Self-criticism: Are You Too Critical of Yourself?

Written by Karl Perera, MA, DipLC 

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One of the biggest problems I’ve found with those who have low self-esteem is their tendency to be very self-critical of themselves. Instead of encouraging themselves to try new things or enjoying the small successes in life, those with self esteem issues often hurt themselves with strong self-criticism and an unforgiving evaluation of what they are capable of. On this page I aim to offer hope to those who need to stop self-criticism and start living more positively.

Learning how to be less self-critical can improve self esteem and build confidence. To be happy and successful it is necessary to accept failure without judgement and maintain a positive attitude through self evaluation and self respect. Less self-criticism will help you achieve your goals.

How Self Criticism Can prevent You From Living Authentically

In order to be happy in life and experience well-being it is necessary to live authentically. According to Maraboli (2009), our success and happiness in life depends on living in an authentic way, according to our values and personal goals.

Erikson also defines being authentic as living according to one’s beliefs and values, but adds another component. He also says that being authentic requires a person to commit to living according to one’s personal self image. Anything that threatens this commitment, appears as inauthentic to us. In other words, we decide what is authentic for us according to how we see ourselves. Therefore, self esteem is very much connected to how we believe we should live and to the values that are important for us.

This way of living is possible only if we let go of the self-criticisms we have of ourselves and acknowledge the values we hold. Living authentically requires self respect and honest self evaluation. Without an honest understanding of what you are truly capable of, and what your most important values are, you will never be able to live an authentic and fulfilling life.

In order to be honest with yourself, you must let go of any self-criticism and negative judgement and honestly accept who you are and who you can be. Low self esteem can cause self criticism and can fill you will negative thoughts that may blind you to your own personal reality.

How Self-Critical Are You?

So often we seem to find ourselves in situations which seem disappointing or downright depressing. When you find yourself in a phase of your life where nothing seems to be going right, or where you are and what you’re doing just doesn’t excite you any more, then you need to take a long hard look at your thinking and ask yourself the following question:

How self critical am I?

Be honest. The first step to showing yourself the self-respect you deserve is, to be honest with yourself. This question is for you to answer to understand how serious your self-criticism is. If you fail at something, (we never really fail until we give up), perhaps we should say, if you haven’t managed to succeed yet at something, then what do you tell yourself? Reflect on the words you use and whether you support yourself or use hurtful language.

If you suffer from low self esteem, you may have a very poor opinion of yourself and criticism may seem easy. But it is so damaging.

The problem with being a critical person is that you put all your energy and all your focus into what is wrong, which makes you more depressed and more frustrated and this leads to anger and stress. These are all ways to get even more depressed. We all know how depression traps you and clouds your mind with negativity and this makes it impossible to get yourself out of the situation you find yourself in.

Being self-critical is counterproductive to what you want. If you want to make things better you need to be positive and you need to focus and believe that things will get better.

Another reason why you need to start supporting yourself with more positive self-talk and stop the negativity inside you from spiralling out of control is that it will also help to deal better with criticism you may receive from others.

Self Criticism is Linked to Perfectionism

According to this article by Trumpeter, Watson and O’Leary (2006), many who are critical of themselves are also perfectionists. If you are both self critical and a perfectionist, this combination can be particularly difficult to cope with. As a perfectionist you will demand the very highest standards, not only of others but also of yourself and when you fail, you will criticise yourself for it. This is a path towards bitterness and low self esteem, so you need to address this urgently.

Self criticism can be caused by a person having extremely high standards, and so perfectionists who criticise themselves can become depressed, suffer from anxiety and even eating disorders. If this is a problem you suffer from, you really need to get help so that you can start to become kinder to yourself.

How can you learn to be less critical of yourself?

Having said that there are many potential negative consequences of being self critical, it is also important to understand that it is possible to become less critical of oneself. This study published in NeuroImage (2010), helps us to understand the nature of self-criticism and suggests how it might be treated as a mood disorder. The study also concludes that being critical of yourself is due to incorrect self evaluation based on a negative focus on mistakes and failure.

Here are some tips for changing self critical thinking and behaviour into more supportive thinking and behaviour, so that life becomes less of a burden and much more enjoyable:

  • Start each day by saying thanks for all the good things in your life. Putting gratitude into your mind first thing in the day makes it likely that your thinking will continue in this way throughout the hours ahead.
  • You control how you think and this shapes your future – make a decision to be less critical. It is your choice how you think. Make the commitment to think differently today.
  • Download Be less critical – self-hypnosis program – it will help you quickly! Self hypnosis is natural, easy and beneficial to your mental and physical health! It works!
  • If you hear yourself think or say something negative stop and add some positive comments or change what you have said to be more positive. This is an easy technique you can start trying right now. It begins the important process of challenging your assumptions and thoughts. Most of the negative thoughts you have are only true if you accept them.
  • Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. What you focus your thoughts on, you get more of.
  • Use a vision board with pictures and affirmations showing what you want in your life. Visual reminders of your most important goals and desires will motivate you and keep you excited about the possibilities in your future.
  • Do whatever you can to be positive, read about optimism here. Listen to inspiring words and music. Read inspirational books and listen to podcasts that will lift your spirits and elevate your thoughts.
  • Spend more time with positive people and less time with negative people. This is a good way to help support more positive ways of thinking and to remove those who criticise you or themselves. You become what you seek, so seek inspiring friends.
  • Get the help you need to undo the damage you have done to yourself or are doing by being critical of yourself. A life coach, a friend, a therapist, a counsellor or a psychologist. There is plenty of help out there, don’t ignore this opportunity to solve problems and grow into the person you know you can be.

Good luck and I wish you success! let me know how you liked this page and do share it with others!

References

  • Dunkley, D. M., Zuroff, D. C., & Blankstein, K. R. (2006). Specific perfectionism components versus self-criticism in predicting maladjustment. Personality and individual differences40(4), 665-676.
  • Erickson, R. J. (1995). The importance of authenticity for self and society. Symbolic interaction18(2), 121-144.
  • Maraboli, S. (2009). Life, the Truth, & Being Free (p. 168). A Better Today.
  • Longe, O., Maratos, F. A., Gilbert, P., Evans, G., Volker, F., Rockliff, H., & Rippon, G. (2010). Having a word with yourself: Neural correlates of self-criticism and self-reassurance. NeuroImage49(2), 1849-1856.
  • Trumpeter, N., Watson, P. J., & O’Leary, B. J. (2006). Factors within multidimensional perfectionism scales: Complexity of relationships with self-esteem, narcissism, self-control, and self-criticism. Personality and Individual Differences41(5), 849-860.

Website Author and Your Guide

Karl Perera is a fully qualified Life Coach (DipLC), Teacher (MA), and author of the book Self Esteem Secrets. He has taught at various universities including Durham, Leicester and Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge. He has run More-SelfEsteem.com since 1997 since suffering from low self esteem for more than 25 years overcoming it in his thirties.