Self-doubt and self-criticism are part of most of our daily lives. Although a certain level of constructive introspection into one’s flaws can be useful, self-criticism can unfortunately very often escalate into a very intense and dangerous mental condition. Research defines self-criticism as a tendency to constantly negatively evaluate and scrutinize oneself and one’s actions in a harsh and punitive manner. Self-criticism has been shown to be a strong predictor of multiple mental health disorders including depression, anxiety as well as self-injurious behaviors (Baetens et al., 2015; Zuroff et al., 1987). Given the damaging effects of self-criticism it is imperative to combat its effects as promptly as possible. Outlined below are a few techniques that one can employ to reduce self-criticism:
Adopting a Self-Compassionate stance
Having a self-compassionate attitude makes one more likely to accept and understand their flaws and imperfections as a part of normal human behavior. Although it takes time to transform the way we respond to our self-critical voice, one potential technique that can help individuals change their perspective on themselves is treating and responding to one’s difficulties and sufferings the way you would respond to the same problems if a close friend was experiencing them. Another possible tool is the self-compassion journal. This can be used by an individual to express their perceived flaws and mistakes and then take an accepting and compassionate perspective on them.
Being mindful of our thoughts and emotions
Another helpful practice to reduce self-criticism is mindfulness. Being mindful of our experiences and emotions allows us to consciously and openly observe our current state of mind with an accepting and non-judgmental stand. An increase in mindfulness has been shown to be positively associated with reducing self-judgement and criticism as well as in improving psychological and physiological well-being (Baer et al., 2012). The first and most important skill to start developing mindfulness is to learn to take a step back and notice what we are experiencing in any situation – emotionally, physically, cognitively. Focusing and increasing our awareness of our internal and external surrounding improves our ability to centre ourselves in the current moment without letting self-judgement overwhelm our thoughts and decision making.
Baetens, I., Claes, L., Hasking, P., Smits, D., Grietens, H., Onghena, P., & Martin, G. (2015). The relationship between parental expressed emotions and non-suicidal self-injury: The mediating roles of self-criticism and depression. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24(2), 491-498.
Zuroff, D. C., & Mongrain, M. (1987). Dependency and self-criticism: Vulnerability factors for depressive affective states. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 96(1), 14.
Baer, R. A., Lykins, E. L., & Peters, J. R. (2012). Mindfulness and self-compassion as predictors of psychological wellbeing in long-term meditators and matched nonmeditators. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 7(3), 230-238.
Written by: Sukriti Drabu
Clinical Psychologist SACAC Counselling