5 Steps To Overcome Harmful Self-Criticism

Woman smiling in a mirror not letting harmful self-criticism get in the way of her success.

Could self-criticism be holding you back from leading a meaningful and fulfilled life? Is it derailing your success in the pursuit of your goals?

For many of us, self-criticism is just the way we talk to ourselves. Our inner dialogue goes something like this: “I can’t do anything right.” “I look horrible.” “I’m such an idiot!” “What’s wrong with me?”

How would you answer if I were to ask, “What does it mean to be kind to yourself?” Would you say, “I’d buy myself something expensive, or I’d go on a long trip somewhere exotic?” Or perhaps I’d hang a sign in my kitchen saying, “Out of order until further notice,” and head to the beach with a book all by myself. Oh — the possibilities are endless, aren’t they?

But, I wonder if anybody answered with “I would talk nicer to myself” or “I would look for the good in me and not just the bad.” 

Be Kinder To Yourself

Often, and probably too often, we are our own harshest critics. If we treated our friends like we treat ourselves, we probably wouldn’t have any. 

Case in point, after two friends recently attended a wedding, a curious thing happened while discussing some pictures posted on social media. What one friend saw in the photos was her and her friend smiling, laughing, dancing, and enjoying themselves at the beautiful event. However, the other friend saw a long list of what she perceived was wrong with herself. For example, she thought her arms were too fat, and her hair wasn’t right, she hadn’t said the right things, etc.

The ironic thing is, she did have a wonderful time at the wedding. But while looking at the pictures, she didn’t focus on how happy her friend was that she had been there or even the great time she had. Instead, all she could zero in on was what she perceived to be wrong with herself.

Effects of harmful self-criticism

Unfortunately, people mistakenly think such self-critical statements safeguard them against mistakes, laziness, and complacency. Or they will keep them in line and ensure they achieve their goals. However, the opposite actually happens. 

It can drain their energy and confidence and paralyze progress. Destructive self-criticism triggers feelings such as guilt, shame, anger, sadness, frustration, embarrassment, disappointment, and hopelessness. 

Whether being overly critical of how they look or because of something they did, people who rebuke themselves are more likely to become depressed, anxious, and lonely. 

Is all self-criticism bad?

I say absolutely not, for we all benefit from constructive self-criticism from time to time. 

Why? Because it’s vital for our growth and development and, ultimately, our success. If self-criticism is used correctly, it can be a helpful tool for pointing out problematic behaviors. The kind of behaviors that could be standing in the way of us achieving our goals. If misused, it can have a damaging effect on our self-worth and confidence.

When we can objectively observe the behaviors we don’t like, we can take the necessary steps needed to change that undesired behavior so we can become the best version of ourselves.

So let’s look at how you can practice self-criticism without undermining your self-worth and confidence. 

5 Steps to overcome harmful self-criticism

Millions of us find ourselves battling self-criticism that is hard to escape. But, the good news is that you CAN defeat harmful self-criticism and challenge that voice that puts you down. Below are five steps that will help you answer that voice.

  1. REPLACE SELF-CRITICISM WITH SELF-CORRECTION. Instead of criticizing yourself, thinking it will correct your mistake and motivate you to do better (which it will not), look for a solution, and change your behavior.
  2. ACKNOWLEDGE THE POSITIVES. No one needs help seeing the negatives, and even if some of the negatives are true, why not consider the positives also?
  3. BE AS KIND TO YOURSELF AS YOU ARE TO OTHERS.  Recognize it as a double standard when you are harsher on yourself than you are with someone else. Just like you need your friends on your side, you need yourself to be in your corner as well.
  4. LET YOURSELF BE HUMAN. If you make a mistake, don’t think you look perfect, treat someone wrongly, etc. Don’t spend hours criticizing yourself. We ALL make mistakes and have flaws and defects. Just like we accept and love the people we know who make mistakes and have imperfections, accept and love yourself. At times, we all have some unlovable, quirky, and somewhat bad qualities. We can recognize our shortcomings without digging a hole and climbing into them. You can rise above your self-critic and say, “YES, I am human. Deal with it!”  
  5. FOCUS ON YOUR GOALS, NOT ON YOUR SELF-CRITIC. Sometimes no matter what you do, that loud voice will still be yapping away, telling you something negative. So give it a wave and say, “Yes, I hear you, but I am going to get on with my life doing what I have to do.” 

“Being self-critical is good; being self-hating is destructive. There’s a very fine line there somewhere, and I walk it carefully.” — Daniel Radcliffe 

Answering your self-critic is the best way to fight for your self-esteem. It would be best if you had yourself on your side. You have to be willing to give yourself credit for what you do that is right and improve what is wrong. In other words – Be Kinder To Yourself! 

Changing the way you respond to your self-critical voice will not occur overnight. So be patient with yourself. Thinking style is a habit, but with time and practice, you CAN change that habit into more of a healthy balance.

Working with a coach can be very helpful if you want to explore additional strategies to cope with being too self-critical. A coach can walk you through various techniques that can help you learn how to be self-critical in a healthy way to increase your overall success in pursuing your goals

Hi, I’m Kris Henderson, LPC. I want you to know that I am here to help. If you want more personalized support, I invite you to contact me or schedule your phone call today. I’m looking forward to your call.

This article originally appeared on Counseling Solutions of West Michigan.