Self-criticism is a common challenge that many of us experience, and learning to recognize and overcome self-criticism is possible. Our self-critical thoughts can be debilitating and impact our sense of well-being. Often, self-criticism can even dictate our behaviors and life choices.
So what causes self-criticism? There are many ways that self-critical thoughts can develop and influence our lives. Typically, there’s a combination of factors, such as:
- our families of origin
- expectations of our culture
- societal ideals and messages
- experiences of trauma
Self-criticism can be painful and become a habitual response to situations in our lives. Sometimes we are aware of our inner critic, but self-criticism can also be more subtle, impacting us in ways that we don’t realize. Here are four key steps for becoming aware of self-critical thoughts and overcoming self-criticism in your life:
1. Recognize your inner critic
We often engage in self-criticism more frequently than we realize. Becoming mindful of these tendencies is an important first step in learning to overcome self-critical patterns. To become aware of your self-critical tendencies, it’s helpful to ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you highly critical of yourself when you make a mistake?
- When you make a mistake, do you feel strong emotions like shame or fear?
- What self-critical thoughts do you tend to have about yourself, for example, your appearance or your parenting?
- How do you respond to criticism from others?
- What circumstances are more likely to trigger self-criticism?
2. Observe your self-critical thoughts
Once you start recognizing your self-critical patterns and messages, try to notice them as they arise. With this type of mindful approach, attempt to observe your self-critical thoughts without responding or reacting to them. It can be helpful to write them in a journal or notebook. The goal of this step is to allow some distance or detachment from the critical thoughts, which can help you become aware of how self-criticism influences your behavior and decision-making. Self-awareness or insight helps to foster behavior change.
3. Challenge your thought process
Now that you’re more aware of the messages of your self-critical thoughts, start to challenge your thought process. This is a cognitive-behavioral technique that can help change your self-critical patterns. To challenge your thought process, try asking yourself these questions when a self-critical thought appears:
- Is the critical thought really true about yourself?
- What facts don’t validate or support this critical thought?
- Whose voice is this, for example, a parental figure?
- What might be the source of the thought, such as a previous trauma?
- Is your self-critical thought based on feelings like shame or fear?
- Are you becoming self-critical because you believe things are going wrong?
4. Reflect on your critical thinking
As you learn to manage your self-criticism and minimize its impact on your life, it can be beneficial to reflect on some of the potential deeper messages of your critical thoughts. For instance, perhaps you grew up believing that the only way you were worthy of love was if you were perfect. As you overcome your self-criticism, you can also release these mistaken beliefs about yourself. You can come to acknowledge that your ability to be loved or accepted is possible even when you make mistakes.
Self-criticism can influence your relationships, parenting, and professional life. If you’re struggling with self-critical thoughts, we can help you explore strategies for understanding and overcoming self-criticism. Learning to respond more effectively — and with more self-compassion — to your self-critical thoughts can shift your relationship with yourself and those around you. To better understand how we can help you, please contact us.