What to Do When You Feel Self-Critical
“I look terrible today.” “I’m so clumsy.” “I can’t do this right.” “That was a stupid thing to say.” Sound familiar? Everyone has negative thoughts now and then. However, if you spend a lot of time scolding yourself, it’s time to lay off.
Self-reflection is fine. You’re aware of what’s going on in your life and can make changes, if necessary. Continual self-criticism, though, is judgmental. You feel bad about yourself and have no hope that things will improve — so you don’t try. One negative thought leads to another and another. Goals seem so unattainable you figure, “Why bother?” Climb out of that downward spiral by changing the way you react.
Put It in Writing
The first step in reducing self-criticism is noting what you say and when you say it. Write it down. Every nasty word.
This isn’t to reinforce the negative comments. It’s to help you pay attention to how you treat yourself. Read the list. Do you talk to anyone else like that? Probably not. Why single yourself out for abuse?
Talk Back to Yourself
Now that you’re aware of the types of criticisms you heap upon yourself, get ready to fight back — but nicely. There’s already enough negativity in the air. Prepare a statement that acknowledges comments and identifies their impact. When you’ve misplaced your keys for the sixth time that week and say, “I’m so stupid,” talk back. Tell yourself, “I know I’m frustrated, but name calling doesn’t help and just makes me feel worse.”
Self-critical people jump all over themselves for any little mistake or disruption, even when it really doesn’t matter. Continually losing track of your keys wastes a lot of time. That’s a fair point. Still, self-criticism often focuses on issues that are essentially unimportant. Do you really have the worst hair in the world? Really? In the whole world? That seems unlikely. It’s probably more reasonable to say you’re just having a bad hair day.
To determine how serious an infraction actually is, imagine that it involves a good friend instead. Would you comment upon it? Would you just shrug and let it go — or even laugh it off? If so, extend the same kindness to yourself.
Treat Yourself Like a Friend
Even if there’s a real problem, self-criticism often generalizes and exaggerates. No, you’re not the dumbest person at school because you failed a test. You simply didn’t know the material it covered.
You’re not terrible at your job because you made a paperwork error. You just need to remember to proofread. Narrow in on the little bit of information that’s true, and rephrase it as if you were talking to a friend.
For instance, if you often mislay your keys, that’s a genuine problem. What would you say to someone else? Not “you’re a moron.” You’d be more likely to observe, “You spend a lot of time hunting for keys. Why don’t you designate one — and only one — place to put them as soon as you come in? How about in a basket on the entryway table?” Then follow through on your suggestion.
If you come up with viable alternatives, you’ll stop doing the things you’ve been finding fault with. If you’re a hardcore critic, you might find new reasons to knock yourself. Add those to the list, and repeat the process.
Clear Your Head
Excessive self-criticism is often related to stress (no surprise there). Consequently, if you reduce your stress level, you’re less likely to jump all over yourself. Meditation helps calm and quiet the mind. When your head’s in a better space, every little glitch won’t set you off.
The many ways to meditate include yoga, breathing exercises, mantra repetitions, mindfulness study, visualizations and nature walks. Discover what relaxes you, and make it a regular practice. Over time, you’ll stop being so hard on yourself.
Take the Compliment
Self-critical people are so used to hearing bad things about themselves — from themselves — that they have trouble accepting compliments. Not only can’t they be gracious, they use the opportunities to trash themselves. Sound familiar? Maybe someone praises your photography skills: “That’s a lovely picture you’ve taken!” You react by dismissing the work: “It’s overexposed, not centered correctly and unoriginal.”
You’ve not only put yourself down — again — you’ve essentially denounced the complimenter’s point of view. You might as well say, “You’ve got terrible taste!” Be kind to everyone by respecting the praise. A simple “thank you” is courteous and shuts you up before disparaging remarks start tumbling from your lips.
Being self-critical is a bad habit, like biting your nails or constantly interrupting other people. If it bothers you enough, you can take steps to change. It’ll take time, but you’ll get there!