How you treat yourself is a litmus test of how others will respond to you!

Self Criticism

How you treat yourself is a litmus test of how others will respond to you!

Do not let your inner dialogue rob you of mental strength!

Your inner dialogue can either be a powerful stepping stone or pose as a major obstacle to reaching towards your goals. If you constantly make negative predictions and connotations like, “I’m going to mess up,” or you call yourself names, your negative self-talk will eventually rob you of your mental strength.

Your thoughts invariably affect how you feel and how you behave. The way you think has the full blown power to become a self-fulfilling prophecy as well. For instance: Thinking, “I’ll never get this job,” may even make you feel utterly discouraged as you walk into an interview. Consequently, you may even slump and sink your shoulders, stare hard at the floor, in turn make a poor first impression in the process and inadvertently go ahead to sabotage your very chance of success!

So if you do posses a harsh inner critic, you are not alone at all: Self-doubt, catastrophic predictions, and harsh words are quite common. But that does not imply that you have to be a victim of your own verbal abuse.

Do Train your Brain to Think Differently 

Your mind can be your best asset or even turn out to be your worst enemy. So it is important to train it really well. The good news is that the tremendous mental strength exercises will in turn help you silence the toxic self-criticism for good. With regular practice, you can develop a more productive inner dialogue that in turn will fuel your efforts in order to reach your goals too.

What is being Self-Critical?

Self-criticism refers to the inherent behaviour of pointing out one’s own perceived flaws. It could be carefully directed towards various aspects of the self, be it physical appearance, behaviour, inner thoughts and emotions, personality or even intellectual attributes. Failing at something that is important to us, whether it is a relationship, school or work, can be quite painful!  Most of these experiences do jolt us, threatening the very core of who we think we are and who we do aspire to be. 

So to manage the same we must:

Go with Confronting Imperfections: Although this is easier said than it is done, taking an honest view of oneself is quite important, in order to strive for betterment! Confronting one’s faults and imperfections can be quite overwhelming and may lead to utter feelings of despair and hopelessness too.

Self-Criticism Can Be Quite Detrimental: In order to take proper responsibility for our actions and make an effort to improve, we might get carried away and blame ourselves far more than our share and pull ourselves down in the process as well. Research does report that self-criticism leads to an increase in procrastination and impedes goal-progression as well. Feeling worthless and more so incompetent drives away any likelihood of putting a better effort the next time around.

Please understand that Self-criticism can be both powerful and as well as dangerous. In moderation, it works just about right to stimulate improvement, but too much of it can ruin your self-confidence as well. 

Self-criticism is something we all do to ourselves from time to time. If we have made a serious mistake or an error, reflecting critically on it can be a helpful way to avoid similar mistakes in the future too. However, putting oneself routinely down for all types of mistakes, no matter how small or inconsequential is not a good sign! 

Let us look at ways in which we can possibly work through our Self Criticism Habits:

1. Only criticize yourself through text

Most self-criticism only happens in our heads. It takes the form of self-talk which is usually negative self-talk and cycles running endlessly through our mind. The problem is, thoughts are fast… like really fast. You can have about hundreds of self-critical thoughts in just a span of few minutes because we are all capable of thinking so quickly. Unfortunately, each of those thoughts generates a dose of painful emotion like anxiety or sadness, which means being self-critical in your head can very quickly lead to a lot of painful emotion too.

As an antidote, do try confining your self-criticism to text. For example, whenever you notice yourself starting to get down on yourself and self-criticize, pull out a notebook or sheet of paper and write them down. 

It gives you immense perspective. The point is even the most irrational thoughts can seem surprisingly convincing and real in our heads. When you literally see those thoughts spelled out on paper, their core irrationality or extreme nature becomes far more apparent.

Finally, you could even text yourself your self-criticism. That is, when you find yourself beginning to get overly critical with yourself, pull out your phone and send yourself texts with the contents of the self-criticism. This has the same effects as the above method, but it is way easier to do because our phones are always on us!

2. Do cultivate your inner B.S. detector

For people who immensely struggle with chronic self-criticism, the content of that self-criticism often is not all that accurate or even realistic. In fact, we tend to use self-criticism after a perceived mistake or error, so our self-criticisms themselves are typically full of logical errors!

These statements are extreme such as: You sounded like an idiot? She will never listen to another of your ideas? You are always bad at explaining things? You are being irrationally hard on yourself! This takes the form of what psychologists call ‘cognitive distortions’. Like funhouse mirrors that make you seem extremely skinny or fat, distorted self-criticism can make you seem (and feel) extremely incompetent or worthless as well.

The key is to catch oneself in those inaccurately extreme statements and not let oneself get away with them. Check out the cognitive distortions, identify the one or two you tend to use most often, do commit to cultivating your inner B.S. detector and stop letting yourself get away with these overly negative interpretations of yourself in the process.

3. Go Ahead and Play Devil’s Advocate with your self-criticism

Historically, the concept of the Devil’s Advocate is immensely instructive…

Back in the day, the Catholic Church realized that a lot of people were trying to “game and rig the system” of sainthood. In other words, people would lie about how saintly or amazing a person was in order to get them canonized plus beautified and officially recognized by the church as a saint.

To address this issue, the church created a position called the Devil’s Advocate. This very person’s sole job was to try and make the case against someone becoming a saint by looking for counterarguments and collecting evidence suggesting they were not actually so saintly. For those of us who are stuck in cycles of chronic self-criticism, the image of yourself as totally incompetent and never good enough can go on to feel like your personal gospel and the obvious truth of things.

To counteract this effectively, learn to play Devil’s Advocate with yourself. Once you notice that you are beginning to criticize yourself, ask your inner Devil’s Advocate to stand up and look for counter-arguments and evidence to the contrary too.

Just like you would stand up to a bully who was being overly critical of a good friend, learn to stand up for yourself by providing counterarguments and evidence to the contrary when your overly negative and when critical self-talk pipes up.

4. Go ahead to anticipate self-criticism triggers

Often we get especially self-critical when we feel ambushed or even surprised by a situation.

For example, if out of the blue your manager comments that maybe you should hold off to that new idea you had for restructuring the weekly sales meeting, you might be well tempted to fall into a cycle of self-criticism about how you knew it was not a good idea or even the right time, how you should just stop bringing up suggestions like this, etc. will crop up in your mind.

But if you do step back a bit, you might acknowledge it to yourself:

Now, when your manager inevitably does bring up the criticism of your idea, you have anticipated it and are ready, less likely to be taken off guard and therefore less likely that your self-criticism habit will kick in too!  In other words, by anticipating self-criticism triggers, you remove the element of surprise completely, which in turn can prevent the bigger spirals of self-criticism.

5. You must stop using self-criticism to motivate yourself

One of the biggest causes of chronic self-criticism is that we use it as motivation.

Many people grow up learning that in order to properly motivate yourself and be successful; you have to be quite hard on yourself like, really hard. The only trouble is, it is not actually true. In fact, the opposite tends to be the case.

People who are overly hard on themselves usually end up performing even worse, because so much of their energy and attention is spent in self-criticism. On the other hand, when you learn to be more self-compassionate and gentle with yourself especially after mistakes or setbacks you are more likely to succeed in the future.

Unfortunately, if you have relied on self-criticism as your dominant form of motivation for a long time, it can often feel too scary for simply letting that go. So, it can help to try and build in a new source of motivation for all important tasks.

When it comes to motivation, fear is actually a surprisingly weak motivator come what may. In fact, most successful people are successful despite their self-criticism, not because of it!  If you want to let go of your habit of self-criticism, look for alternative reward-based strategies for motivating yourself and you will find that you need the self-criticism a lot less.

6. Practice mindfulness daily

You are probably tired of hearing about the benefits of mindfulness meditation and all the wonderful things it will do for you and your life. The key ingredient in mindfulness is quite beneficial as it propagates the ability to be aware of your own thoughts and emotions in a non-judgmental way and keep your focus on the task at hand rather than intrusive thoughts and emotions.

So you do not have to always sit in the lotus position on your yoga mat every morning for 30 minutes paying attention to your breath to get the benefits of mindfulness. You can practice being mindful literally anywhere and anytime.

For example, when you are in line at the grocery store, instead of immediately pulling out your phone to browse Facebook, you could simply be aware of the present moment which is building awareness of the sights, sounds, and feelings of being in the very grocery store!

Please do begin with at least one of the above methods and then move on to cultivating all of them one after the other in no particular order!  Hope you find you’re calling in this journey of cutting-off self-criticism evidently and engaging in a beautiful plus immersive life by keeping self-criticism to bare minimum! 

You have been criticising yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens- Louise Hay

Author Info:

Trishna Patnaik, a BSc (in Life Sciences) and MBA (in Marketing) by qualification but an artist by choice. A self-taught artist based in Mumbai, Trishna has been practising art for over 14 years. After she had a professional stint in various reputed corporates, she realised that she wanted to do something more meaningful. She found her true calling in her passion that is painting. Trishna is now a full-time professional painter pursuing her passion to create and explore to the fullest. She says, “It’s a road less travelled but a journey that I look forward to everyday.” Trishna also conducts painting workshops across Mumbai and other metropolitan cities of India.
Trishna is an art therapist and healer. She works with clients on a one on one basis in Mumbai.

Trishna fancies the art of creative writing and is dappling her hands in that too, to soak in the experience and have an engagement with readers, wanderers and thinkers.