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Some days, your inner voice is relentless. Some days, it's downright rude. When your self-criticism takes over, it hurts.
It doesn't make you feel good. It rarely helps you perform better in the moment. It also kills your curiosity and passion and makes it hard to sustain effort over time.
It happens to everyone. We all can have a harsh inner critic at times. But who says you have to accept all these ugly, negative thoughts directed at yourself?
Silencing your inner critic is the ultimate sign of strength. It's one big step toward being more focused and effective.
To start your journey towards personal growth, you’ll need to understand the meaning of self-criticism and where it comes from.
The word criticism is synonymous with judgment, opinion, and assessment. Self-criticism means directing all this evaluation toward yourself.
The origins of self-criticism are in our early relationships in our childhood. A tendency toward self-criticism can result from:
- Strict parents
- Peer pressure at school
- Demanding teachers or bosses
- Competitive sports
It can also stem from your learned behaviors. For instance, pursuing academic excellence may have led to a relentless inner critic. This can be taxing to your mental health and well-being. Maybe you put too much pressure on yourself to find a romantic relationship, and so your self-esteem suffered.
It helps if you don’t look at your self-criticism as a personality trait, regardless of how it began. You’re not defined by how you treat yourself. And, your identity shouldn't depend on your inner dialogue with yourself. But know that shaking off your self-critical thoughts is hard. It takes a lot of work and sometimes you can't do it all alone.
How to identify toxic self-criticism
We know where self-criticism can come from, but how good are you at identifying it?
It's essential to have a strong sense of self-awareness as you complete tasks. Reflect on how you feel when you meet challenges and opportunities. Think about times when your job requires you to work independently. When you’re overwhelmed with feelings, take a deep breath and do some self-evaluation.
Here are three examples of self-criticism to think about:
1. Assembling new furniture
You just picked up your new shelves for your bedroom, but you have to assemble them all yourself. Your mind is filled with self-doubt because you're not super handy. It's creating a lot of frustration for you, and you've been telling yourself that you're too stupid to figure it out.
All of your negative self-talk caused you to abandon your project, and you're going to wait until a friend can help do it for you.
2. Preparing for an exam
It's the night before the exam in the business math course you've been taking. You've been studying for weeks, but you've convinced yourself that you won't pass. Your inner voice can't let go of your high standards, and you begin to flounder. You keep telling yourself that you're a failure and can't do anything right, even though you've put in lots of time to prepare.
3. Trying something new
You see that your local curling club has a few openings for people to join a team. You and a friend have talked about wanting to participate for a long time but now that the opportunity presents itself, you're having second thoughts and experiencing self-doubt.
What if you're not athletic enough? What if you never learn the rules correctly? You don't end up joining the team because you automatically think you'd be horrible and wouldn't have a good time.
What are the effects of self-criticism on your mental health?
As you can see from the examples above, self-criticism often stands in your way.
Self-criticism can allow you to acknowledge any mistakes you make and help you avoid them in the future, but it can also be damaging. Constant waves of negative self-thoughts and nasty inner dialogues can impact your mental health. Even if others around you are respectful and kind, it matters how you treat yourself.
Here are a few ways that self-criticism can impact your mental health:
Your relationships with others
You may not mean to, but self-criticism impacts those around you when you only think and speak negative thoughts. Your interpersonal relationships could feel strained because of it, and you may start to withdraw from your connections and mute your social life, causing you to feel lonely and isolated.
Worsen or cause eating disorders
When you have low self-esteem, you're criticizing everything about yourself, including your appearance. Your self-perception is poor, and you obsess over any flaws you may think you have. These thoughts can cause people to self-harm or take drastic measures to change their appearances.
Disordered eating impacts both mental health and physical health. Self-criticism can make you hyper-focused on how you look and think that you're never going to be good enough.
It overwhelms you with guilt
You may feel guilty when you convince yourself you've failed at something. Self-criticism can lead to comparing yourself to others, which often doesn't end well. As you look back on how your self-criticism and negative thoughts have stunted your personal growth, they can linger in your mind for too long.
Distracts you from progress and self-improvement
Self-criticism hinders our opportunities to improve ourselves because it fills us with self-doubt. Constructive criticism is helpful and improves your personal growth. But your self-criticism will stand in your way while you try to improve yourself.
8 ways to overcome self-criticism
Each day, think of ways to be kinder to yourself. These small kindnesses may not change your life overnight, but with time you'll see the power in your new habits.
Read these eight tips and think about the ones that you can start using today:
- Stop thinking that your self-criticism will motivate you to complete your work
- Write a list of your favorite personal qualities and skills and think about how they can help you follow your passions
- Talk with a psychotherapist about any trauma you've experienced
- Let go of perfectionism and welcome mistakes
- Think about what advice you'd give to a friend, but apply it to yourself
- Have an equal balance of self-improvement and self-compassion
- Be mindful of your thoughts, feelings, and reactions each day
- Keep a journal of your progress and read it to practice self-gratitude
If you're intimidated to try to silence your inner critic, know that you don't have to do it alone. BetterUp can help you along the way. Our coaches will create a plan that fits you just right and gets you to where you want to be.