Updated: Jul 29
Most people are aware of an inner voice that often judges, criticize or berate us. What is the purpose? Why do we do that to ourselves?
Self-criticism, or the act of pointing out one’s perceived flaws, can be a healthy way to increase self-awareness and achieve personal growth, but it may also prove a barrier to one’s self-esteem and peace of mind. From a psychological point of view, the inner critic is part of our ego (the part responsible for our personal identity). Self-criticism may often help facilitate the process of learning from one’s mistakes and can also be helpful when one attempts to overcome areas of weakness or unwanted habits.
In order to fully understand self-criticism, we must explain the difference between comparative and internalized self-criticism.
When people compare themselves to others and find themselves to be lacking. This part of the ego develops in early childhood when we absorb other people’s fears, projections, judgements, beliefs and negative comments.
People who are self-critical in this way often tend to base their self-esteem on perceptions of the way others feel about them and may view other individuals as superior, critical, and/or hostile. Operating under the belief that one is viewed in a negative way may cause loads of issues for the person.
Internalized self-criticism, on the other hand, may involve setting up huge expectations for ourselves. People develop the feeling that they cannot possibly live up to their personal ideals or standards or the belief that they are deficient in some way. Thus, even success may be viewed as failure. For example, an individual who has a high level of internalized self-criticism may receive an A- on a test and still feel unsuccessful, believing that anything less than perfection constitutes failure.
For this reason, many people develop unhealthy relationships with their inner critic. Some people ignore it, some people treats it as an enemy.
In my clinical experience, self-criticism can cause havoc with people’s self-esteem leading to the development of disorders such as anxiety or depression.
Here I explain some techniques that will help you regain control. When we fight our inner critic, the pain increases and your ability to stay centered diminishes. For this reason, I recommend to Befriend your inner critic.
Start by giving it a name and identity. For example, “Perfectionist friend”
It is important to “listen” to the messages, create opportunities to express how the inner critic is feeling or saying. You could write it down, record it in your mobile or draw it.
Once you have a record of the messages, listen to them. Whose voice do you hear? Where did you hear those messages before? When you identify whose voices say what, you can learn where they are coming from and when did the start.
Next, challenge those messages, beliefs and comments. If your critic says “You are so stupid”, then you can ask yourself “How it comes that I have completed my degree..?
It is a good idea to thank your inner critic, at the end of the day it is doing its job. It depends on whether we believe the content blindly or not. For example, your critic says to you “With those grey hairs, it looks like a paint bucket fell on your head”, you could answer “Well, that is just your opinion” “Thank you for sharing but I think differently”
When your relationship with your inner critic is based on self-love and compassion, it will be time to change its name to reflect it.
Befriend your inner critic. Be patient, he/she has been in the driving seat for a very long time, it will take some effort to relegate it to the back seat.
I hope you liked our blog post.
Castilho, P. Pinto-Gouveia, J., Amaral, V., & Duarte, J. (2014). Recall of threat and submissiveness in childhood and psychopathology: The mediator effect of self-criticism. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 21(1), 73-81.
Cheng, H., & Furnham, A. (2004). Perceived parental rearing style, self-esteem and self-criticism as predictors of happiness. Journal of Happiness Studies, 5, 1-21.
Dinger, U., Barrett, M.S., Zimmermann, J., Schauenburg, H., Wright, A.G.C., Renner, F., Zilcha-Mano, S., & Barber, J.P. (2014). Interpersonal problems, dependency, and self-criticism in major depressive disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 71(1), 93-104.
Goodwin, H., Arcelus, J., Geach, N., & Meyer, C. (2014). Perfectionism and eating psychopathology among dancers: The role of high standards and self-criticism. European Eating Disorders Review, 22(5), 346-351.
Joeng, J.R., Turner, S.L. (2015). Mediators between self-criticism and depression: Fear of compassion, self-compassion, and importance to others. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 62(3), 453-463.
Kopala-Sibley, D.C., Zuroff, D.C., Russell, J.J., & Moskowitz, D.S. (2013). Understanding heterogeneity in social anxiety disorder: Dependency and self-criticism moderate fear responses to interpersonal cues. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 53(2), 141-156.
Nauman, E. (2014). Feeling self-critical? Try mindfulness. Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. Retrieved from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/feeling_self_critical_try_mindfulness
Stillman, J. (2014, January 24). How to Do Self-Criticism Right. Retrieved from http://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/how-to-do-self-criticism-right.html
Thompson, R., & Zuroff, D. C. (2004). The levels of self-criticism scale: Comparative self-criticism and internalized self-criticism. Personality and Individual Differences, 36, 419 – 430.
Yamaguchi, A., & Kim, M. (2013). Effects of Self-Criticism and Its Relationship with Depression Across Cultures. International Journal of Psychological Studies, 5(1), 1-10.