Self-criticism is how we evaluate ourselves and our actions. We believe it’s our way of setting ourselves right before others do; correcting wrongs, fixing mistakes. It’s natural, even healthy if done in a positive light.
The problem begins when we turn into our own worst critic. We condemn and judge ourselves far too grimly than we do complete strangers. And we rarely do it with any warmth or compassion. In reality, criticizing ourselves rarely results in any positive results, but only makes matters worse as we make our own selves feel bad about ourselves.
Types of self-criticism
Sometimes doubting ourselves can help steer us in the right direction or give us the push we need to try out new things. This type is the positive, comprehensive, fair type which is known as ‘constructive self-criticism.’
It encourages you to home in on a specific problem, rather than lay blame or attack your character. It also takes it a step further by providing alternative solutions to prevent what went wrong from recurring. It acknowledges both weak and strong points and incites hopefulness and motivation.
Then there’s the second kind which is what medical experts refer to as ‘unconstructive self-criticism.’ It’s considered to be a negative trait mainly because it’s judgmental and can be very cruel. Its view on the world is crooked, making its judgments and assumptions greatly out of balance.
It could be you’re doing it to give yourself some tough love as a means to succeed and be the best, but any type of self-doubt can actually do the opposite.
According to Ruth Baer, PhD (The Practicing Happiness Workbook: How Mindfulness Can Free You From 4 Psychological Traps that Keep You Stressed, Anxious and Depressed), practicing this type of unforgiving lack of self-confidence can trigger feelings of despair and anguish, as well as disillusionment, sorrow and disappointment.
Will self-criticism help you accomplish your goals?
There’s been a lot of research done on how much not having enough trust in your abilities can interfere with realizing your aspirations on both personal and professional levels. The science behind it is because it depletes our energy levels and sense of worth. It doesn’t give you the chance to see past beyond that one bad situation that happened at work today, but nags and pick at flaws and blowing them out of proportion, or maybe even making up a few just to convince yourself you’re not good enough.
This way of thinking limits your chance at meeting new people, learning new things and embarking on exciting opportunities.
Learning to be kind to you requires practice and patience. But it’s the best gift you’ll ever receive. Self-compassion is crucial for a healthy, balanced individual. It prevents depression, isolation, and anxiety while promoting constructive coping mechanisms, enhanced academic performance and better mental and physical health.
You’re able to learn from your mistakes and turn any mishap into a valuable learning moment from which you can grow and gain experience.
As Louise Hay, the motivational author, famously said, “You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn't worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”
On a final note, it’s better to practice self-love than self-criticism. We’re all flawed, yet each one of us possesses such unique characteristics, values and traits. Why not focus on the beauty and diversity, rather than nitpick at the imperfect.
By learning to love yourself, inside and out, you’ll be able to accept the good and the bad, respect your values and be happy and healthy.
Siddhārtha Gautama, the philosopher whose teachings founded the basis of Buddhism, said, “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”
Shut Down Your Inner Critic
Your inner monologue, the private conversations you have inside your head, are a powerful part of your ability to succeed in life. When the voice inside your head is a constant cheerleader and proponent for you, you feel as though you can achieve anything.
But, when that inner voice is a persistent critic, always telling you that you are going to fail, then you will have a challenging time achieving your dreams.
Shutting down that inner critic, the one that is always second guessing you or reminding you of your flaws, is a dominant player in your personal fulfillment and success. And learning how to shut down that negative voice can help you gain confidence and finally achieve your goals.
How to Shut Down Your Inner Critic
1. Start by Listening to the Voice
The best way to get rid of your inner critic is to start by listening. You may not even be aware of how often your inner critic is chiming in. Pay attention to what you are thinking and saying to yourself throughout your day. Getting a handle on what your voice is saying is the first step to silencing it.
2. Talk to Yourself Like You Would a Friend.
When you hear that inner monologue start to chime in, try changing your words to those you would use with any personal friend having a problem. You wouldn’t start by telling them they are stupid or berating their efforts, would you? No! You’d be compassionate and encouraging, treating them with kindness. How about applying that same treatment to yourself? If they deserve it, why don’t you?
3. Look at the Evidence.
When you start to hear your inner critic tell you what you can’t do, ask yourself, how do you know? What evidence do you have to support that negative assessment? What evidence can you offer to refute those negative claims? Instead of exaggerating your abilities (or lack thereof) to succeed, look to all the ways you have been successful in the past to give you the confidence you need.
4. Don’t Live in the Past.
You need to let go of past mistakes. When you mess up, accept that it happened, then move on. Reminding yourself repeatedly of how and when you screwed up isn’t helping you solve the problem or make better choices moving forward. Focus on active solutions instead of wasting time with “what ifs.”
5. Consider the Worst-Case Scenario.
Your inner critic is probably really good at turning a possible negative outcome into a potential catastrophe. This causes you to feel more anxious than is necessary, leading to doubt and feelings of worthlessness.
Stop and consider, what if that worst-case scenario actually did occur? Would it really be all that bad? In most cases, not really.
And if the worst does happen, how could you prepare ahead of time to address that situation? Being prepared makes you worry less and feel more confident to handle any situation.
That inner critic can often have the loudest voice in the room, but don’t be afraid to keep pressing the mute button on him or her. It’s okay to accept that you are not perfect and still have some work to do in certain areas without thinking the absolute worst about yourself at all times.
You can be kinder and gentler to yourself while still focusing on ways to improve specific aspects of your life that don’t bring you joy. It’s not an either-or scenario. And silencing your inner critic will give you the freedom and space to explore those possibilities.
This post is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered therapy. This blog is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. We are not able to respond to specific questions or comments about personal situations, appropriate diagnosis or treatment, or otherwise provide any clinical opinions. If you think you need immediate assistance, call your local doctor/psychologist or psychiatrist or the SADAG Mental Health Line on 011 234 4837. If necessary, please phone the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or sms 31393.