Self-criticism can be a natural and normal part of life, as it can help us identify areas for improvement and motivate us to make positive changes. However, when self-criticism becomes excessive and pervasive, it can become harmful to our well-being and interfere with our ability to function and feel satisfied with ourselves.
“I’m a failure”
“I am not good enough”
“Someone else is better than me”
These are all common self-critical thoughts. If you’re wondering if you might be too self-critical, here are some signs to look out for and some steps you can take to reduce self-criticism and improve your well-being.
1. You constantly compare yourself to other people
Do you find yourself constantly comparing your appearance, abilities, or accomplishments to those of others? While it’s natural to compare ourselves to others to some extent, excessive comparison can lead to negative feelings and self-criticism. It’s important to remember that everyone has their own unique strengths and challenges, and it’s not productive or fair to ourselves to compare ourselves to others in an overly critical way.
2. You solely focus on your flaws and mistakes
Do you have a tendency to focus on your flaws and mistakes rather than your strengths and successes? While it’s important to be aware of our weaknesses and learn from our mistakes, dwelling on them excessively can lead to self-criticism and negative self-perception. Furthermore, you deserve to acknowledge successes, no matter how small. Oftentimes, recovery means going one step forward and two steps backward. Does that mean you should only focus on what went wrong? On the contrary, celebrating your successes in recovery is what helps you grow a strong recovery mindset and sets you up for personal growth and healing.
3. You have a hard time giving yourself some credit
Do you have difficulty acknowledging and giving yourself credit for your achievements and successes? This can be a sign that you are too self-critical, as it may indicate that you have an overly harsh inner critic that minimizes or dismisses your accomplishments. As mentioned above, allow yourself to celebrate your accomplishments, big or small.
4. You have a low self-esteem
Do you have low self-esteem or a negative self-image? Excessive self-criticism can contribute to low self-esteem, as it can lead to negative self-perception and a belief that we are not good enough. In fact, a 2019 study found that self-criticism mediated the relationship between perfectionism and self-esteem, such that perfectionism was negatively related to self-esteem through self-criticism. The authors suggested that self-criticism may be an important factor to consider in interventions aimed at improving self-esteem and reducing perfectionism (Furnham et all., 2019).
If you recognize any of these signs in yourself, it may be helpful to consider seeking support from a mental health professional. For those struggling with an eating disorder, a therapist or counselor can help you identify the root causes of your self-criticism and develop strategies to reduce it. Here are some steps you can take to reduce self-criticism and improve your mental health:
1. Practice self-compassion
Self-compassion involves treating ourselves with kindness and understanding, rather than harsh criticism. It involves acknowledging our own suffering and recognizing that we are not alone in our struggles. Research has shown that self-compassion can improve well-being, reduce self-criticism, and increase self-esteem (Neff, 2003). To practice self-compassion, try speaking to yourself in a kind and understanding way, reminding yourself that everyone makes mistakes and has flaws, and focusing on your positive qualities and strengths.
2. Set realistic goals and standards
Excessive self-criticism can often be fueled by unrealistic goals and standards. It’s important to set goals that are challenging but achievable and to recognize that it’s okay to make mistakes and not be perfect. Instead of setting unrealistic standards for yourself, try setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART goals). This is especially helpful in recovery from an eating disorder. This can help you focus on making progress and achieving your goals, rather than dwelling on your flaws and mistakes.
3. Seek support
It can be helpful to seek support from others when working to reduce self-criticism. This can include talking to a trusted friend or family member. Sometimes it can also be helpful to join a support group or seek professional help from a therapist or counselor. Having someone to talk to and confide in can help you feel less alone and more supported in your efforts to reduce self-criticism.
4. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment with an open and nonjudgmental attitude. It can help reduce self-criticism by helping us become more aware of our thoughts and behaviors and allowing us to respond to them in a more balanced and compassionate way. To practice mindfulness, try setting aside time each day to focus on your breath and pay attention to your thoughts and emotions without judgment. You can also try incorporating mindfulness practices into your daily routine. For example, by paying attention to your senses while eating or walking, or noticing your surroundings while commuting.
5. Seek professional help
Are you struggling with excessive self-criticism and is it impacting your daily life? In that case, it may be helpful to seek professional help from a therapist or counselor. A mental health professional can help you identify the root causes of your self-criticism and develop strategies to reduce it. They can also provide support and guidance as you work to improve your self-perception and well-being.
In conclusion, self-criticism can be a natural and normal part of life. However, when it becomes excessive and pervasive, it can be harmful to our well-being. If you’re concerned that you might be too self-critical, it’s important to seek support and take steps to reduce self-criticism and improve your well-being. With the right tools and support, you can learn to be more kind and more understanding towards yourself and build a more positive and fulfilling life.
Neff, K. D. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2(2), 85-101.
Furnham, A., Cheng, Z., & Tse, K. (2019). The mediating role of self-criticism in the relationship between perfectionism and self-esteem. Personality and Individual Differences, 149, 1-6.