Self-criticism is a nasty habit many of us have. When something in our work, school, or personal life goes wrong, many of us jump to self-criticism as a coping strategy. You might not even be aware that you’re doing it! To keep our self-critical voice going strong, we tend to have “positive beliefs” about self-criticism and why we need it. For example, you might believe that being hard on yourself is motivating. The truth is that self-criticism is not motivating or beneficial. It is however, good at lowering our self-esteem, and bringing up other negative emotions. If you identify as a self-critic and want to start changing your self-critical voice, here are some steps you can take:
Â 1. Learn What Your Critic Sounds Like
Pay attention to what your internal voice says next time you make a mistake, or something upsetting happens. Some people’s internal self-critic says “I’m so stupid, I can never get things right”. Other people have a case of the â€śshouldsâ€ť: “I should have known better, I should have picked up on that.” Identifying and becoming aware of your self-critical narrative is the first step to changing it.
Â 2. Notice What Triggers Your Critic
Some people will have a self-critical response for many situations, while other people are triggered particularly by one aspect of life. Which situations awaken your self-critical voice?
Â 3. Identify Your Positive Beliefs
Do you believe self-criticism is motivating? Maybe you believe a self-critical voice keeps you modest. Perhaps your belief is that your self-critic keeps you in control. Whatever your positive belief is, identifying your belief is crucial before challenging and changing it. A therapist is a good tool for this step!
Â 4. Develop a Compassionate Voice
The antidote to a self-critical voice is a self-compassionate voice. Try to think of something you could say to yourself other than “I should have â€¦” or “that was so stupid.â€ť To help you brainstorm, imagine what you would say to a child, or to someone you really love. Your voice would probably change to one of comfort and warmth; it might become lower and more soothing. You might say things like “it’s okay, everyone makes a mistake sometimes” or “you couldn’t have predicted that, you did the best you could”.
Â 5. Practice & Patience
Have patience with yourself while you tackle self-criticism. There is an irony to changing self-criticism: you can become self-critical of your progress against your self-critic! Remember that you won’t be able to silence your self-critical voice overnight, and that’s okay! It takes a long time to notice and change patterns like self-criticism, but the journey and work is worth it for your self-worth and happiness. If you struggle with self-criticism, a therapist is a great resource for working through these steps and helping you to develop a compassionate voice.