Self-Criticism

“We are harder on ourselves than we are on anyone else.” ― Anne Burton

What Is Self-Criticism?

Self-criticism refers to how we evaluate ourselves. Being self-critical means to point out our perceived flaws or shortcomings and is something that all of us do from time to time. We criticise our capabilities, our achievements, mindsets, food choices, fashion sense, hobbies and so on – the list is endless.

In moderation, self-criticism can have a positive effect on our personal growth; it helps us to learn from our mistakes and overcome bad habits or weaknesses. However, frequent negative thoughts about ourselves or, more specifically, about our ability to complete a particular goal or task, can lead to thoughts of failure, self-defeat and giving up.

It can be hard to distinguish when our self-criticism is doing us more harm than good. Once it becomes something we do without necessarily realising that we are doing it, it may be difficult to stop.

This module will guide you through three steps that can help you reduce your self-critical thoughts and adopt a more positive attitude towards yourself. Alongside explanations, you will be given practical tools you can use to complete each step and achieve your desired outcome.

Understanding Your MyMynd Self-Criticism Score

Optimal

An optimal score suggests that you do not engage in harsh or excessive self-critical thinking and that you likely experience no significant distress. You are able to accept mistakes and learn from them. You may want to explore this module in order to maintain good functioning.

Satisfactory

A satisfactory score suggests that you sometimes engage in harsh or excessive self-critical thinking, perhaps experiencing some mild distress. For the most part you are able to overcome this and are able to accept mistakes and learn from them. You may want to explore this module to work on those aspects where you are struggling. 

Moderate Concern

A moderate concern score suggests that you frequently engage in harsh or excessive self-critical thinking which results in periods of significant distress. You may be overly focused on mistakes and struggle to accept them. We recommend exploring this module to work on those aspects where you are struggling.

At Risk

An at risk score suggests that you constantly engage in harsh and excessive self-critical thinking which results in frequent and significant distress. You are always focused on mistakes and are unable to accept them. We recommend exploring this module to work on those aspects where you are struggling and to seek help from your GP/listed helplines if needed.

Why Working On Your Self-Criticism Is Important

When used for self-correction purposes, self-criticism can help you identify and learn from your mistakes, improve your behaviours and attitudes and ultimately lead to personal growth.

However, when your self-criticism becomes too harsh or happens all the time, it can contribute to: 

Stress

Personal Difficulties

Poor Life Outlook

We tend to ‘criticise on autopilot’. Negative thoughts about ourselves and our behaviours appear on a daily basis and often without awareness.

It becomes a habit –  an unhelpful one.

There are various signs for being over-critical that you can look out for:

Self-Blame

Negative Self-Talk

Over-Analysing

Never Satisfied

Self-Comparison

All Or Nothing

Self Criticism And Personal Standards

Your MyMynd assessment results will also have given you information about your personal standards. These are the expectations you have for yourself and your life.

Your level of self-criticism largely influences your personal standards and vice versa. Being overly critical of yourself can make you feel that you are unable to live up to your standards, resulting in perceived failure and self-punishment.

In order to ensure good mental health, motivation and productivity, it is important to find the right balance between your levels of self-criticism and how high you set your personal standards.

Please consider exploring tools for improving both areas. 

How Can You Become Less Self-Critical?

It is important to remember that your self-critical thoughts are not fixed. You have the ability to change how you evaluate and treat yourself.

You can do this in three steps:

Step 1: Awareness

Becoming aware of your self-critical thoughts.

Step 2: Questioning

Questioning your self-critical thoughts and changing your perspective.

Step 3: Self Compassion

Treating yourself with love, acceptance and appreciation.

Becoming Aware Of Your Self-Critical Thoughts  

As a first step it is important to become aware of the self-critical thoughts you have.

Imagine there is a parrot on your shoulder that constantly squawks disapproval in your ears.

It is easier to identify words and phrases that harm us if they are spoken by someone else. If they are internal however, we tend to be less aware and accept them easily. The Poisoned Parrot is a nice anecdote to illustrate this.

Punishing yourself with negative thoughts when you are already in a bad place only intensifies them. It is essential to notice when you engage in self-critical thinking. Becoming aware of self-harming thoughts can help you to question and change them. 

Practicing Self-Compassion 

Self-Compassion means treating yourself with love, acceptance and appreciation. It is an understanding of yourself. It is not about being the best possible version of yourself but about embracing the person that you are.  

For many people it is easy to extend compassion to others, but much harder to show that same compassion to themselves. It is not enough to simply become aware of your negative self-talk and question it.

The ultimate step is to turn that self-criticism into self-love and self-acceptance. 

By understanding these steps and using relevant strategies, you can learn how to decrease your self-criticism, look at challenging situations from a different perspective and achieve your goals, even when obstacles get in your way.

Tools To Reduce Your Self-Criticism

Negative & Positive Words

A method for realising how the words you use to describe yourself can impact your feelings.

Self-Critical Thoughts Chart

A tool to help you notice when negative thoughts about yourself occur, so you can find healthier alternatives.

Think Of A Friend

A way for you to shift your perspective and treat yourself as you would treat a good friend.   

Replacing Negative Thoughts

A “how to” for becoming aware of your critical thoughts and changing them into something positive.

Three Good Things

A quick and easy way to recognise what you have done well this week and how that makes you feel.

Positive Affirmations

Positive statements that help you to challenge and overcome self-sabotaging and negative thoughts.

Negative & Positive Words

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Awareness

15 Minutes

Starter

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Written

This tool is a way of realising how the words you use to describe yourself can impact your feelings and wellbeing. It also helps identify how often you treat yourself with criticism rather than compassion.

1. Look at the words on the first PDF worksheet in the download materials and allow each one to sink in. Imagine they apply to you and notice how they make you feel. Do they impact your mood? Give each one a score from -10 to 10.

2. Now look back at the worksheet. Some of these words might be quite familiar to you. Have you ever named yourself like that? If so, circle them.

These are your self-critical thoughts. Think about other words you use when you are self-critical. You can write them down on the side. 

3. Now do the same for the second sheet. Listen to yourself and imagine these words apply to you. How do they make you feel? Give each one a score from -10 to 10.

4. Do the same reflection. Are any of these words familiar to you? Do you consider yourself to be like that? If so, circle them.

These are self-affirmations

5. Now look back at both sheets. How many of the ‘bad words’ and how many of the ‘good words’ do you usually use to describe yourself. Is there a gap?

Note: It is important to become aware of the way we treat ourselves and what that does to us. Often we find it easier to dwell on our mistakes than to acknowledge times we did well. We struggle complimenting ourselves and allowing positive thoughts about ourselves, while we readily judge ourselves negatively. A nice tool to show this is ‘Think of a friend’.  

Self-Critical Thoughts Chart

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Awareness

20 Minutes a Day

Advanced

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Written

This tool will allow you to notice when negative thoughts about yourself occur. This can then help you to question them or find healthier alternatives. Having such a record also helps you to consistently reflect on your thoughts and behaviours. You can become aware of certain patterns, how your thoughts make you feel and how they influence your actions. 

For one week, use a worksheet for every day. Either note the self-critical thoughts down as they occur or pick a certain time of the day for you to sit down and reflect on your day. The ideal situation would be to note them immediately, as thoughts and feelings can fade. However, if that is not possible make sure to take adequate time and relive what happened in your mind. Either way, make sure that you stick to filling in the charts as honestly as possible.  

Steps: 

    1. Date and Time: When did you feel bad about yourself? Maybe there is a certain pattern to the time of the day. 
    2. Situation: What happened that made you feel this way? Were you alone or with someone else? Was it something that you did? What were you doing? Where were you? It could also have been something you were thinking about. 
    3. Emotions and Sensations: How did you feel? Was it a mix of emotions or one emotion that was very strong? Did your body feel differently? E.g. a headache, a sore stomach, sweaty palms. Rate the emotion’s intensity from 0 – 10 (0 means it was not intense at all, 10 means it was very intense). 
    4. Self-Critical Thoughts: What did you think when you started to feel bad? Did you call yourself names? What does the situation say about you? What would others have thought of you? Try and rate each thought from 0 – 10 (0 meaning that you do not believe to be like that at all, 10 meaning that you truly believe these thoughts are true). 
    5. Self-Defeating Behaviours: What did you do after these negative thoughts? Did you confront yourself or the other person or did you withdraw? Did you ask for support? Did you treat yourself well? 

Think Of A Friend 

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Questioning

15 Minutes

Starter

Thinking

This tool works best without knowing its exact purpose. So, before reading any further, take some time to fill in the worksheet in the Download Materials and really think about whatever you write down. You can then proceed to the ‘Further Explanation’ tab.

Now that you have reflected on what you wrote down, do you notice any differences in how you judged yourself after wrongdoing versus what you would tell a good friend in the same situation? Do you notice what happened? 

Now, ask yourself:

  • Would I say such harsh things to a friend with a similar problem? 
  • If not, why not? 

Here is an explanation: When putting ourselves down, we often embrace a double standard. That is, we treat ourselves more harshly than we would treat a friend if they made the same mistake as we did.

If you truly think about it, it just doesn’t make sense. Instead of putting ourselves down, we would be so much better off being the same good friend to ourselves that we are to others. We do not tell our friends that they are stupid or incapable if they make a mistake. They aren’t a complete failure or will never do better. We tell them that it wasn’t so bad, that it doesn’t make them a less valuable or loved person, and that they will do better next time. We do that because we are compassionate and because we want them to feel better about themselves. 

What can you learn from this?

Instead of putting yourself down, talk to yourself in the same compassionate way you might talk to a dear friend who was upset.

This video can be helpful: 

Ask yourself how things might change if you did that. The next time you struggle, try and take a step back and be kind to yourself. You will almost certainly find that this makes you feel better and helps you to think clearly and constructively.

Replacing Negative Thoughts

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Questioning

20 Minutes

Intermediate

Thinking

Sometimes you will be aware of your critical thoughts but may not quite manage to change them into something positive. This is an important step and all it takes is some practice. Over time it will become easier for you to identify these negative thoughts, become aware that they are not true and reframe them more positively. 

When negative thoughts about yourself occur, the first thing is to check whether you really have the evidence to support these claims about yourself. 

So the next time self-critical thoughts arise, write them down and try to find out whether they have evidence or not. Most often we will find that there is little to no evidence to support the negative thoughts we have about ourselves. In the download materials, there is a worksheet called ‘Weighing The Evidence’ that you can use to do so. 

Then, once you have identified that you don’t have that evidence, try replacing the negative thoughts with more realistic ones that focus less on the negative and more on your personal improvement. 

You can use the exercise in the next tab to practice this.

Look at the sentences below. Can you find alternative perspectives? 

Take some time to think about how you could rephrase these sentences in a more positive way. Maybe take a pen and write them down.

Once you click on the next tab, you can see examples of how we rephrased the first three sentences.

 

“I need to do more exercise today, I ate too much and look fat”

“I did not finish what I wanted to today, I am such a failure”

 

“I meant to stop smoking ages ago, I am never gonna make it”

 

I cannot believe I have just said that, I am so embarrassing” 

 

“I sat here for hours and still didn’t get the work done, I am too stupid for this job”

 

 

 

 

“Eating too much once does not make me look fat. I actually ate very healthy yesterday. I should do exercise because I want to and it makes me feel good, not because I feel ugly. Also, I know that others do not perceive me as fat. Maybe I will try and eat healthy again tomorrow and go for a run.”

“I did not finish what I wanted to today, because my kids needed me. It is okay to have more or less productive days. I was a good mother today. I am definitely not a failure.

“It is true that I wanted to stop but I went through some very difficult times. I can be proud of myself for where I am now. Maybe I should look up a few more resources that can truly help me quitting.

 

Three Good Things

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Self Compassion

15 Minutes a Week

Starter

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Written

This is a simple but powerful tool to help you realise what you have done well this week and how that makes you feel. By focusing on your achievements you will learn to take a more positive approach towards yourself. Planning the things you want to accomplish next will help you build upon that encouragement. 

Pick a day, maybe towards the end of the week, and fill in the PDF worksheet in the Download Materials. Repeat this on a weekly basis.

You could also write this exercise in a journal, if you have one. 

Positive Affirmations

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Self Compassion

10 Minutes a Day

Starter

Thinking

Affirmations are positive statements that help you to challenge and overcome self-sabotaging and negative thoughts. When you repeat them often, you encourage your brain to adopt a more positive outlook on your life and your capabilities. 

Over time, the positive changes to your thoughts will also be reflected in your behaviour.

There is no right or wrong way to practice your affirmations but some suggestions include:

1. Writing the affirmation down. Write the affirmation in a journal, diary or on your computer and add to it each morning until you have a comprehensive list of positive statements ready for whenever you need a little boost.
2. Saying the affirmation out loud. When you wake up in the morning look at your reflection in the mirror and recite the affirmation out loud to yourself three times to solidify it in your mind.
3. Downloading an affirmation app. Download a free affirmation app and get daily affirmations sent straight to your phone.

Note: What you choose to write in your affirmations is entirely up to you. Statements can range from something specific to do with your ability to perform in your job to something more general about your life. The important thing is that each affirmation is a positive statement created by you about you.

The flashcards in the Download Materials contain some examples to help you get started.