What causes self criticism?


As open and accepting as we may strive to be, for many of us criticism creeps into our consciousness on a daily basis. Whether it’s aimed at our friends, family, the lady on the bus who I can’t believe is wearing that dress or–most commonly–ourselves, our critical gaze casts a wide net, and it can be a destructive force.

Excessive self-criticism can start at an early age, generally manifesting through overly critical parents and teachers. This leads to a bevy of negative feelings and leaves children with unrealistic and unachievable high standards. For those of us who suffer from these inflated sense of ideals, strong feelings of shame and depression can follow when these standards are ultimately not met.

Self criticism can be harmful

Deprecative self-criticism can not only wreak havoc on our personal sense of wellbeing, it can also incur more tangible affects in our day-to-day lives. In a 2019 paper by Turkish professor Esin Özer titled The Impact of Core Self-evaluation on Self-criticism, it was found that “Individuals with high levels of self-criticism are less consistent in achieving goals and experience more negative affections”. This means that an overly critical mind will spend more time overthinking outcomes, or dwelling in self-doubt, and will be less likely to fulfil tasks and finish projects. From this we can see an unfortunate cycle of criticism and failure occurring.

How to overcome self criticism

Despite these findings, it’s healthy to remember that self-criticism is part of being human. To fully deny it is similar to suppressing our feelings – a damaging practice which can lead to all kinds of toxic outcomes down the line. Instead of outright disowning your critiques and inward looks, perhaps try to harness and compartmentalise the truths you find. Once we address our critical thoughts, we may find some which, even if hard to face, are necessary to make changes in our continued growth. Potentially useful critical thoughts could include things like:

  •  “I spend too long on my phone”
  • “I get angry and retaliate very easily”
  • “I never finish anything I start”

We can investigate these thoughts and use them to work on ourselves if we feel we need to.

From here we can also recognise negative thoughts like:

  •  “I’ll never be able to learn that”
  •  “They won’t like me”
  •   “What I made isn’t good enough”

Once we take a more holistic approach to our critical eye, these niggling thoughts we may have can be seen as just that­ – little doubts and insecurities that we all face, but ones which aren’t worth our time and can be left on the bus with our friend in the fantastic dress.

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What causes self criticism?