The invisible audiences are ubiquitous because humans are intensely social. Most of our brains are dedicated to social relationships and social referencing with real and imagined others. We walk through the world under the gaze of invisible audiences—always more or less supportive and approving, critical or condemning.

Most unconscious values are those we believe we share with our tribes—our families, teams, towns, religions, political parties, nations, etc. If we feel observed violating these values, our unconscious generates shame emotions.

When we feel critically observed by the invisible audience, a shame emotion arises to pressure us to not violate a value. The shame family of emotions includes guilt, mortification, and moral self-disgust (a particularly nasty combination of shame and disgust). Shame feels personal, as if a person is criticizing and attacking us for doing something wrong, making us bad. As we develop from infancy onward, we absorb and internalize painful critical energy from parents and others, with which we cocreate our inner critics. As we’ve all experienced, inner critics seem quick to attack and chastise us when triggered by real or imagined transgressions.

Inner critics correct and remand us—often with the voices, energies, and words of angry or exhausted caregivers from our past. The positive functions of inner critics are to help us be virtuous and to follow social rules. This is the main function of shame emotions, to help mammals be social, and all mammals socialize their offspring with approvals generating good feelings, and disapprovals generating shame emotions. The destructive functions of inner critics are obvious—they torment us, punish us, criticize and demean us.

If you can feel your inner critic right now, imagine him or her in front of you—try to see their face. Look them in the eyes and say, “I’m going to help you grow into an ally and a guide.” What is the expression on their face as you say this? Angry? Scornful? Indifferent? Hopeful?

You might want to do this exercise daily for the next month See if anything changes in the expressions on your inner critic’s face. See if you feel differently at all towards your inner critic as the days pass.

What do you think? How are you stepping up to this challenge within your own sphere of influence? Let us know in the comments below!

Music by Justin Miles and Stuart Davis

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Dr. Keith Witt

About Keith Witt

Dr. Keith Witt is a Licensed Psychologist, teacher, and author who has lived and worked in Santa Barbara, CA. for over forty years. Dr. Witt is also the founder of The School of Love.

Corey deVos

About Corey deVos

Corey W. deVos is Editor-in-Chief of Integral Life, as well as Managing Editor of He has worked for Integral Institute/Integal Life since Spring of 2003, and has been a student of integral theory and practice since 1996. Corey is also a professional woodworker, and many of his artworks can be found in his VisionLogix art gallery.

Notable Replies

  1. My response to this episode can be summed up by using a few of Dr. Keith’s words (spoken in a different context): “good for me, good for the tribe, good for everyone.” Yes.

  2. Avatar for rjriv rjriv says:

    For those who might not be familiar with Richard Schwartz’s work with Internal Family Systems (IFS), you might find it complementary to this episode. You can find a couple of introductory videos here:

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