We are often our own worst critic in life. Self-criticism and low self-esteem can lead us to negative self-talk that diminishes our quality of life.
Figuring out how to stop beating yourself up is tricky, but with some direct reflection, self-kindness, and learning to be our own best friend, we can stop the self-loathing and start moving in the right direction.
Constructive Criticism Vs. Self Sabotage
We tend to think that being hard on ourselves is going to motivate us. If we speak to ourselves in a critical voice and call ourselves out for making the same mistake more than once, then we think we can improve upon ourselves. But it’s a slippery slope from constructive criticism to self-sabotage.
It’s a Slippery Slope
For example, going to the gym is a practice that takes a certain level of dedication. You may join a gym and tell yourself that you’re going to go everyday, and you will show up for yourself and achieve the physical fitness goals you made for yourself. However, it’s a lot of work to even get ourselves motivated to go every single day, and so many of us get so busy with work, home life, and other tasks that it’s easy to miss days here or there.
What starts out as conscious thinking of, “I’ve really got to make it a habit to get to the gym every day if I want to improve my health” can quickly turn into, “This was just a waste of money. I’m never going to get fit, so why did I ever think this would work? I’ll never be more than a lazy, out-of-shape slob.” You have, in one thought, crossed the line from a helpful self pep talk to an internal rant of self-abuse and hate.
Giving yourself a pep talk or critiquing yourself so that you can reset and focus on your goals is criticism that, while it’s still self-critical, can be healthy and get us moving in the right direction in life. Putting ourselves down and telling ourselves that there’s no way we’ll ever amount to anything is a form of self-hatred. It is not constructive, and it turns into a bad habit that gets us nowhere.
Criticism that is Helpful
Giving yourself a bit of a lecture now and then isn’t such a bad thing. It is one way to break a negative cycle and improve our habits and even our well-being. The following is an example.
Sam tells himself that he has got to start getting up in the mornings when the alarm goes off instead of hitting the snooze button and then being in a rush. The five minutes of extra sleep only makes him more tired, puts him in a hurry, and makes him feel frazzled when he gets to work.
He knows that stopping this habit will lead to more peace in his life and at his job, and he is the one person who can change the habit. Moving forward, he tells himself, he has got to be more responsible. If he’s really that tired in the mornings, he ought to start going to bed earlier. If his morning habits don’t change, he runs the risk of being late for work, and he could eventually lose his job over it. His immaturity and irresponsibility aren’t worth losing the job he loves over.
In the above example, Sam knows that he is wrong in the way he is behaving in the mornings. He tells himself that he has got to decide if he wants to behave like an adult or like a small child and run the risk of losing a job over mistakes that can be easily corrected.
He doesn’t kid himself about it, and he doesn’t feel good about his shortcomings, but giving himself this lecture out of fear of losing his job can inspire positive change in his behavior.
Now, let’s take the example above with Sam and change the narrative. Now, rather than giving himself a pep talk, he’s self-sabotaging. When you decide you are going to fail, chances are, you will. When you set yourself up for disappointment and tell yourself you can’t do something; you have made your goal nearly impossible to reach.
Note the difference in the way he thinks of himself and talks to himself.
Sam knows that one of these mornings, he’s going to make a mistake that will cost him his job. Other people can get up in the morning and go to work, so he’s obviously the only person who is too weak to break bad habits and engage in self-improvement. He knows the only way to keep himself out of trouble at work is to get up on time, but he knows he’s probably destined to make the same past mistakes over and over, and eventually, he’s going to fail, just like he always does.
When you become your own inner critic, which everyone is to a certain degree, you need to do so with self-love and self-respect. Everyone experiences moments of self-doubt, but thinking that you can motivate yourself to do better by flooding your mind with negative thoughts about yourself will never yield results in your own life.
You’re only really hurting yourself.
We think that becoming a drill sergeant for ourselves is exactly what we need to do better and that that inner critic can bully us into better behavior. All we’re really doing, though, is embracing self-hate.
This sort of negative thought can result from cognitive distortions that make us start thinking in terms of black and white.
We either make mistakes, or we are wonderful. Most of our thoughts are negative ones. We’re rarely positive about anything having to do with ourselves. We beat ourselves up for all the things we don’t do perfectly.
How to Stop the Cycle
None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes, we all deserve compassion, and we live in an ever-changing world that we’re all just doing our best to navigate from moment to moment. Cutting ourselves some slack and giving ourselves some grace is detrimental to our ability to stop the cycle of self-abuse.
You don’t necessarily have to think you’re better than anyone else or put yourself on a pedestal, but you shouldn’t beat yourself down to the point that you’ve become a martyr, and you live and wallow in the personal hell you’ve created for yourself.
The following are suggestions of things you can do to improve your own feelings and to stop hurting yourself. Please remember that while it’s normal to lose self-compassion now and then, it is not okay or healthy to have thoughts of self-harm or suicide. If you or someone you know starts to have these sorts of thoughts, please seek professional advice immediately from a healthcare professional.
1. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
You have to make your life your own journey. Someone else’s life is not and should not be your guidebook of how to live your life.
Many of us spend countless hours on social media, scrolling through the highlight reel of other people’s lives, telling ourselves that we have done things wrong, we should have made it further in life by now, we should have more by now, and we are failures.
2. Social Media is Not Real Life
We don’t look perfect, but we don’t stop to realize that life doesn’t hand us filters to make our skin perfect or our teeth white, or our eyes sparkle the way they do online. You are more than your Facebook profile. You can’t determine someone else’s superiority to you or your own shortcomings in 140 characters on Twitter. You are more than a Twitter feed.
These types of social media were developed to connect with loved ones, not so that we could spend all day trying to keep up with the Jones’s and telling ourselves that we’re nothing if we’re not viral hits or getting likes and reactions.
Your life is your own, so choose to be your most authentic self. We have to stop beating ourselves up because our own lives don’t look like the lives we see on social media. Try not to focus on what anyone else has or what anyone else is doing. You are the person who should have the power in your life. Don’t give it to someone else just because creating a comparison is the easy thing to do.
We beat ourselves up with self-criticism because we fear that we are less important or we don’t matter as much as someone else. You aren’t competing with your friends.
3. Quiet Your Inner Critic
It’s impossible to have all the answers in life. We are all bound to do or say the wrong things and make mistakes sometimes. When you are too hard on yourself, you let your own words hurt you and prevent you from seeing the positive points or other emotions of a positive matter in. You take the power away from yourself and put yourself down.
Quiet that bully that lives in your mind. Call a friend who thinks highly of you and ask them to help you. If you are able to hear the wonderful things that other people admire about you and focus on your attributes rather than your shortcomings, you may realize that you are worth believing in.
If you are a parent, look at how much your children love you, despite the fact that you didn’t make it to the gym every day this week, and despite the fact that you burned dinner, and despite the fact that your Facebook status didn’t get as many likes as you had hoped it would.
In other words, it’s you against the world sometimes, and if you hate yourself because of the things you have said to yourself and the way you let the hatred of yourself live rent-free in your head, you’ll never grow or learn to truly appreciate and love yourself and everything you have to offer the world.
4. Hold Yourself to the Same Standards You’d Hold Others To
Would you let someone talk to you the way that you talk to yourself? Probably not. Most of us wouldn’t if we were to be really honest with ourselves. Honesty and self-reflection are key in kicking the habit of beating yourself up.
Never allow yourself to treat you in any manner that you wouldn’t want someone else to treat you. You don’t need a drill sergeant. You need a cheerleader. You need a support system. You need to be your own support system.
It is one thing to understand where you need to improve yourself and set goals to reach those improvements. It is a whole other thing to beat yourself down to the point that you don’t see a point in getting back up and trying anymore.
You can probably acknowledge that it’s okay if the people you know make some mistakes now and then. Those things can and should be forgiven because no one is perfect. So why would you hold yourself to such high standards?
Never hold yourself to standards so high that you can’t reach the goal you have set. You are only setting yourself up for failure. If you wouldn’t demand perfection from the people you love, you shouldn’t demand perfection from yourself.