Self criticism, or the act of pointing out perceived flaws, can be a healthy way to increase your self-awareness and achieve personal growth, but it may also prove a barrier to your self-esteem and peace of mind. Self-criticism may often help facilitate the process of learning from your mistakes and can also be helpful when you attempt to overcome areas of weakness or unwanted habits. A high level of self criticism that prevents you from taking risks, asserting opinions, or believing in your own abilities may be unhelpful or detrimental to your wellbeing.
Comparative self criticism - Comparative self-criticism typically involves comparing yourself to others and makes you feel that you are lacking. When you are self critical in this way you will tend to base your self-esteem on the perception of how others feel about you and may view others as superior, critical, and/or hostile. Operating under the belief that you are viewed in a negative way can create a poor self-image as you adapt to reflect this perception.
Internalised self criticism - On the other hand, it may involve you feeling that you cannot possibly live up to personal ideals or standards or the belief that you are deficient in some way. Thus, even success may be viewed as failure. For example, if you had a high level of internalised self criticism and received an A- on a test you may still feel unsuccessful, believing that anything less than perfection constitutes failure.
Self criticism is typically experienced as negative internal thoughts about yourself or more specifically, about your behaviour or attributes. When self-critical thoughts are applied broadly instead of on a focused behaviour, it will have a negative impact on your wellbeing.
- "I'm a failure."
- "I can't do anything right."
- "I'm not good enough."
- "I'll never get better."
Because these statements do not focus on a particular behaviour, they do not allow for a behaviour to be improved upon. Rather, they apply a negative mindset in an all-encompassing manner. Therefore, they may be more likely to affect confidence and contribute to the development of both physical and mental health concerns.
These statements, on the other hand, focus on a particular aspect of behaviour that an individual wishes to improve. They are constructive rather than simply negative. This type of criticism is often more likely to lead to improved behaviour and modifications of perceived shortcomings.
- “I shouldn’t have stayed up so late last night.”
- “I watched too much TV and didn’t study for my exam. I can’t do that anymore.”
- “I scolded my son too harshly. I should remain calm while correcting him in the future.”
- “If I keep speeding, I might hurt someone or get a ticket. I should slow down.”
Root cause of self criticism - Excessive self-critical thoughts may often have their roots in negative experiences with parents and primary caregivers in childhood. The earliest bonds in life often have a significant effect on a person's future relationships as well as a person's sense of self. When parents give children autonomy, encourage them to attempt things for themselves, and allow them to make mistakes without censure, children are more likely to develop self-confidence and grow up with a sense of security regarding their own choices.
Authoritarian parenting styles, which may be controlling and marked by rigidity, may have the effect of fostering negative self-perceptions and a low sense of self-worth in children. When children feel rejected by their parents or are not treated with warmth and compassion, or are frequently criticised, they may be more likely to grow up overly critical of both themselves and others.
The effects of self criticism on mental health - Self criticism can be beneficial when it allows for the acknowledgment and assessment of mistakes and failures or the cultivation of humility and positive change. But when self-critical tendencies impede the ability to thrive, any benefits of self criticism may be overshadowed by possible harm to mental wellbeing.
Occasional self doubt is generally considered to be a normal part of life, but chronic or excessive self criticism may contribute to mental health concerns, such as depression, social anxiety, body image issues, or feelings of worthlessness. A tendency to blame yourself when things go wrong may lead to feelings of failure, lowness or a depressed mood. If you are highly self critical you may also feel guilty or ashamed when something goes wrong, believing the fault lies with you. Self critical tendencies can also be linked with perfectionism, self harm and eating and food issues.
In some cases, a tendency toward self criticism may lead you to project negative beliefs onto other people, which may then lead to the expectation of outside criticism or negative feedback. When negativity and censure is expected, relationships may be impacted. Thus, internal and external criticism might both lead to the development of feelings of loneliness and isolation and contribute to a person's withdrawal from others. An individual who is self critical may also find it difficult to assert personal needs and desires and may be more likely to exhibit submissiveness in relationships with others, out of a fear that voicing an opinion will lead to criticism.
Helping yourself - An effective intervention for self criticism is self compassion or practicing kindness and understanding toward yourself.
A therapist can teach you ways to practice compassion and can help you explore any potential barriers to self compassion as well as show you ways to understanding self criticism and methods to stop. Please see www.jilljesson.com