Self-Criticism: What It Is, Examples, and How to Overcome It

The habit of engaging in negative self-evaluation affects nearly all people, sometimes deeply. If your self-criticism is a dominant factor and hurts, it’s a big problem.

It doesn’t make you feel good. It rarely helps you perform better in the moment. It also stifles your curiosity and enthusiasm, making it difficult to sustain your effort for a long time.

Everyone has an angry inner critic from time to time, but who says that you must accept these negative, ugly thoughts that you have directed at yourself?

Being extremely critical or talking about yourself as a victim are instances of self-criticism that reveal your flaws and shortcomings. It is possible that you aren’t meeting your standards or expectations and burdening yourself to behave in a certain way. It is possible to change your self-criticism pattern by changing your thoughts and implementing positive affirmations.

Refraining from criticizing yourself is a measure of determination. It’s a significant step towards being more focused and productive.

To begin the journey to personal development, you’ll have to comprehend the significance of self-criticism and where it comes from.

What Is Self-Criticism?

Self-criticism refers to the act of thinking negatively about yourself. People with self-critical tendencies face issues they’ve created due to their rigid standards and internalized values to evaluate themselves. In the end, they are unsure of their beliefs, feelings, and emotions.

Self-criticism is a recognized vulnerability in the area of psychopathology. For certain individuals, self-criticism could be detrimental to daily mood and can induce depression as well as other mental illnesses.

Self-esteem issues have been linked to a myriad of psychopathologies, including social phobia, depression, eating disorders as well as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

The Physiology of Self-Criticism

Self-compassion and harsh Self-criticism are distinct biological pathways. What Self-Criticism is doing is it triggers the brain’s threat system, which is the most ancient part of the brain that informs us that we should be “ready to fight” or be “ready to flee” from danger. If the threat system is activated, it releases cortisol (a stress hormone) which triggers the sympathetic nervous system (‘fight-flight response’) that tells the body: “Get ready for danger!”

Our threat system is highly adaptive to changing circumstances. However, as you already know from personal experience, the threat system may also cause stress.

In modern times, we’re not in situations where the environment triggers the threat system in us. What is happening is that we’re activating our threat systems by using our minds, which means that our self-perception

 is being challenged. Also, our minds trigger our threat systems with pessimistic predictions, painful memories, harsh judgments, and self-criticism.

Where Does Self-Criticism Come From?

People prone to avoidant attachment tend to avoid intimacy, which can hinder them from developing a relational personality to demonstrate compassion for themselves and others. Self-criticism can originate from shame, insecure attachments, and low self-esteem. 

A lot of people who exhibit traits that are similar to perfectionists may have trouble with self-criticality. Self-critical perfectionists often respond to stressful situations by expressing emotions, self-blame, and thoughts of remorse, especially when they don’t know how to fix or solve the issue.

The word criticism is synonymous with judgment, opinion, and assessment. Self-criticism means directing all this evaluation toward yourself. 

The origins of self-criticism are in our early relationships in our childhood. A tendency toward self-criticism can result from the following: 

  • Strict parents
  • Peer pressure in school
  • Demanding teachers or bosses
  • Competitive sporting events

Self-criticism can be detrimental

While some people sometimes recognize self-criticism, some aren’t conscious that it’s ingrained into their minds; they accept it as a part of who they are. But the reality is that it can be counterproductive and even detrimental. It doesn’t just stop us from trying new things, but it can also lower our confidence in ourselves and our self-esteem. Therefore, the inner critic should be put down if you want to reach your maximum potential.

This doesn’t mean we should ignore our mistakes, faults, and flaws and believe they’re not there. However, it is better to acknowledge them without allowing them to take over our lives. If you can do that, it would open up a world of possibilities because comparing ourselves unfavorably to others only leads to intense self-doubt and negative self-talk. 

Self-criticism remains an issue that many people have trouble with. If it is not addressed, it can affect our emotional and mental health and can cause anxiety and depression. When the stress is continuous and abrasive, we might lose sight of our successes and strengths, giving us no chance of achieving our goals.

The first step in stopping it is to be conscious of your self-critical thoughts. Once you’re aware, it’s time to challenge them and change your thoughts. For instance, if you’re thinking, “I’m such a failure,” try to counter this with a positive statement such as “I made a mistake, but I’m still a good person.”

Self-Criticism Can Be Good

Self-criticism doesn’t have to be negative; it can be beneficial when employed proactively and positively. If people use self-criticism in a manner that helps to accomplish tasks and reach goals, then it is helpful. They can use it to scrutinize their actions and choices and decide if they must change their ways. Self-criticism can be problematic when one begins to avoid things and self-sabotaging their personal life experiences.

Why do we engage in Self-Criticism?

One of the reasons we use self-criticism is to motivate ourselves to do something about the threat to our self-perception. Even though the technique may be distorted and unwieldy, Self-Criticism tries to ensure that we are safe by motivating us (with discomfort and pain) to act.

But motivating ourselves by expressing harsh self-criticism stimulates our threat system, triggering stress hormones that can overflow our bodies and emotions. There are more effective methods than this.

Examples of Self-Criticism

When people make negative self-assessments about themselves and self-criticism, they start an inner dialogue using demeaning and demotivating phrases. 

Here are some examples of self-critic thinking:

  • “I’m a failure.”
  • “I can never do anything right.”
  • “I am not good enough.”
  • “I can’t do better.”
  • “I am not going to get the promotion at work.”
  • “They will choose someone else.”

Effects of Self-Criticism

Self-criticism can be linked to a decrease in the achievement of goals. This result is mediated through procrastination and rumination. The goals people can’t follow due to self-criticism are academic, social, or health-related goals. Self-critical people seek respect for their achievements and avoid disappointment and blame.

The effects of self-criticism may include:

What are the Effects of Self-Criticism on Mental Well-being?

From the instances above, self-criticism is often against you.

Self-criticism can help you admit any mistakes you have made and can help you avoid mistakes in the future. However, it can also cause harm. The constant stream of negative self-talk and sour inner conversations can influence your mental well-being. Even if the people around you are friendly and considerate, how you treat yourself is your choice.

Here are some ways in which self-criticism can affect your mental health

It fills you with guilt and overwhelms you.

You may feel guilty when you convince yourself you’ve failed at something. Self-criticism can cause you to compare yourself to others, which usually doesn’t go well. As you reflect on how self-criticism and negative thoughts have slowed your personal development, They can remain in your ideas for a long time.

It can cause eating disorders or worsen the problem.

If you need more self-confidence, you constantly judge every aspect of yourself, even your appearance. Your self-image becomes shaky, and you tend to dwell on your flaws. These thoughts can lead people to self-harm or adopt drastic measures to improve their appearance.

Disordered eating impacts both mental health and physical health. Self-criticism can cause you to focus on your appearance and make you believe that you will never be good enough.

Your relationships with other people

Although you may not intend to do so, self-criticism affects others around you when you think and say negative things. Your relationships with your friends could feel stressed because of it, and you could begin to cut off your social connections and activities, making you feel isolated and lonely.

It hinders your process and self-improvement.

Self-criticism can hinder our ability to develop ourselves, making us feel self-doubt. Positive criticism is constructive and helps you to grow as a person. But self-criticism could stand in the way of your efforts to improve yourself.

How to Overcome Self-Criticism

To overcome self-criticism, you must be honest with yourself about the role you play. You can start by identifying how your self-criticism impacts your mood and daily routine.

Here are some ways to get over self-criticism:

Practice Physical Self-care

Physical self-care could include various exercise things like lifting weights, cardio, walking, and yoga. Other ways to care for yourself include practicing private hygiene, like bathing or showering, visiting a doctor, or enjoying manicures and massages. Self-care exercises help you keep your health in check and help you manage stressors. It enables you to reset, process and gain confidence.

Practice Emotional Self-care

Self-care for the emotional self includes practicing mindfulness by writing journals, participating in breathing exercises, and setting healthy boundaries. It can help you clear your head and leaves you feeling rejuvenated. When you’ve done your emotional self-care, it makes you better able to process your thoughts and keep a positive attitude toward others and yourself.

Learn to Love Yourself

Self-love involves:

If you can love yourself, you will appreciate your self-worth and turn self-doubt into favorable terms. Self-love helps you become more in tune with your feelings and build self-confidence.

Change Your Thought Patterns

Changing your thinking patterns involves being aware of your thoughts and automatic responses and re-inforcing negative thought patterns with positive reviews. You can start changing your habits when you are more aware of the reason you experience evil thoughts. This will help you increase confidence in yourself and eliminate the self-doubt about yourself that can result in self-sabotage.

Acknowledging your success

It’s easy to dwell on your mistakes, but you should look back at all your accomplishments. Regardless of how small it might appear, write down everything you’re pleased with, and appreciate them.

Escape the Urge For Perfectionism

Escaping the urge to be perfect can be difficult, but with time through practice, you will get better at it and better at what you do, even if it’s not perfect. Mistakes are common; focus on the positive aspect and, most importantly, learn to improve. You’ll begin to feel that you can relax from the pressures of the moment and the need to be perfect.

Don’t Compare Yourself

You may believe you need to be better if you look at yourself compared to others. If you are focused on what you do or don’t have and concern yourself with what other people are doing, you’ll never be content. Find ways to cultivate gratitude. If you can stop looking at yourself in a negative light and accept who you are, it will allow you to love yourself and feel more at ease with your strengths, and if you must make comparisons do it to learn and improve yourself and not to feel sorry for yourself.

Talk With a Professional

Speaking about your fears and stresses because of self-criticism may aid in the reduction of self-doubt. Therapy that focuses on changing negative thoughts into positive ones and building self-esteem can create a solid base of self-compassion. Certain therapists might employ treatments, like cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), that permit individuals to test their ideas and analyze their evidence.

Use a Journal

Journaling can give you a chance to share your thoughts. It can help you become more aware of yourself and your feelings. You will begin to examine your thoughts and discover their source and what they represent. This will allow you to identify your identity and the modifications you want to implement to reach your goals and reduce stress levels.

Understand Why

When you learn to organize your thoughts and understand why you are putting stress on yourself, you can lower the frequency of your criticism. Once you know the roots of these thoughts, reframing your ideas and thinking more realistically and positively is easier.

Recognize Your Strengths

Begin by identifying the things you love and excel at; after that, begin to praise yourself. This will allow you to become more comfortable in looking at yourself positively. Focus on your personal and professional accomplishments, and be aware of any goals you’ve accomplished and are striving towards. Recognizing small and big victories can help you feel more optimistic and confident.

Use Positive Affirmations

Make positive affirmations a part of your daily routine to counter negative self-doubt. This will motivate you to complete tasks you’re putting off due to fear of insecurity. Positive affirmations are: 

  • “I deserve love.” 
  • “I deserve to be happy.” 
  • “I am enough.” 
  • “It is okay to make mistakes, and I can do better.”

Identify Triggers

If you feel discomfort or experience intense emotions, You may identify the event or behavior as the trigger. If you notice a pattern of automatic responses to events or individuals, you’ll begin to identify the triggers. Once you have placed your triggers, you can recognize situations that cause self-criticism and self-critical thoughts. Then, you can discover new ways to deal with these situations.

Be Kind to Yourself

Being compassionate to yourself is a reminder that you are worthy of recognition. When you realize that you have to take care of yourself and be a strong advocate, You will become more at ease with being kind to yourself. If you are consistent and act like you deserve the same respect and kindness as others, you can let go of negative self-talk and gain self-esteem.

Practice self-compassion

This means being gentle and patient with yourself even if you make mistakes. It’s okay to make mistakes; We are all imperfect.

Focus on the present moment

Do not dwell on your past mistakes or make comparisons to other people. Focus on what you’re doing well now and what you could improve on in the future.

Commit to your objectives and Take action toward your goals.

Self-criticism is often a cause for being inactive. However, if you take even small steps toward the goals you want to achieve, you’ll begin to feel better about yourself.

Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

A step outside your comfort zone can allow you to become comfortable with skills you didn’t even know existed. You can put yourself in a place where you can conquer fears. Making minor adjustments to your routine will make you better aware of your development.

Find professional assistance

If you feel that you ca unable to conquer self-criticism, take help from a therapist who will assist you in identifying the negative thoughts holding you back.

Start making these changes today, and watch as your self-criticism disappears. Remember that you’re much more valuable.

How to Get Help for Self Criticism

If someone is criticized and experiences early shame, they can adopt negative mental models of self-esteem. This can make them more vulnerable to self-criticism, which is emotional self-regulation and a defense mechanism. Researchers have found that self-criticism can be a reliable predictor of various dysfunctions, such as avoidant coping.

People who have trouble with self-criticism can be guided in exploring self-critical thoughts and feelings in the context of counseling. Therapists can help clients change their attitude towards self-criticism from destructive to protective in emotion-focused therapy and then to a more exterior voice within psychodynamic therapy or shift from internalized self-blame towards a more externalized position in cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).


Read More: What Is Self-Sabotage? Signs and Behavior: What Causes It and How to Stop It

Read More: How to Overcome Apathy and Feel Good Again

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How to Practice Constructive Criticism

Many people believe that being harsh with themselves can make them better people. However, research does not support this notion.

It could be tough when we fall short of something essential to us, whether in relationships, school, or work. These events can be detrimental to our core and who we would like to be.

To deal with failures, we usually resort to self-protection strategies. We rationalize the event to put us in a positive light. We also blame others and minimize the significance of the incident.

Self-criticism has been shown to increase procrastination and rumination and impede goal progress. If you already feel worthless and incompetent, you may feel like there’s no point in improving next time.

You may want to improve or make yourself feel better; the issue is self-judgment. Your focus is, am “I a good or an unfit person.” It’s easy to lose sight of questions that are more likely to get us somewhere, like: 

  • “How did this happen.” 
  • “How can I avoid letting it happen again?”
  • “How can I do better.”

Research in the area of social psychology provides several perspectives:

Criticize specific, changeable behaviors, not unchangeable attributes.

Studies on the explanatory style suggest that those who attribute adverse events to all-encompassing, permanent aspects of themselves, say, “I’m just not an intelligent person,” are more likely to be depressed and experience health issues. Constructive self-criticism has a more positive expository style focused on specific and attainable areas that need improving, say, “I stayed up too late watching TikTok when I could have been studying; next time I will for myself and focus on what’s important”).

Criticism of external circumstances, and you must then work to alter them.

Even in cases where we’re not to blame, various circumstances can pull us one way or the other. For instance, perhaps you stayed in bed late, watching TikTok; however, this was because your neighbors were playing loud music too, and it wasn’t easy to focus on your work; instead of using this as a reason to excuse yourself, since you have exams the following week. You now realize that there may be better options than studying at home. One of the misconceptions regarding social psychology is that it concentrates too much on the external influence on oneself that it does not recognize the individual’s accountability and denies individual responsibility. However, being aware of the power of various factors, such as peer pressure, can aid us in making better decisions. If we think we’re immune to external influences, we’re more likely to be thrown off by them.

Switch your attention to others instead of yourself.

Instead of becoming caught in positive or negative self-judgment, it might be beneficial to think about your actions’ impact on others. A broader perspective can reorient your focus towards what is most important to the people you’re trying to support through your work or the relationship you wish to build and encourage you to take steps to improve yourself and help others. Research shows that those pursuing more compassionate goals than self-image goals are less at risk of relationship conflicts. When we’re focused on defending our self-esteem, other people could represent the threat or competition, and we may fail to acknowledge their needs.

Practice self-compassionate self-criticism.

For those susceptible to self-pity, self-compassion can be just what’s required to make self-criticism bearable. Self-compassion is an air-tight parachute that lets you glide smoothly into the areas of your life you’re afraid to face. It will not let you get away with ease; however, it won’t plunge you into despair. Self-compassion says, “Yes, I messed up, but that doesn’t make me a terrible person, and I can do better.” It makes me a person with strengths and weaknesses who has an opportunity to grow. Looking more closely at your shortcomings in this warm and welcoming environment and love isn’t as frightening.

Summary:

  • Self-criticism and shame are common in all mental health problems and can negatively affect your mood, brain, and physiology.
  • Self-compassion is a remedy for over-critical self-criticism as well as intense shame.
  • The biggest obstacle in developing self-compassion is the “inner critic,” which is usually rooted in our developmental experiences, such as parents’ hostility, rejection, or neglect. 
  • This is why you might have difficulty expressing positive feelings towards yourself. In this case, it would help to work with a psychologist certified in Compassion Concentrated Therapy (CFT) to assist you in developing a more self-compassionate (vs self-critical) attitude.
  • Look out for the inner critic, don’t beat yourself up for beating you. Understand what the inner critic is and does to you, and learn to respond to yourself in a more supportive way.
  • Becoming a more effective supporter for yourself is about being in touch with that portion of you that can be caring, wise, and supportive of you that will assist you in meeting requirements in a manner that is useful and understanding about the difficulties you might be facing.
  • Self-compassion is a complex and challenging task for many people for various reasons. Understanding your anxieties, fears, and resentments clearly in the direction of self-compassion is beneficial. Having a supportive counselor or teacher to guide you through the process could be helpful.

Conclusion

When you become more self-aware, you’ll understand the source of self-critical thoughts. You can then begin shifting your perspective. Implementing the strategies in this article can assist you in getting over self-criticism and make you feel more confident generally. It is also essential to seek out professional assistance when necessary.

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