“You can’t do this!”
“You just keep making the wrong decisions over and over.”
“Everyone else knows what they’re doing, what’s wrong with you?”
Does this voice sound familiar?
It’s your own — the words you might say in your head when you’re down on yourself. Self-criticism can often be healthy, as it is a sign of self-awareness. It can help you find ways to improve, build stronger relationships and grow.
But when self-criticism gets too harsh, it can be just the opposite. Too much self-criticism won’t lead to self-improvement. Instead, it can slowly wear away at your confidence and peace of mind and make it harder to achieve your personal goals.
Why Do We Beat Ourselves Up?
It is natural to experience doubt and strive to improve — but chronically thinking of yourself as not good enough can really negatively impact your well-being.
You likely wouldn’t appreciate the judgements and critiques of others or when someone is bullying or harassing a friend or loved one, so it’s obvious why self-criticism can be just as harmful.
What’s worse is we are often our own harshest critic. No one knows you better than yourself, so no one knows better than you how to get under your skin.
So what causes us to go from healthy self-criticism to legitimate self-bullying? One explanation is a lack of compassion towards oneself. Consider the negative voice in your head and the things it says to you. Would you direct those words toward other people?
Learning From the Past
This lack of kindness for oneself could be related to past emotional experiences. Children especially are susceptible to holding on to harsh criticism, feeling insecure and un-confident.
To avoid future criticism, we then set standards for ourselves. If these standards are not met, we then beat ourselves up. This can even lead to negative forms of perfectionism.
This mindset leads to a lack of energy or motivation, which makes it even harder to bounce back and think positively. It’s a vicious cycle.
How to Stop Beating Yourself Up
So what steps can you take toward beating back the self-bullying you and embracing a more positive mindset?
Here are a few tips to get you thinking:
1. Self-Awareness and Self-Kindness
The first step is to recognize when you’re putting yourself down. Self-awareness is at the root of all self-criticism, so you must also be aware of when you are treating yourself kindly and when you are self-deprecating.
Once you know you are needlessly beating yourself up, you won’t magically stop. However, you can counteract the negativity by complimenting yourself when you do something well. Acknowledge when you achieve a goal, even a small one.
Consider also the things that make you happy — again, even the small ones — each day. Write them down if it helps you to focus. You may be surprised that even though your day feels like it’s going badly, lots of good things happen throughout.
Do this especially at the end of the day when you’re trying to wind down. You can lose sleep when your mind is stressed with negative thoughts, which will further reduce your energy.
2. Don’t Compare Yourself to Other People
In times where you are failing, it can be easy to look around at other people who are doing well and compare ourselves to them.
However, you must take a step back and consider you are only seeing one perspective. That other person you see may be excelling in one area — but like you, they deal with a myriad of thoughts, feelings and problems you can’t know.
If you are aware you tend to compare yourself to others, begin to remind yourself you are your own person with your own path. You might be capable of the same successes you see others achieving, and it is possible to work toward them in your own way.
3. Recognize Your Failures as Learning Opportunities
You will fail sometimes. That is inevitable. It can happen in any area of your life. The key is to think of your failures in a more positive light. Any mistake is also an experience you can learn from, and the knowledge you gain will help you down the road:
- Perhaps you are criticized by a supervisor for missing a deadline. You can’t change that mistake, but you can do your best on the next assignment.
- Maybe you have an awkward social interaction with a colleague. You can’t undo it, but the next time you see them you can make up for it.
- Maybe your failure is more severe, like a bad investment or getting scammed out of your money. What’s done is done, but next time you will have the experience and will know to do sufficient research about the business and industry or other opportunity you’re investing in.
Whatever the situation, you will always be learning — which means you will always be improving.
4. Be Patient
You won’t be able to get rid of all your negative thoughts at once. Old habits die hard, and learning to think positively takes time and practice.
Take these steps each day, and over time you may notice improvements in your mindset, your productivity, your motivation and your energy.
Ask others for help as well. Let those close to you know you are struggling and trying to improve yourself, and they will support you. You can even seek the help of a psychiatric professional to help guide your process.
There is a calm, reasonable you inside of the self-doubting and critical version of yourself.
In time, you can learn to let him or her shine.