What is self-criticism and how can you stop it?

updated on 04 October 2021

Post by Thais Bogarin, Content Writer at Deep Breath

Self-criticism is like that harsh manager, constantly bombarding our self-worth
Self-criticism is like that harsh manager, constantly bombarding our self-worth

We all have goals and expectations for ourselves and are usually checking in for signs of progress or failure. Sometimes, despite trying our best, things don’t turn out the way we expected, and we automatically dwell in negative thoughts. While replaying a situation in our head may help us figure out what can we do better next time, feeling guilty of the outcome and dwelling in these negative thoughts is what being overly self-critical refers to, and it can have a big impact on our overall self-esteem.

So what does being overly self-critical mean?

When we are being overly self-critical, we are focusing our thoughts on our own flaws or imperfections, often blaming ourselves for our circumstances and extrapolating a mistake as a flaw in our character.

The reason this can turn into a common habit is that sometimes we are not even aware of holding self-critical thoughts. Maybe we learned them at a young age from someone else and accepted them without question. It takes awareness to be able to do something about them.

Being self-critical is a common issue and one of its main causes is lack of self-compassion. This means not noticing and valuing our own feelings, experiences, and failures; and thus being too hard on ourselves. So basically, when we are unable of this kind of emotional response, we end up criticizing ourselves.

Am I overly self-critical?

The following are a few ways to notice if you too have this type of negative thoughts. Alternatively, you can take a self-assessment test.

Beating yourself up for not knowing what you want

Life is rarely a straight forward path. What we wanted as a child probably shifted in our teen years and likely another few times afterwards. Therefore, feeling lost on occasions is natural, but when we do not acknowledge that and instead think there is something inherently wrong with us, we are being self-critical.

Feeling like you are not good enough

Have you ever felt like nothing you do satisfies you? Not that promotion, or degree, or compliment? Then you are being self-critical by not allowing yourself to enjoy your achievements and give yourself a pat on the back.

Comparing yourself to others

Similarly, self-criticism can be triggered when we compare our lives to other we deem “more successful”, whether because they have more money or friends, or a greater job or relationship. It is important to keep in mind why everyone has their own life: because it is theirs, not ours. We are not meant to fulfill the same expectations other have set for their lives.

How do I stop self-criticism?

Unfortunately there is no instant repellent for self-criticism; like most things in life, it takes time. Nonetheless, taking a moment to analyze if a thought is hurting some part of yourself is a good start.

Also, remember that you may have adopted self-critical thoughts from someone else in your life (like family or colleagues), so it is important to asses whose standards are you measuring yourself up against, and reaffirm your own.

Finally, going straight to the cause and nurturing self-compassion is key. This allows you to recognize your fallibility, learn from mistakes and not indulge in every negative thought that springs to mind. It can sound like this is a hard skill to acquire, but there are many tools to support you. You can set yourself reminders with positive statements on your phone or on sticky notes around your apartment. You can also opt for specialized classes and courses, which help you with the support of science-based approaches and experts’ practical experience, within a more structured framework.

Bottom-line is: people make mistakes; it is why they put erasers on the ends of pencils! Beating ourselves up for our mistakes does not strike them out, however recognizing our imperfection as valid and trying to instead learn from our faults helps prevent them in the future. Becoming aware of our self-criticism is the first step toward a healthier relationship with ourselves and achieving our goals.

If you want further help to stop self-criticism, why not try our online program? It includes modules on self-compassion (and more!) in order to help you embrace your flaws and to improve your self-esteem on a deeper level. Alternatively, you can sign up for one of our group sessions.

Medical disclaimer

The medical information in this article is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. Please consult your doctor for guidance about a specific medical condition.

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