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How Can I Overcome Self-Criticism?

By: Danielle Bertini, LPC

We all have that little voice inside of our head. This inner dialogue can either be a powerful motivation tool or a major obstacle to reaching your goals. What does yours usually sound like? If you constantly have negative thoughts like, “I just know I’m going to fail,” or you call yourself hurtful names, your self-talk will drain you of mental strength.

Thoughts can be powerful in the sense that they can affect how you feel and how you behave. And these thoughts have the power to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, if you think “I’m never going to get this job,” you might feel discouraged as you walk into an interview, which causes you to have poor and uncomfortable body language, stare at the floor, and inadvertently sabotage your chances of success.

Morin (2018) offers seven ways to tame your inner critic:

  • Pay attention to your thoughts.

Our thoughts come so quickly and so often, that we become used to hearing our own narration without really listening to the messages that we send ourselves. Try paying close attention to your thoughts. You might discover that you aren’t very kind to yourself or that you often talk yourself out of doing things that are hard.

  • Change the channel.

Problem-solving is helpful, ruminating is destructive. When you keep replaying a mistake over and over in your head, or you can’t stop thinking about something bad that happened, you begin to drag yourself down with the thoughts. We often think that the more time we spend thinking about something, the quicker we can come to some sort of “answer” or “solution,” when it actually does more harm than good.

The best way to shift this is by getting active. Find an activity that can temporarily distract you from the negativity inside your head. This can be things like going for a walk, calling a friend to talk about a different subject, or tackling a project.

  • Examine the evidence.

Your thoughts aren’t always true. Read that again. Your thoughts aren’t always true! In fact, they’re often a very exaggerated narrative. It’s important to examine the evidence before you believe your thoughts. If you think, “I’m going to embarrass myself when I give this presentation,” take a pause for a moment. What is the evidence that indicates that you’re going to fail? What is the evidence that you aren’t going to fail? Reminding yourself that your thoughts aren’t 100% true can give you a confidence boost and help you be less emotional and more rational. 

  • Replace exaggeratedly negative thoughts with realistic statements.

Going off the tip above, when you notice your negative thoughts aren’t totally true, try replacing those statements with something more realistic. For example, “I’ll never get a promotion” to “If I work hard and I keep investing in myself, I have a good chance of getting promoted someday.” You don’t need to develop unrealistically positive statements, just a more balanced, realistic outlook. 

  • Consider how bad it would be if your thoughts were true.

Often the worst-case scenario isn’t actually as bad as we fear. If you predict you are going to get rejected for a job, ask yourself how bad would that actually be? Yes, rejection stings. But reminding yourself that you can handle tough times increases your confidence.

  • Ask yourself what advice you’d give to a friend.

It can be easier to be compassionate towards other people than to yourself. Maybe you call yourself an idiot for making a mistake, but you’d never say that to a loved one. If you find yourself struggling with tough times or doubting your ability to succeed, ask yourself what you would say to a friend who had this problem. Offer yourself those same kind words.

  • Balance self-improvement with self-acceptance. 

Accept your flaws for what they are right now while committing to improvement for the future. It might seem tough, but you can do both simultaneously. You might accept that you feel anxious about an upcoming presentation for work, while also making a decision to improve your public speaking skills. You can accept yourself for who you are in the present, while still investing in becoming an even better version of yourself down the road.

If you find yourself struggling with managing toxic self-criticism, you may find it helpful to talk with one of our counselors at Symmetry Counseling. You can contact Symmetry today by calling 312-578-9990 to get matched with one of our licensed counselors. 

References

Morin, A. (2018, January 23). 7 Ways to Overcome Toxic Self-Criticism. Psychology Today. Retrieved September 9, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201801/7-ways-overcome-toxic-self-criticism. 

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