Reflecting on one’s self is important and can help us learn how to be better people. However, there should be a limit on this reflection of character and many people go far over what they can handle, beating themselves up in the process. Many of the reflections they make aren’t even true or are a far stretch on reality. Dr. Golan Shahar defines self-criticism as “an uncompromising demand for high standards in performance and an expression of hostility and derogation toward the self when these high standards are, inevitably, not met.” 
In other words, we are often overly critical of ourselves and can set up uncompromising, unrealistic expectations that will never be met. If you use self-criticism in a healthy, positive way, then it can be a very useful tool, however, many of us can’t currently do this or often stray from it.
Negative self-criticism affect your health, as well, both physically and mentally.  The more you beat yourself up, the more downcast you feel, the higher your risk for developing feelings of depression or anxiety. Those conditions can then lead to physical symptoms, such as fatigue and insomnia, heart conditions, decreased pain tolerance, general aches and pains, headaches and more. It should be noted that those who are reportedly self-critical are often already living with some type of mindcare disorder and vise versa.  Depression, for example, can also increase the likelihood of self-critical behavior, especially in adolescent girls. 
One college study found that self-critical students were not only “less assertive, more submissive” but also “more sad and ashamed” than the less critical students.  They found that depressive feelings are very often linked to self-criticism, and those with more confidence were often happier. Self-criticism is an important skill that shouldn’t be untaught, of course, but there are healthy and unhealthy ways to be critical of yourself. You should never insult yourself, even if you think it’s true, since calling yourself out in this way won’t accomplish anything beneficial. Saying things like “I’m dumb” and “I’m ugly” are just as productive as sticking your face in a beehive; not only will it hurt you, but the scars of the constant stings will show.
Self-criticism can be more subtle. “I’m just not good enough” is a common expression used by people who are overly self-critical, and it can be quite hard to address. It’s considered a strong fact by those who say it, but ‘good enough’ is subjective, as people have varying levels of quality standards. Dr. Bernard Golden notes that even if you aren’t actively thinking these words, you may still be experiencing the essence of this self-critical statement through feelings of unworthiness, shame or guilt. 
Overcoming self-hatred and self-criticism are no easy tasks, but they are very doable. If a person’s self-criticism is linked with a mindcare disorder or is deeply entrenched, then psychotherapy or counseling methods, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are often recommended. If self-critical behaviors are milder, then they can be transformed or reduced through cultivating awareness of when negative thoughts happen and then putting a stop to these instances of self-bullying.  Dr. Allison Kelly notes that it also often helps to acknowledge that we developed self-critical behaviors as a strategy, one that was useful at some point, for example in childhood when a lot of self-critical behaviors begin, often in large part as a result of abusive or overly controlling and demanding caregivers. 
You can begin changing your mindset by replacing negative thoughts with other more benevolent thoughts. For example, instead of saying “I’m so stupid for feeling upset about this” you can try to cultivate curiosity or self-compassion, perhaps saying something like, “I am disappointed by the outcome, and so it makes sense that I am upset about this.” You can also work to challenge negative thoughts about yourself as they arise. For example, an example of a self-critical thought would be something like, “No one likes me.” You can challenge this thought by looking for different evidence in your life, such as, “I know that my co-worker enjoys my company, because she always smiles when she sees me,” or, “I can think of three different people who I know enjoy my company, because they invite me to do things with them and seem happy around me.”
Additionally, mindfulness in general is helpful for counteracting self-criticism, because it can help you become more aware of when and how often you tell yourself harmfully self-critical thoughts. Mindfulness begins by simply noticing your thoughts. You can begin by trying, throughout a day to notice every time you think a self-critical or negative thought about yourself. Over time, after you have developed the skill to notice when this is happening, you can then replace those thoughts with self-compassionate curiosity or challenge them by looking for other evidence in your life.
For many people, this process is greatly aided by the help of a therapist. And it’s perfectly okay if it feels too hard to do this on your own–it’s a big task! Support yourself in gathering the resources you need to begin transforming your self-criticism into self-love. As always, stay healthy and safe out there, and don’t let yourself be your own worst enemy!
- Golden, Bernard. “How Self-Criticism Threatens You in Mind and Body.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 12 Jan. 2019, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/overcoming-destructive-anger/201901/how-self-criticism-threatens-you-in-mind-and-body
- S., Blatt, et. all. “Dependency and Self-Criticism: Psychological Dimensions of Depression.” American Psychological Association, 2016, https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1982-09953-001
- Shahar, Golan. “The Hazards of Self-Criticism.” Psychology Today, Aug 9, 2017, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/stress-self-and-health/201708/the-hazards-self-criticism
- Whelton, William J., and Leslie S. Greenberg. “Emotion in Self-Criticism.” 22 Dec. 2004, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886904003101
- Kelly, Allison Kelly. “Are You Self-Critical?” Psychology Today. May 29, 2019, https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/all-about-attitude/201905/are-you-self-critical