Being highly critical or talking down to yourself are examples of self-criticism that highlight your own flaws and weaknesses. You may feel you don’t meet your own personal standards or expectations and place pressure on yourself to be a certain way. Fortunately, you can improve this pattern of self-criticism by changing your thought patterns and practicing positive affirmations.
What Is Self-Criticism?
Self-criticism is the act of thinking negatively about yourself. Individuals with self-critical tendencies face self-created problems due to their harsh standards and internalized social values for self-evaluation. As a result, they’re unsure of their thoughts, feelings, and emotions.1,2
Self-criticism is noted as a vulnerability in the field of psychopathology. For some individuals, self-criticism can have a negative effect on day-to-day mood and affect and may be a vulnerability factor for depression and other forms of mental illness.3,4
Low self-esteem has been implicated in a range of psychopathologies including depression, social phobia, eating disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder.4
Can Self Criticism Be Good?
Self-criticism isn’t always bad; it can be good when used proactively. If people use personal criticism in a way that’s useful to complete tasks and achieve goals, it can be beneficial. They can use it as a way to examine their decisions and behaviors and evaluate whether they need to make any changes. Self-criticism becomes problematic when a person begins avoiding things and self-sabotaging their own life experiences.
Where Does Self-Criticism Come From?
People with avoidant attachment styles avoid closeness; this may prevent them from developing relational temperament for how to show compassion for themselves and others.5 Self-criticism is also likely to come from shame, insecure attachments, and having low self-esteem.6
Many individuals who have traits like perfectionism may struggle with being self-critical. Self-critical perfectionists tend to respond to stressful situations with emotional responses, self-blame, fantasizing reactions, and less actively problem-oriented attempts to change the situation or problem.7
Examples of Self-Criticism
When individuals engage in negative self-assessment, they create an inner dialogue that uses phrases demeaning and demotivating language. Examples of self-criticism include phrases and negative self-talk such as, “I am easily disappointed with myself,” “I can’t accept failures and setbacks without feeling inadequate,” and “I stop caring about myself.”8
Here are several examples of self-critical thoughts:
- “I’m a failure”
- “I can never do anything right”
- “I am not good enough”
- “I should have done better on that test”
- “I am not going to get the promotion at work”
- “They will choose someone else”
Effects of Self-Criticism
Self-criticism is associated with diminished goal progress, and this effect appears to be mediated by rumination and procrastination. Goals that individuals may not pursue due to self-criticism include academic, social, and health-related goals.9 People who are self-critical are concerned with gaining respect for their achievements and avoiding disappointment and blame.10
Some effects of self-criticism include:
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling worthless
- Feeling guilty
- Lack of self-motivation
- Social anxiety
- Body image issues
14 Ways to Overcome Self Criticism
To overcome self-criticism, it’s helpful to be honest with yourself about the role you play. You can start to identify how your self-criticism impacts your mood and daily routine.
Here are 14 ways to overcome self-criticism:
1. Practice Physical Self-care
Physical self-care can include different forms of exercise such as weight lifting, cardio, walking, and yoga. Other forms of physical self-care are engaging in personal hygiene, such as taking showers or baths, going to the doctor’s, and indulging in massages and manicures. Physical self-care can help you maintain your health and manage stressors. It allows you to reset, process, and regain confidence.
2. Practice Emotional Self-care
Emotional self-care includes practicing mindfulness, writing in a journal, engaging in breathing exercises, and creating healthy boundaries. It helps clear your mind and leaves you feeling more refreshed. After emotional self-care, you’re more able to process your thoughts and have a positive mindset towards yourself and others.
3. Learn to Love Yourself
Learning self-love includes processing how you feel, forgiving yourself, being kind, and practicing gratitude. When you love yourself, you start to value your self-worth and reframe self-doubts into positive phrases. Self-love can help you to feel more in tune with your emotions and gain confidence in your worth and value.
4. Change Your Thought Patterns
Changing your thought patterns includes being mindful of your automatic responses and replacing negative thought patterns with positive ones. Once you become more self-aware as to why you have these negative thoughts, you can start to change your behaviors. This helps you improve your self-assurance and avoid the negative self-doubt that may lead to self-sabotage.
5. Escape the Urge For Perfectionism
Escaping the urge to be perfect can be hard, though with practice, you can become more realistic. Examples include allowing yourself to make mistakes and focus on the positives. This will help you remember that mistakes are normal. You will start to feel like you can let go of personal pressure and the desire to be in control.
6. Don’t Compare Yourself
When you compare yourself, you may start thinking you’re not good enough. If you focus on what you have or don’t have and concern yourself with what others are doing, then you’ll never feel content. Find ways to practice gratitude. If you stop comparing yourself and embrace who you are, this can help you love yourself and become more comfortable with your own abilities.
7. Talk With a Professional
Talking out your worries and stressors due to self-criticism can help you reduce self-doubt. Therapy that focuses on reframing negative thought patterns into positive ones and focuses on improving self-esteem can help establish a strong foundation of self-compassion. Some therapists may use certain therapeutic methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that allow a person to put their thoughts on trial and examine the evidence..
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8. Use a Journal
Writing in a journal gives you a healthy outlet to express your thoughts. It will help you become more self-aware and in tune with your emotions. You can start to process your thoughts and understand where they come from and what they mean. This can help you identify who you are and what changes you may want to make to meet your personal goals to become less critical.
9. Understand Why
By learning to process your thoughts and understand why you place pressure on yourself, you may reduce the daily criticism. When you understand where these core beliefs come from, it’s easier to reframe your thoughts and think more realistically.
10. Recognize Your Strengths
Start by finding things you are passionate about and do well; then, begin praising yourself. This will help you feel more comfortable with viewing yourself in a positive way. You can focus on personal and work achievements and recognize any goals you have achieved and are working towards. Celebrating small and big wins can help you to feel more positive and confident.
11. Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
Stepping outside your comfort zone allows you to get comfortable with abilities that you may not have known existed. Put yourself in a position where you can overcome insecurities. Making small changes in your daily routine can make you more aware of your personal development.
12. Use Positive Affirmations
Use daily positive affirmations to replace negative self-doubt. This can help give you the motivation to act on tasks you may be avoiding due to personal insecurities. Some examples of positive affirmations include, “I deserve love,” “I deserve to be happy,” “I am enough,” and “it is okay to make mistakes and to not be perfect.”
13. Identify Triggers
If you find yourself uncomfortable or feeling strong emotions, you may identify that situation or behavior as a trigger. When you recognize a certain pattern of automatic responses to situations or people, you can start to understand your triggers. By identifying your triggers, you begin to understand situations that create self-criticism and judgmental thoughts and find new ways to navigate them.
14. Be Kind to Yourself
Being kind to yourself reminds you that you deserve recognition. By acknowledging that you need to protect yourself and stand up for yourself, you will be more comfortable with being kind. By staying consistent and living as if you deserve the same respect and compassion as others, you will help yourself shed those negative self-thoughts and gain more self-appreciation.
When & How to Get Help
When someone is criticized and has early shame experiences, they may internalize negative working models about the self.11 This may increase their vulnerability to self-criticism as emotional self-regulation and a defense mechanism. Researchers found that self-criticism to be a strong predictor of a wide range of maladaptive functioning including avoidant coping and negative affect.12
People who struggle with self-criticism can be guided to explore self-critical thoughts and emotions in a counseling setting. Therapists help individuals modify their position in relation to their self-criticism from destructive to protective in emotion focused therapy, to an external voice in psychodynamic therapy, or from an internalized self-blame position to a more externalized stance in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).13
To find a therapist who fits your needs, visit a free online therapist directory.
By becoming more self-aware, you will have a better understanding of where self-critical beliefs come from. Then, you can start reframing your thoughts. Practicing the tips in this article may help you overcome self-criticism and feel more confident in general. It’s also important to seek professional help as needed.