Everyone on the planet is going to be self-critical on occasion. For some of us, this means condemning ourselves for being clumsy if we spill something all over the kitchen floor, or stupid if we can’t remember a password that we use 50 times a day.
Other people might be far more self-critical on a daily basis. They might put themselves down for every perceived misstep, or insult every aspect of their physique. As you can imagine, this can wreak havoc on their sense of self-worth.
So how can one stop this negative self-talk and become less self-critical?
What causes self-criticism to begin with?
When it comes to changing self-critical habits, the most important thing to do is understand where these habits came from in the first place.
For most people, it was growing up in a situation where they received far more negative feedback than positive.
There’s an old adage that says “a child raised with criticism will learn to condemn.” In this instance, it means a person learns to self-criticize because they had a family or school environment that inundated them with constant criticism and judgment.
Parents might have put them down every time they didn’t meet a particular expectation. Or perhaps a teacher mocked and humiliated them in front of the class every time they gave a wrong answer. Maybe they had a stammer or displayed autistic traits that went unrecognized at the time, and got mocked for them constantly.
As a result, those critical comments become a harsh running commentary in their mind. They’ll come up unbidden, undermining and sullying just about everything.
Why do people fall into self-critical habits?
It’s usually a case of familiarity. A person whose parents served eggs for breakfast every single day will most likely eat eggs for breakfast daily when they grow up. It’s a routine or ritual that they’re familiar with, and it might not even occur to them to change it.
Similarly, a person who was raised with criticism instead of positive encouragement or reinforcement will naturally follow that routine as well.
Their parents or guardians might have thought they were doing this person a favor by taking the “drill sergeant” approach and criticizing them until they changed their habits for the better, but that rarely results in anything positive. Instead, that’s the narrative that the person’s mind settles into, and they’ll continue the insults and harassment all on their own.
How can self-criticism affect my day-to-day life?
Our thoughts help to create our realities, so critical thoughts influence many aspects of our daily lives.
For example, we might self-sabotage various endeavors by convincing ourselves that we’re going to do poorly at them. A person going into a job interview with the mindset that they’re not going to get the job might take on a posture of someone who’s already defeated. They might stare at the floor and not be enthusiastic during the interview because they’re convinced they won’t get it.
This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the person conducting the interview will assume that the person doesn’t actually want the job, and so won’t hire them.
Similarly, an aspiring gymnast or dancer who tells themselves that they’re not good enough to do a particular move will undoubtedly fumble it.
As you can imagine, this kind of negative, critical prep talk can affect just about anything. Furthermore, the negativity is cumulative: the more you criticize yourself, the more things will go poorly in your life, thus causing more negative self-talk. It’s an ugly spiral to fall into, but you can start turning things around right now.
How do I stop these critical thoughts when I can’t seem to control them?
While some people have an easy time controlling negative thoughts, most people don’t. In fact, a lot of people feel like they’re tormented by their own thoughts and try to drown them out with music, TV, or company.
If you’re someone who has difficulty with negative brain chatter, you can try to re-program the critical thoughts with this cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) technique.
Create some worksheets for yourself with the following subheadings:
- Self-Critical Thoughts:
- Consequences (feelings and subsequent behaviors):
- Rational Response:
Then, when you find yourself in a situation where your self-critical thoughts are triggered, fill the worksheet out as best you can. Try to do so at a time when you’re not feeling emotionally overwhelmed and can be rational and objective with your answers.
Here’s an example:
As you can see from the example above, using a worksheet like this allows you to shift your thinking process onto paper (or a Word document) in a healthy, productive manner.
Furthermore, it curbs the hateful self-talk because you can see a logical, rational evolution. You can see where the negativity stems from, and with that understanding comes the ability to redirect your energy.
It’s hard to control thoughts when emotions are running high. When emotions cool down, however, and you take a bit of time to work out what you’re feeling and why, the pathway to clarity and greater calm opens itself up to you.
7 tips for curbing self-critical tendencies:
Just like quitting smoking, or training the body into a stronger form, there are a number of different techniques you can use. By incorporating some (or most) of them into a daily routine, you’ll find that the self-criticism reduces dramatically – perhaps more quickly than you might expect.
A note about therapy: whilst the tips below can genuinely help you to stop criticizing yourself, you may find it easier to work with a therapist to both get to the root of your self-criticism and then to overcome it.
1. Determine whose voice you’re hearing, then consciously stand up to it.
First and foremost, try to identify where these tendencies are coming from. When self-criticism comes up, try to analyze it rather than just buckling from it.
For example, whose voice are you hearing? Is it your own? Or is it completely different?
In many cases, people will discover that although they’re being critical toward themselves, it’s another person’s voice they think they hear at the back of their minds.
If they had a highly critical parent, they might hear their mother or father’s voice cutting them down, even if that person passed away years ago. The echoes of their awful comments still swirl around, becoming part of the daily narrative. Or perhaps it was an angry teacher or abusive partner whose cruelty etched itself into your psyche.
In contrast, if it’s your own actual voice that you’re hearing, consider the words you’re choosing and determine where you learned those from. You might not be hearing someone else’s voice per se, but certain phrases and vocal patterns can seep into our subconscious minds and grow there like mildew behind a toilet tank.
The next time you hear a criticism aimed at yourself, be your own advocate. If it’s in a parent’s or teacher’s voice, imagine your adult self standing up to them and defending your smaller self. Alternatively, if it’s in your own voice, you can consciously state that “NO,” you will not continue this pattern of abuse.
Then redirect your energy toward something more productive or an activity that makes you happy instead.
2. Speak to yourself as you would speak to a beloved child.
Imagine yourself as a perfect little five- or six-year-old child. A little one who’s full of wonder at the world around them, and still a blank slate for the person they’ll grow into.
If you were put in charge of caring for that child, how would you speak to them? Would you be critical and cruel, or patient and supportive?
Here’s the thing: that child still exists in every single one of us. It’s the “inner child” that still needs comfort, support, and kindness as encouragement rather than being berated for perceived shortcomings and failures.
Most people are immensely patient with small children because they’re new to the world and still have a lot to learn about what’s going on around them. So when are we expected to know everything? When are we no longer “deserving” of patience, kindness, and encouragement because we’re supposed to be perfect experts at all things?
Just because we’re taller doesn’t mean that we somehow deserve cruelty and condemnation instead of kindness and patience.
Whenever you catch yourself engaging in critical self-talk, try to remember your little self. Then ask yourself how that child would react if you spoke to them that way, and what the long-term effects would be on their self-esteem and psyche.
In fact, try writing down all of these comments into a text note on your phone and then look at them at the end of the day. Consider how your inner child would feel if barraged by all those texts from someone they love.
You’ll be surprised to discover how quickly you’ll adjust your inner voice to be much kinder and more supportive.
3. Create a “self-friendship” reminder to wear.
If you find that you’re having difficulty with this, create a physical reminder for yourself. Dig out photos of yourself from that age and tape them to various mirrors around the house. Or wear a piece of jewelry on your hand or wrist that serves as a reminder.
In fact, this could be a great opportunity to cement your friendship with yourself. Take some time and create a friendship bracelet in a style you like. Maybe it’ll be beaded like a stone mala, or made of braided or knotted string in cool patterns.
Every time you find yourself being self-critical, take a look at that bracelet. It’ll help to remind you of how important it is to treat yourself like your best friend; to value yourself deeply, and to make your emotional well-being a top priority.
Think of how much you love your closest friends, and try to treat yourself the same way whenever possible.
4. Turn every criticism into a positive comment (or even just a realistic statement).
Try to catch yourself every time you say something self-critical. Then analyze what you’ve just said and determine whether it’s actually true (it won’t be). Once you’ve done that, turn it around to something positive.
Alternatively, if you’re having trouble making it into a full-on positive, at least make it something neutral and realistic instead.
Here are some examples:
If you condemn yourself for being out of shape, stop that line of thinking and remind yourself that you’re doing amazingly by going to the gym regularly and it’ll just take time to see major results.
Or, if you say to yourself that you’re certain you’re never going to get a promotion, instead consider what would be needed in order to get the position that you want. If you’re uncertain, ask to schedule a meeting with your boss regarding career advancement. Ask them to give you some feedback on how you’re doing, and offer guidance on how to take the next step in your career. Rather than just assuming the worst, you’ll get real input to help things move forward.
There is a counterbalance to every self-critical statement. It may be a phrase or an action, but it’ll neutralize the self-loathing vitriol and allow you to replace it with something beneficial instead.
5. Create a “self-gratitude journal.”
You’ve probably heard about keeping a gratitude journal in which you write down a few things you’re grateful for every evening before bed. A self-gratitude journal is similar, only instead of things like “I was grateful for that hot baked potato on this cold evening,” you’ll write down things you felt proud about having achieved that day.
- I handled my child’s meltdown with compassion instead of anger, and that made both of us feel amazing.
- My boss expressed to me how much they appreciated the extra work I’d done on the report.
- I loved how my hair looked today.
- The new crafting skills I learned helped me make a wonderful present for my partner, which they absolutely loved.
- I was able to put my obscure knowledge about __ to good use today and helped someone. That made me feel amazing, and changed that person’s life too.
Things like that. Then, when you’re having a difficult day, flip through that journal and take a look at all the great things you’ve said about yourself recently.
6. Ask people you love and respect to tell you things they like about you.
This is something a dear elderly friend told me about several years ago. When he was going through a rough time, he put the call out to his social circle and asked them to tell him something that they liked or appreciated about him. Basically, something positive that he could keep in a file to refer back to.
He was overwhelmed by the wonderful responses he got, including those from people he thought didn’t like him much at all.
I highly recommend doing this yourself. Just keep tissues handy for when you read through them because you’ll undoubtedly have a good cry as you do so.
My favorite recommended way to work with these responses is to write them out on small pieces of decorative paper. Then fold them up and put them into a large, pretty jar, and keep it somewhere it won’t get knocked over by children or pets.
When you’re having a self-critical moment, shake a few of those folded notes out of the jar and read them. They’ll help to remind you that all the people you care about and respect think pretty darned highly of you. As a result, all that love and kindness will help to counterbalance the critical self-talk, much like a roaring, cheering crowd will drown out a single, small, angry voice that’s booing in the background.
7. Spend more time on the things you love.
Many of us choose to take part in things that frustrate us because we think that we “should,” not because we really enjoy them. Maybe some of the people we look up to take part in them and we try to keep up in order to gain their respect and admiration. Or perhaps these were expectations from family members and we feel an obligation to like them and participate in them.
If you’re doing something you don’t love out of a sense of responsibility, you’ll undoubtedly do poorly at it. Then, when the self-criticism comes in, you’ll fall into an even darker spiral. You don’t want to do this to begin with, and you’re crap at it? Ugh.
Never mind all that. Write down all the things you love, from topics you enjoy to pastimes that make you feel happy and accomplished. Once you’ve figured out all the things that make you happiest, spend more time doing them! Dump all the projects and pastimes that make you miserable: life’s too short for that noise.
When you put time and effort into things you love, regardless what others may think about them, you’ll end up being much happier and more fulfilled. Guess what happens next? The self-criticism falls away as self-fulfillment takes precedence.
Repeat these positive, self-respecting behaviors until they become second nature.
By using the above tips to curb the negative self-talk and replace it with positive thinking, you’re basically rewiring your brain to think of yourself much more kindly and compassionately.
Although it might seem like a huge step right now, you’ll start to notice a big difference sooner than you realize. In fact, you might stop and blink sometime soon as you realize that you haven’t put yourself down in days – even weeks.
You are an extraordinary piece of the universe made flesh, and you deserve nothing but kindness and compassion… especially from yourself.
You might also like:
- How To Stop Beating Yourself Up: 7 Highly Effective Tips
- 13 Simple Yet Effective Ways To Feel Better About Yourself
- How To Stop Blaming Yourself For Everything: 5 Effective Tips!
- How To Stop Feeling Like A Loser: 12 No Nonsense Tips!
- How To Be Your Own Best Friend: 10 No Nonsense Tips
- 9 Ways To Be Kind To Yourself – What It Really Means
- How To Respect Yourself – 10 No Nonsense Tips