I can’t believe I’m about to tell one of the most embarrassing stories of my life. But oh well, here it goes…
My first run-in with self criticism was when I was five years old and in kindergarten. This incident also marks the first time I’d felt a lot of other things, too – like shame, embarrassment, the feeling of wishing I could disappear. Long story short, I was a shy kid who didn’t like speaking up or talking in front of the class. So I didn’t know how to overcome that shyness to tell the teacher (can’t remember her name) that I had to use the bathroom. And I let me tell you – I REALLY had to go. So when she called me up to the front of the room, my body responded by unleashing the floodgates in front of the entire class. Yup, I peed in front of like 15 kids. They probably don’t remember this at all, but I sure as hell do. INTENSELY.
As the warm liquid slid down my legs, I felt my face get hot. I heard the class erupt in a mixture of laughter and gasps, and I just wanted to melt into the floor. I’m 31 now, but even as I’m telling you this so many years later, I realize that I never forgot that feeling – and I never had to. From that moment on, I was aware of those feelings of humiliation, and the resulting self criticism that comes from disappointing others and ourselves.
Do you have a story like this? I think we all do.
Now, I was a child and could not be blamed for that innocent incident. But as we get older, we place even more pressure on ourselves and expect ourselves to do better at all times, regardless of the circumstances. Let’s face it – few people hold us to the high standards that we hold ourselves to. Maybe you can relate to always blaming yourself for a mistake or criticizing yourself for not being “pretty enough”, “thin enough”, “smart enough”, “successful enough” or not doing something “perfectly enough”, etc. It’s a struggle that many women fight every single day – myself included. Even as I grew more comfortable with my body, I would pick myself apart for other things. The list of things I needed to improve only got longer over the years – never shorter. And it does serious damage.
There’s a great excerpt from the book “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide To Personal Freedom” on why self criticism (also known as self abuse) is so damaging and can take a devastating toll on your life:
Unfortunately, while we may believe that being hard on ourselves is a good thing and will help us be more successful or more “perfect” (as if there is such a thing), this habit is quite unhealthy. Constantly thinking negative thoughts not only robs you of experiencing life to the fullest, but it keeps you in this constant downward spiral that chips away at your confidence and joy until there is nothing left.
That’s why I find that learning ways to stop self criticism are not only helpful, but they’re critical in living a life that is fulfilling. That’s why I wanted to share a few tips that have helped me along the way, and show you why managing self criticism can be so helpful. Let’s get started.
1. Recognize what makes YOU special
You may have heard the quote “comparison is the thief of joy” before – and this couldn’t be more true when it comes to self criticism. We live in a competitive society, where it seems like the grass is always greener on the other side. However, you can’t appreciate who you are and the blessings in your life if you’re always dwelling on what others have, or dwelling on the things you think you need to improve. Plus, you’re missing a lot of the amazing abilities you were born with, that come naturally to you. You might be a great friend or be super talented – but by only focusing on the bad, you rob yourself of the chance to nurture your good. I promise that if you choose to start appreciating your characteristics instead of beating yourself up, your positivity will shine through and your patience to improve other things will be much more tolerable. Here are some small action steps:
- Work on accepting compliments.
- Write 1-2 reasons for why you appreciate yourself – and remind yourself often.
- Recognize your best traits and be proud of them.
2. Understand and confront your inner critic
Self criticism can take hold in many different ways – but usually, a negative thought has come about thanks to an underlying issue. Sometimes, discovering what that issue is can be the key to healing it. For example, perhaps it’s being a victim of bullying or having lived through the trauma of an abusive relationship. In incidents like these, we have allowed the way others have treated us to shape how we react to ourselves.
While sometimes getting over our past requires the professional help of a therapist, we can still take matters into our own hands by having better control of our thoughts. Yes, others may have hurt us, but we don’t have to keep hurting ourselves for what they did. Some suggestions are:
- Take notice of your thoughts and be mindful of them. Try to identify where they come from.
- Reframe negative thoughts that come up – for example, “I was late to dinner because I never do anything right” could instead be reframed as “I was late to dinner because there was traffic — so I’ll leave earlier next time”.
- Don’t be ashamed of or try to suppress your feelings – let yourself feel what comes up.
3. Be kind – to yourself and to others
You may have heard the quote “As within, so without” – which pretty much means that what happens on the outside of us is often happening on the inside or visa versa. If you practice being more kind to yourself, you will realize you are much more patient, supportive, and kind to the people around you. But sometimes it’s hard for us to start with ourselves, especially for women. So practicing being humble and giving love to those around you is a way to bring positive energy to yourself. Eventually, you may soften and be able to extend that kindness inward. Some ideas on how to do this could be:
- Volunteer your time to those less fortunate.
- Self-reflect at the end of the day.
- Start a gratitude journal.
4. Choose progress over perfection
While it’s important to accept that perfection does not exist, there is nothing wrong with striving for progress in an area of your life. While you have to be careful not to confuse self criticism with self improvement, working on an area of your life can be very rewarding and even an act of self love. Healthy ways to improve areas of your life may involved learning something new, getting out of your comfort zone, or adopting healthier habits that will make you happier. Here are some tips to prevent progress from turning into more self criticism:
- Be realistic and patient to avoid over-stretching yourself.
- Make a plan and break it into smaller achievable actions to reach your goal.
- Accept what you do and don’t have control over and act accordingly.
5. Appreciate your successes
Woman are infamous for downplaying their accomplishments. While being humble is certainly an admirable trait, there is nothing wrong with being proud of yourself and rewarding yourself for a job well done. Recognizing your accomplishments is a great way to turn those critical voices off and remind them that you are worthy and a force to be reckoned with. Remember – you’re doing the best you can and that is good enough. You could:
- Celebrate an accomplishment with your loved ones.
- Use social media in a positive light.
- Reward yourself for every success — big or small.
We hope that these tips to stop self criticism were useful to you! Please let us know if they worked, or if there are any other methods that have helped you stop self criticism in its tracks!
Featured image via Rodolfo Sanches Carvalho / Unsplash