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Why Am I My Own Worst Enemy?

By Eric Dean, JD, MBA, MA, MA, LPC, CADC

For many of us it is true that we are incredibly hard on ourselves. We feel upset, frustrated, and guilty when we make mistakes or fall short of expectations and consequently punish ourselves via harsh self-criticism. While moderate self-criticism may be helpful, the severity of the self-criticism that we unleash on ourselves is disproportionate to the perceived mistake. In other words, the “punishment” does not fit the “crime” – we give ourselves life in prison for a minor traffic offense.  

We continue to ruminate on our mistakes while paying little to no attention to our successes and achievements. This distorted thought pattern is common and can be ingrained to the point of us having zero awareness that it is happening. The question I hope to answer in this post is: Why are we so self-critical? Here are some possible reasons.

  1.       We believe self-criticism is the key to success.

Many of us think that self-criticism is the best way to motivate ourselves to reach our potential and avoid complacency. We may feel that if we do not punish ourselves for coming up short, then we cannot learn from our mistakes and prevent them in the future. However, while there is nothing wrong with having reasonably high expectations of yourself, lambasting yourself for not measuring up is counterproductive. Moreover, constant, and overly harsh self-criticism leaves little room for self-compassion and support, which are essential to success. Be kind to yourself, recognize and accept the mistake, and move forward stronger. You are only human.

  1.       We conflate self-criticism with humility.

Many of us view humility as a virtue and believe that it can only be achieved by being tough on ourselves. We may fear that we will be perceived as arrogant if we do not regularly put ourselves down in front of others. Because of these beliefs, we find it easier to identify our defects and shortcomings than to recognize our strengths and accomplishments.

However, true humility does not mean consistently criticizing ourselves, but rather maintaining a modest view of our own importance, that we are no better or worse than others.  

  1.       We believe self-compassion and self-care are hedonistic.

Self-compassion and self-care are powerful antidotes to self-criticism. When we think about being kind and generous to ourselves (key components of self-compassion and self-care), we may feel undeserving, self-indulgent, and self-absorbed, and therefore resort to more self-criticism.

There seems to be a common misunderstanding of what self-compassion and self-care are and are not. Self-compassion is not about telling yourself how great and important you are regardless of your actions. Rather, self-compassion is treating yourself with decency, like you would treat someone you cared about and respected. Self-care is not about doing whatever you want when you want, but rather being intentional about carving out time to engage in activities that are healing and rejuvenating for you.

With this new understanding of self-compassion and self-care, we can be kind to ourselves and engage in healthy activities without feeling guilty and being critical of ourselves.  

Wrapping Up

Self-criticism is an ingrained behavior that allows us to feel more in control in the short-term but causes lower self-esteem over the long term. It may be helpful to think about when and where this behavior originated from. Perhaps during childhood, you observed family members being critical of themselves and then mimicked this behavior. Or maybe others were critical of you and you consequently internalized those experiences.

A Symmetry therapist can help you identify the cause of your self-criticism and create ways to manage, avoid, and/or replace it with what you deserve – self-compassion. 

So, let’s get started – call Symmetry Counseling today at 312-578-9990 to discover how therapy in Chicago may help you or someone struggling with self-criticism.


Wignall, Nick. “4 Psychological Reasons You’re So Self-Critical.” Medium, SIMPLE, 3 May 2021.

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