Do you struggle with self-criticism? Never give yourself a break? If so, this article is here to help.
Self-criticism and negative self-talk are two common but destructive mental behaviors. The sooner you learn to overcome these destructive thought patterns and limiting beliefs, the better.
Still, have patience with the process. Berating yourself for self-criticism is far less effective in overcoming it than practicing patience and self-compassion.
Throughout this article, we’ll explore why we can be so hard on ourselves and how to shift those negative thoughts and improve our overall mental health.
Why am I so hard on myself?
Your self-relationship is as unique as your fingerprint. As such, the causes of self-criticism for you may be entirely different from those causes for someone else.
Still, some everyday experiences are known to jeopardize our mental health and sense of well-being, and they typically happen in our childhood.
Here are some contributors to why you give yourself a hard time.
1. Overly critical parents
You may be so hard on yourself because your inner critic learned at some point in your life that harsh criticism was acceptable, maybe even something you deserved.
Such a negative but strong belief might have formed in childhood if you had an overly critical parent.
A parent who focuses more on your flaws than your achievements and constantly compares a successful sibling to you may create a deep need to be perfect. As an adult, you develop a tendency toward perfectionism and constantly feel like you’re not enough.
2. Controlling parent
Perhaps you had a parent who hindered your free exploration by trying to control you like a puppet and preventing you from developing the confidence to make mistakes. Such an experience may make you wonder today why you don’t feel you have control over your life.
3. Self-critical parent
While a parent may have been unfairly critical of you and your siblings, it’s also possible that they were incredibly kind and loving to you and your sibling, but not the same way to themselves.
They may have treated themselves harshly and with an unforgiving nature. As a child notices this behavior, you will learn that such is a standard quality in a self-relationship.
4. Misunderstood jokes
In the family home, even little jokes can be absorbed by a child and stored to rise to the surface as harsh self-criticism.
It’s normal for family members to tease each other, but some children will be extra sensitive to teasing and take the joke as reality, often subconsciously at first.
If a joke is made too frequently and without emotional support, it can become a reality to a child. For example, if Billy’s parents always joke that he’s lazy, he may absorb that message and berate himself for resting as an adult.
It’s important to avoid playing the blame game. While it’s true that your parents’ behaviors and coping mechanisms may have negatively influenced your worldview, everyone’s perception is somewhat skewed by their parents because nobody is perfect in the first place.
Furthermore, the society in which we live tends to focus heavily on productivity, beauty, and performative happiness.
Trying to make one’s way in the world today is bound to lead to at least some self-criticism and doubt.
Signs of self-criticism
- You expect failure, so you don’t try
- Your self-talk becomes incredibly negative when you don’t succeed at something
- You think about past mistakes long after they happened
- You don’t do things because you think you’ll do them the wrong way and if you do them the wrong way, you believe that reflects your value as a person
- You neglect your own needs in favor of those of others because you can’t let yourself disappoint people
- You always blame yourself first when things go wrong, even when others are accountable
Why is life so hard?
As mentioned earlier, early childhood experiences are highly formative and shape our worldview.
In this delicate time, we develop beliefs that calcify as we grow older. They become what are known as core beliefs and completely color our view of the world and our relationship to it. Core beliefs can be healthy or unhealthy, and helpful and or unhelpful.
Consider the following unhelpful core belief:
People don’t like me. They’d instead end the conversation when I tried to talk to them.
Can you see how that core belief can make life difficult? We’re social beings, so we need a healthy social life to thrive.
Believing that nobody likes you or wants to have a conversation is something you may have learned at a young age and carried into your adult life, making life tough because that belief hinders the fulfillment of your social needs.
Consider how it may be different.
Some people like me, and some people don’t. I don’t know unless I find out by talking to them.
Do you see how the latter belief allows for more possibilities of connection than the former?
Let’s use another example.
People always leave me. I won’t ever get close to someone because they will abandon me.
The above belief hinders intimate and emotional connection. Without these aspects of our lives in balance, life can feel overwhelmingly complex.
These are needs, not luxuries, so if we neglect those needs because our core belief predicts a deep sense of rejection and abandonment, we won’t feel like our lives are full.
People come and go in a lifetime. I can enjoy people in the present moment.
Do you see how the latter still allows people to enter and leave your life but does not associate their coming and going with your sense of self-worth?
How to overcome harsh self-criticism
1. Journal your core beliefs
Core beliefs can be obvious or subtle, but it’s essential to dive deep into yourself and identify them.
Identifying your core beliefs and bolstering your awareness of them by writing them down in a journal and reflecting on them can work wonders for your self-relationship and your worldview.
Begin by taking some time to pause and breathe.
Allow yourself to sit comfortably and enter a relaxed state. From there, begin writing about your worldview and beliefs. It may take some time to find answers, so have patience and practice consistency in your journaling.
When you find deeply held beliefs that are unhealthy, write them down. Try to alter them so that they take a healthier stance. Use the examples above as inspiration.
If you need help, explore more about core beliefs online and check out some positive affirmations.
2. Focus on the positive aspects of yourself
If you want to release that harsh and unnecessary self-criticism, try bringing your attention to the aspects of yourself that you like.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of a negative self-view, so take control over your inner cogs and reprogram your brain to appreciate the things you like about yourself.
This journaling technique can initially feel silly but becomes incredibly effective with consistent practice.
Things I like about myself (for journaling)
If self-criticism is your go-to thought pattern, then it may be hard to identify traits about yourself that you like.
However, there are beautiful things about you, and you know that, so find them. Consider the following:
- How much you care for your friends
- Your unwillingness to hurt people
- The fact that you’ve overcome every challenge so far
- Your resilience
- Your ability to see the bigger picture
- Your attention to detail
- Your eyes, your smile, your hair
- Your vivid imagination
There are many things to like about you, so let yourself appreciate them.
Who is there to judge you for appreciating yourself?
Understand that there may be a sense of judgment about being so nice to yourself, but that probably doesn’t come from you in the first place.
3. Speak to trusted friends
You probably wouldn’t speak to a friend the way you speak to yourself in your mind. Doing so would likely lead to the end of that friendship.
As such, reach out to a trusted friend who will show you love and compassion and let them remind you of just how valuable and worthy you are.
4. Speak to a therapist
Journaling and speaking to loved ones are excellent methods of easing your self-critical thoughts and finding some space to breathe.
However, suppose you notice that your self-criticism persists and begins to affect other areas of your life, such as your job, relationships, or overall health. In that case, speaking to a mental health professional is wise.
Harsh self-criticism is known to lead to issues around low self-esteem and anxiety, which can lead to depression.
A licensed therapist can help you better understand your negative emotions and help you cultivate self-compassion and mindful insight in place of harsh self-criticism and blaming.
Journaling for self-awareness, reaching out to loved ones for support, and seeking the counsel of a licensed therapist are just three ways to tackle your persistent self-criticism and finally find relief.
Understand that your journey to freedom from self-criticism is ongoing, and you may face challenges along the way. Stay committed to your healing, and remember that the ultimate judge of you is only you, so choose to be kind to yourself.