Warning: Self-Criticism Doesn’t Work Like You Think It Does

Warning: Self-Criticism Doesn’t Work Like You Think It Does

For the last several years, I’ve become a major fan of self-compassion. I started as a complete skeptic, thinking the concept sounded strange and fluffy, but after reading the research and practicing it in my own life, I became a convert. A megafan, even. I love me some self-compassion.


If you’re new to self-compassion, here’s the Cliffnotes version. Most humans are pretty skilled at being compassionate with others, comforting them when they’re struggling. We are great at reminding our loved ones that they’re not alone and that it’s ok to struggle. However, when it comes to transferring that kind, compassionate approach to ourselves, well, to be frank, most of aren’t very good at it.  We are, however, rockstars when it comes to self-criticism.



We tend to be incredibly judgmental with ourselves. We beat ourselves up when we make mistakes, we get frustrated when we are struggling. We are harsh about our performance, our bodies, our personality, and our lapses in memory, patience, and judgement.


We are tired and cranky, and we snap at our significant other. “Why do I always lose my temper like that; I’m a crappy partner.”


We run into an acquaintance at the grocery store and say something awkward or silly. As we walk away, we think, “That was dumb and made no sense; why did I say that?”


We make a mistake at work. “I know better than that; I shouldn’t have messed that up.  What’s wrong with me?”


We forget to call a friend on an important day, and they let us know that they were hurt. “I’m an awful friend. Why can’t I get it together?”


We’ve been feeling blue for a few weeks and can’t seem to snap out of it. “I’m so depressed and have no reason to feel this way. What is wrong with me? Snap out of it.”


Does this sound familiar? We often think that by criticizing ourselves, we will somehow motivate ourselves to “do better” or fix our mistakes.  Many of us think we have to beat ourselves up if we want to keep achieving and improving. Yet, this harsh and judgmental self-criticism is associated with all sorts of yucky things: increased depression, increased anxiety, lower self-worth, decreased optimism, and more. Simply stated, there is a huge downside to being so hard on ourselves.


Luckily, self-compassion provides a helpful alternative for these moments.


But wait, just a minute.  I often tell my clients that before they start practicing self-compassion, it is helpful to first notice their self-critical voice. Identifying a problem is an important first step towards implementing a solution. So today, I am challenging you to notice your self-criticism.  How do you respond and talk to yourself in difficult moments? Do you beat yourself up, highlighting your failures? Do you use harsh language, calling yourself names or using mean labels? Do you swear you’re the only person who is feeling so crappy, because everyone else seems to have it together?


If these things sound familiar, then spend the next week or two really paying attention to this self-critical voice, what it sounds like, when it chimes in the most, and how you feel when you hear it. It’s the first step in learning to be kinder, more compassionate, and more encouraging towards yourself. You in?  (And don’t worry, I won’t leave you hanging with just noticing your self-criticism.  I’ll be back with ways to deal with it!)

One comment

  1. Even though not believing your criticisms helps to reduce your suffering, it doesn t help to eliminate your negative self-talk and the emotions attached to it. You have to understand that our subconscious mind had already been programmed to be self-critical since we were young. When you observe your feelings and understand that they are part of your conditioning, you don t get carried away into the drama.

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