We all face criticism in our lives, whether we are receiving criticism from friends, family or ourselves and the criticism we receive is usually easier for us to believe which can then lead to low self-esteem, negative thoughts/behaviours and mental illnesses.
What is self-criticism?
Self-criticism is when you refer or point out your own ‘flaws’ and it can be about any aspect of your life from your work ethic to your appearance or your thoughts, emotions, personality and intellect, it is incredibly easy to criticise anything about you but it is not healthy.
Self-critic thoughts could be anything along the lines of:
I am a failure
I don’t deserve happiness
I can’t do anything right
I’m not good enough
Why do people like me?
I’ll never get better
Thoughts like this apply to a negative mindset, they don’t apply to any particular behaviour, which is why self-criticism leads to a low self-esteem because you end up criticising yourself, rather than what you actually do. So for example, say you were given a task to do at work and you didn’t get enough time to do it before the end of the day, if you’re self-critical, you could end up telling yourself that you are a failure or that you are no good, when really, you just need to either prioritise your jobs, manage your time or if you can, leave the task for another day. By thinking this way you are focusing on a particular aspect of behaviour that you wish to improve on rather than constantly bringing yourself down which is only going to make the improvements either really difficult or you just won’t even notice any improvements you make at all.
As someone who used to be incredibly self-critical I know how hard it is to not believe the criticisms you receive (either from others or yourself) and I know how hard it is to change your way of thinking but below are some of my personal tips which helped me become less self-critical:
- Find the root cause. A lot of my self-criticism came from experiences at school, work and previous relationships. My experiences at school effected what I thought about my intellect, I was never bullied and I didn’t ever really have any critical teachers, I just think it was because I was mentally vulnerable throughout the majority of my educational years. Work wise I faced more criticism from other people but it was never a lot and it was never harsh, but again, I think because of my mental state at the time, I didn’t need to receive harsh criticism to make me believe I was shit at my job, it was like I knew that anyway and others confirmed it. My previous relationships impacted how I physically saw myself which and it’s quite disheartening looking back now. I was so horrible towards myself about my appearance and I was terribly insecure, the relationships definitely fuelled my self-critical thoughts because as soon as I got out of them my body confidence increased.
If you need help finding the root cause, take one of your self-critical thoughts and instead of saying ‘I’, switch it to ‘You’, so instead of saying ‘I am a failure’ say ‘You are a failure’ and by doing this you can help yourself to remember where this lack of self-respect comes from.
- Talk yourself out of a bad mood. My bad moods used to last for days but now I very rarely get into a bad mood because I either talk myself out of them or do something that will get me back into either a neutral or positive mood. I like to start of the conversation by acknowledging what has gotten me into this bad mood and why and I will rant about it in my head for a couple of hours if I need to and once I am done ranting, I then I let reality kick in and I ask myself 2 questions
Can I change anything now?
Is this even worth it?
Around 99% of the time the answer is no.
- Find genuine areas for self-improvements. Reducing your self-criticism isn’t about completely ignoring the areas in which you would like to improve on, it’s about noticing and acknowledging where you want to make your improvements. So a self-critical thought I used to always have was that I was shit at everything. To improve on this I took 3 aspects of myself (personally I think taking any more than 3 aspects can be too overwhelming to successfully improve on) that I believed I was the shittest at and focused on improving them, rather than believing I was too shit to even bother make any improvement. I like to try and take 3 very different aspects, that way it can be easier to notice the improvements in each. When I first started working on my self-criticism I wanted to improve on my anger management, my diet and self-love and even for the past few months, I have been improving on 3 different aspects of my life that triggered self-critical thoughts (granted, my self-critical thoughts now are nowhere near as harsh as what they used to be. I’m more open and willing to make the improvements now) which were my cooking skills, my fitness and my anxiety.
- SELF-CARE!!! I can ramble on about self-care for hours but it will work wonders for you in many different ways.
- Consider how bad it must be in your thoughts were true. We all over exaggerate and our negative inner thoughts are the worst for it. I just ask myself “Is it the end of the world?” Chances are it isn’t and it could always, always be a lot worse.
- Think about your words. Self-criticism usually involves strong words such as can’t or never which are then usually used in sentences that lack the evidence for them. A previous self-critical thought of mine was ‘I’m never going to improve on this’ but switching that sentence to something like ‘I need to keep practising this in order for me to improve’. By making that simple change you are already telling yourself what to do.
Changing your self-critical thoughts is hard to do, especially if you have believed them for years but sit back and really think about them. Is there any true evidence to support them? How can you improve on your criticisms? Where do these criticisms stem from?
It’s normal to be slightly critical about ourselves every now and again, but to over criticise everyday every little thing about you is not natural and it is not healthy but you can alter this and the end results may shock you, in a good and positive way of course.
Sending my love to you all,