“I never thought I was a bully until I listened to how I speak to myself.”
Does this statement resonate with you?
It resonates with me.
I’ve always been interested in personal development and striving to be the best version of myself. I like to remain as self aware as possible so that I can identify my weaknesses and incorporate strategies to improve upon them.
One of the things I’ve also noticed however is how much I beat myself up for making a mistake. For some reason whenever I make a mistake I catch myself having trouble moving on. I’m constantly replaying the mistake in my head and thinking of ways things may have turned out if only I approached the problem slightly differently. I tend to beat myself up for not thinking of these solutions or strategies sooner.
Lately, I’ve begun to ask myself whether this behavior serves me. When is self criticism unnecessary? After doing some research and thinking this through, I’ve come up with a few signs that may help you identify periods of time that you are too self-critical:
You attack yourself as a whole, instead of focusing on the specific mistakes you made
If you associate mistakes with your capabilities as a person, this may be an indication that you are being too self critical. People who do this often label themselves a failure whenever they make a mistake. Instead of seeing the mistake as a behavior they can correct or improve upon, they internalize the mistake and label themselves dumb or incompetent for making it. This in turn, effects their confidence.
You often shy away from sharing your own opinion
When you overly self critical, you are so concerned with how you may look or sound to others that you don’t express your own opinion for fear of sounding stupid. You may second guess yourself and feel perhaps you are not well informed enough to have an opinion in the presence of certain company. Withholding your opinion if you are not well informed is one thing, but if you find yourself amongst company that is just as informed as you are and you are still holding back you may be engaged in self criticism.
You continue to replay and analyze mistakes
It is normal to reflect on mistakes and think about how to make them better. However if you find yourself reliving the mistake over and over past the point of learning from it then you are most likely torturing yourself unnecessarily and being too self critical.
You struggle with asking for help
People who are being self critical of themselves do not like asking for help for fear of being labeled weak or incompetent. If asking for help presents great difficulty for you and you feel it positions you to appear “less than”, you may be engaging in too much self criticism.
Your parents or caregivers were extremely self critical and criticized you chronically
It is not uncommon that people who are overly self critical of themselves have had one or more parents who have been harsh critics. Often, this effects children by causing them to develop a self critical inner voice.
You frequently compare yourself to others
You are constantly comparing yourself to people around you and beat yourself up when you haven’t accomplished what they have accomplished. Your self esteem is basically dependent on who is in the room with you. When you perceive people in the room to have accomplished more you become more self critical and never feel you’re enough.
You are almost never satisfied with achievements.
No matter what you achieve it’s never enough. You never celebrate your accomplishments especially if they didn’t go exactly as planned. You focus on imperfections even when the overall results were positive. For example, maybe you completed a swim race and came in first place but you’re upset because you didn’t beat your fastest time.
Your standards are nearly impossible to satisfy
In your mind, the only way you will reach happiness is if you are wealthy, intelligent, highly attractive and extremely likable. The problem is your standards are so unrealistically high they are almost impossible to meet. Sure there are some things that you can improve upon but other things like being highly attractive or liked by everyone you meet is virtually impossible and out of your control. By operating in this way, you essentially create a mindset where you position yourself to be dissatisfied.
You constantly worry about the worst case scenario
You are constantly running “what if” scenarios through your mind. You envision the worst case scenario playing out and convince yourself that the personal failure or humiliation you are predicting will happen because you are being overly critical about your skills and competencies.
Issues with Body Image
You may obsess over particular body parts you are unhappy with. This is interesting because this type of self criticism can effect all people regardless of their shape or size. This issue stems from your perception of yourself and has very little to do with your actual appearance. If there are aspects of your physical appearance that you cannot let go and you never feel you look good enough you are being too self critical.
You are risk averse
People who are overly self critical don’t like to put themselves in risky situations because they fear they will most likely fail. This leads them to believe that the safest route is to take no action at all.
You rarely compliment yourself
You feel giving yourself compliments is silly or odd. If you feel funny giving yourself a compliment it’s a sign that you are overly self critical.
What kind of criticism is productive?
Focus on changing specific behavior
Reflection and criticism is important at the appropriate levels, because it helps us with growth. The healthy kind of criticism is constructive. People who give themselves constructive criticism focus on specific behaviors that can be modified and improved upon. For example, if you are trying out for the track team and didn’t make it because your time is slow you should focus on behaviors or techniques that you can implement to improve your time. Maybe you need to work on your start, or practice more often so that you condition yourself to improve your time.
Engage in self-compassionate self-criticism
Nobody is perfect, we all make mistakes and we all have things we can work on improving. Having self compassion when analyzing your weaknesses is key to developing a healthy dose of self criticism. Self compassion means identifying and owning up to mistakes but also understanding that making a mistake doesn’t make you a horrible person. It means understanding that you are human and that you have strengths and weaknesses. It means analyzing ways to improve on past mistakes without beating yourself up for making them in the first place.
Exercise: Practice Self Compassion
Self compassion is all about how you speak to yourself when you make a mistake or want to self improve. A simple way to practice self compassion is to incorporate more positive self talk into your thoughts. You can do so by introducing positive affirmations whenever you hit a low point or have a bad day. Practice incorporating the following language into your thoughts:
“I tried my best in the situation.”
“Everyone makes mistakes. This is something I can recover from.”
“I will continue to do the best that I can and I will improve.”
“That approach didn’t work well. Next time I should try ..”
“Everyone has failed at something in the past. I learned from this mistake and now I know how to handle…”
The statements above are called positive affirmations. Practice substituting irrational overly self-critical thoughts with the ones above. The more you practice the more you will internalize positive self talk.
Hope this is helpful. Leave a comment and let me know what you thought about this post. Thanks and remember to be kind to yourself!