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How can I Stop Being Self-Critical?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Many people have trouble with being overly self-negative. Instead of seeing their accomplishments or virtues, they tend to see only their failures or drawbacks. Some people feel as though they have a constant negative “script” in their heads on how they are messing things up, or they can’t look into a mirror without instantly viewing hips that are too big, or teeth that are imperfect, or many other things most people never even notice. Since this type of negative self-talk can be damaging to your happiness and your emotional well being, it’s a good idea to find ways to stop being self-critical.

That’s easy to say, but is it easy to do? It actually can take some time and practice to stop self-criticism, and to learn to be more accepting of who you are at any given moment. It often starts with practice, and learning to ignore the more negative self-talk that may chatter at us when we assess ourselves. Sometimes self-criticism is so deeply embedded in our core belief structure, we don’t even realize we are constantly operating under thoughts and feelings that are essentially negative and destructive. When this is constant, and not occasional, therapy is an excellent option. In guided therapy sessions with a therapist expert in cognitive behavioral therapy, you can stop being self-critical, through a variety of practice exercises.

Many of us experience only mild to moderate self-criticism, and would like to see this end. It’s debatable whether therapy is necessary for the occasional self-critic. Instead many people work on this matter alone and find ways to stop being self-critical on their own. The first rule for beginning this work is something of a “Golden Rule” in reverse. “Treat yourself as you would have others treat you, and treat yourself as you would like to treat others.” Note that we often criticize ourselves for things that we wouldn’t criticize in others. A curvy body on someone else is considered beautiful, but if we’re the ones in that body, we consider it “fat.” Someone else’s painting or essay or speech is inspiring, but our own work is “not good enough.”

What it takes in the onset of trying to stop being self-critical is a little awkward. It requires a bit of distance from the self, and a willingness to reject negative thoughts. You have to treat those negative scripts as though they are coming from elsewhere, from some rude neighbor who never likes anything, for example, and you have to be willing to examine yourself much more objectively, pretending you're examining someone else.

For instance, when you look in the mirror, you eyes may immediately race to those “defects” you have. Spend some time there, and try to look instead for something you really like. As negative thoughts intrude, shoo them away and focus on those gorgeous eyes, the fine shape of your chin, lustrous hair or any feature that gives you pleasure. Say to the mirror, “I like you just the way you are!” This may seem like a crazy suggestion, but this attempt is a beginning and some find it very difficult to do at first. What you are doing though, is working to replace old negative beliefs about yourself with new positive ones; you are writing a new script to replace the one that is so hard on you.

If you are trying to stop being self-critical about your performance, work, or behavior, take an objective view of things. At first, it’s likely that your mind will instantly pick out all the things you didn’t accomplish, but note the things you did. Even jot down or journal accomplishments of a few things each day that made you feel proud. Remember to think of yourself by the standards with which you would judge others so you can always find something kind to say or write about yourself.

It is not exactly easy to stop being self-critical, and it’s particularly hard to get rid of negative thoughts. This type of work takes commitment and practice. Along the way, you’ll make some mistakes. Often we have a false belief that mistakes are somehow really bad or wrong. Mistakes, as shown by many people who study the brain, are not intrinsically bad, but are instead ways we learn. On the road to stopping self-criticism, remember that each mistake gives us a way to stretch and grow, something worthy of praise.

Gradually, as you build a new script and shed old beliefs that are destructively critical, it gets easier to dismiss the negative “scripts.” Instead of castigating yourself for these thoughts arising, simply recognize them as what they are, vestiges of the old self-critical you that are now being replaced by a new, more self-loving you.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon269343 — On May 17, 2012

I didn't read others' comments, so if I repeat anything said, forgive me. Being overly self critical is bad but never honestly criticizing oneself is probably the biggest thing wrong with humanity -- basically saying my crap doesn't stink.

By christensen — On Jul 23, 2010

Since writing this piece I've been doing some research on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. This is a different approach, asserting that we're all going to have critical thoughts, all of the time.

Instead of using a replacement tactic, it simply allows the thoughts to be, recognizing them as "old stories" or "old scripts" that we don't have to pay attention to. It's a very mindful approach and an interesting alternative. It suggests we waste too much time tearing ourselves to pieces for having negative thoughts, when, really, we're all going to predictably have them.

The real difference is evolving a response to them that allows them very little control. Interesting stuff.

A good book on this is "The Happiness Trap" by Russ Harris.

By cafe41 — On Jul 21, 2010

Icecream17- When I was a sales trainer, I would have my team write down successes that they would have in a journal, and everyday when they go to work they would scan the journal to remind themselves of their accomplishments.

This helped the team when dealing with rejection. The constant reminder of all that they accomplished raised their self-esteem and many learned to look at rejection as part of the job, rather than a reflection of themselves.

By icecream17 — On Jul 21, 2010

Latte- Sometimes are viewpoints are a bit off and we really don’t process things as they really happened but instead by a negative filter that we viewed the action by.

For example, if someone says that they will call you, but don’t a person that is overly self critical might view this action of the person not returning the call as dismissing their friendship, or perhaps the friend is angry which is why they did not return the call.

But a more balanced view would have been that maybe the friend got home too late and was unable to call. Training the mind to accept other possibilities is essential to combating an overly critical mindset.

Developing a positive outlook by reading about inspiring people should also help the overly critical person. One has to imagine that if JK Rowling had an overly critical viewpoint of herself we may have never been introduced to Harry Potter.

By latte31 — On Jul 21, 2010

I think that most people can relate to this article very well.

Too many times people disregard their successes because of a few setbacks. What they don’t realize is the mistakes are actually training exercises for future success.

Remembering that some of the most accomplished people are also the ones that have failed makes you understand that setbacks are universal and happen to us all and should not effect you personally.

For example, JK Rowling, the one of the most accomplished authors of our time was rejected by over eight publishing houses before her book was picked up.

Walt Disney was another visionary that wanted to build a theme park for children based on his characters and people of his time laughed at him. Disney World is one of the most popular attractions for families in the world today.

Understanding these examples puts one self-critical nature in perspective and helps to overcome the negativity.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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