How to stop self criticizing + Case Studies and Free Worksheet

What is self-criticism?

Self-criticism is a type of internal discourse in which an individual negatively or harshly evaluates their own conduct, thoughts, or feelings. It can take many forms, including self-reproach, self-blame, and perfectionism. Self-criticism has been linked to a number of mental health concerns, including sadness, anxiety, and low self-esteem. According to some studies, people who engage in self-criticism are more susceptible to feelings of shame and guilt and are less prone to seeking help for mental health problems.

What is self-criticism according to Adam Phillips?

Adam Phillips is a modern psychoanalyst and author who has written extensively about self-criticism. Phillips emphasizes in his work that while self-criticism is a vital and necessary component of the self, it can also be problematic when it becomes excessive or self-defeating.

Phillips contends that self-criticism stems from a desire to better oneself and live up to one’s goals. When self-criticism becomes excessive, it can result in feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and failure. He also says that self-criticism might be used to avoid confronting one’s own defects, to avoid confronting one’s own limitations and vulnerabilities.

Phillips also underlines how the grieving process is frequently tied to self-criticism. He contends that critiquing oneself is a healthy approach to cope with the loss of aspirations and the disappointment that results from not upholding them. Additionally, he contends that self-criticism is a viable strategy for coping with the loss of an idealized self-image.

In conclusion, Phillips argues that while self-criticism is an essential and normal part of the self, it may also become problematic if it becomes excessive or self-defeating. He underlines that it is frequently connected to the grieving process, the disappointment that comes from falling short of expectations, and the loss of an idealistic self-image.

Is self-criticism a Defense mechanism?

In psychology, self-criticism is not frequently viewed as a kind of defense. People employ defense mechanisms, which are unconscious behaviors, to shield themselves from fear or discomfort. Repression, for instance, is a defense strategy in which unwelcome ideas or feelings are pushed from awareness, whereas projection is a defense mechanism in which one’s own uncomfortable thoughts or feelings are attributed to another person. On the other hand, self-criticism is a form of deliberate, introspective activity in which people judge themselves unfavorably. Instead of being a protective mechanism, it is considered to be a cognitive or behavioral process. Though this is an indirect result of self-criticism, some people may utilize it as a way to avoid or divert from unpleasant thoughts or sensations.

Is self-criticism a disorder?

Although self-criticism is not a problem in and of itself, it can be a sign or symptom of a number of mental health issues. For instance, self-criticism is a prevalent trait of disorders such as borderline personality disorder, anxiety, and depression. It can also be a personality trait of perfectionism, which is defined by unreasonable standards and a propensity to judge oneself severely when those standards aren’t reached.

Self-criticism is a personality feature that is linked to a number of mental diseases, but it is not considered to be a disorder in and of itself. It can also be a healthy technique to assess oneself; it only becomes problematic for the person when it becomes excessive or crippling.

Is self-criticism a skill?

Self-criticism is not often seen as a psychological skill. The capacity or competence to do a certain task or activity is the general definition of skill. Self-criticism, on the other hand, refers to the internal conversation and critical judgment of oneself, which is not often considered a constructive or adaptive trait or something that you learn and develop.

Self-criticism, however, can be used constructively by some people, in which case it can guide them in determining where they can improve and inspire them to alter their behavior. However, it would be more correct to argue that critical self-reflection or self-evaluation is a skill, as opposed to self-criticism alone, that enables people to recognize their own inadequacies and seek to improve them. The line is established when anything crosses it and starts to hurt rather than help, which is a very fine line.

Where does self-criticism come from?

Self-criticism can originate from many different places. The following are some of the most typical causes of self-criticism:

  1. Early life experiences: Adults who experienced frequent criticism or punishment as youngsters may be more prone to self-critical cognitive patterns.
  2. Social comparison: When one sees others excel or achieve more than oneself, it might make one feel inadequate.
  3. High personal standards: Individuals who have high standards for themselves may be more likely to criticize themselves when they fall short of them.
  4. Perfectionism: A psychological trait known as perfectionism is defined by unreasonably high expectations and a propensity to judge oneself negatively when those goals are not fulfilled.
  5. Trauma: Traumatic experiences can result in self-judgment and self-blame for not stopping or addressing the issue.
  6. Family dynamics: Self-criticism can feel like a natural way of thinking if you grow up in a home where it is encouraged or modeled by your parents or other family members.

Why do we have self-criticism?

Self-criticism can be used for a number of adaptive and unhelpful objectives.

Self-criticism may occur for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Self-criticism can act as an incentive to change one’s behavior and self-perception. One can try to improve their areas of weakness or errors by identifying them.
  • Self-criticism can help people establish high standards for themselves and work hard to achieve them.
  • Self-criticism is a coping strategy that some people employ when they are under stress or anxious. Criticizing oneself might help someone stay focused on internal issues or prevent them from feeling powerless or out of control.
  • Using self-criticism as a line of defense against criticism from others. People can anticipate and prepare for any prospective criticism from others by being critical of themselves.
  • One can develop a sense of control over their life by criticizing themselves; similarly, by placing blame on themselves and making amends for their errors, one can feel in control of their life.
  • For those who have experienced traumatic situations, self-criticism can be a means of trying to make sense of the occurrence and coming up with excuses to blame oneself.

It’s crucial to remember that, if not managed properly, the aforementioned causes could be maladaptive and have a bad impact on one’s mental health and general well-being. Continuous self-criticism can cause low self-esteem, negative self-talk, and thoughts, and eventually, have an adverse effect on one’s general welfare.

What part of the brain is responsible for self-criticism?

Although the precise neurological mechanisms behind self-criticism are not well understood, they very certainly entail the interaction of several different brain systems and locations. But numerous brain areas have been linked to self-criticism:

  • Prefrontal cortex: The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is a part of the brain that regulates emotion and behavior. It is also assumed to be involved in processing self-referential information, such as self-evaluation and self-criticism. Self-criticism has increased in response to PFC injury.
  • Anterior cingulate cortex: The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is a part of the brain that regulates emotions. It responds to error detection and negative feedback, both of which are assumed to be associated to self-criticism.
  • Amygdala: This area of the brain is engaged in emotion processing and responds to stress and unfavorable feelings by being active, which might set off self-critical thoughts.
  • The DMN, or default mode network: While the mind is in a “default” state, such as when reflecting on oneself, this brain network is active. According to research, DMN is overactive in those who suffer from depression and anxiety, both of which are linked to self-criticism.

It’s crucial to remember that these areas interact with one another and are interrelated, making the system a complicated one. To completely comprehend the brain mechanisms behind self-criticism, further study is required in this area, which is still in progress.

What are the 2 types of self-criticisms?

The distinction between “normal” or “adapted” and “maladaptive” self-criticism is one of the basic approaches to classifying different types of self-criticism.

  1. Adaptive self-criticism: Adaptive self-criticism is a form of self-criticism that is regarded as beneficial and healthy. It is goal-oriented, concentrated on certain actions or ideas that require improvement, and encourages positive action. It encourages self-improvement and helps one set high standards for themselves, which promotes personal development.
  2. Maladaptive self-criticism: This kind of self-criticism is regarded as harmful and dysfunctional. It frequently focuses on one’s total worth as a person rather than particular actions or thoughts and is generally general, vague, and negative. It frequently comes with self-talk, ruminating, and self-blame, which creates a vicious cycle of low self-worth and self-esteem. It may be a sign or characteristic of a number of mental illnesses, including borderline personality disorder, anxiety, and depression.

It’s crucial to remember that the distinction between constructive and destructive self-criticism can be complex and depends on the context, regularity, and severity of the criticism. Maladaptive self-criticism can be minimized and turned into adaptive self-criticism if it becomes excessively adaptive self-criticism.

What are some theories of self-criticism in psychology?

Numerous psychological theories make an effort to understand the nature and root reasons for self-criticism. The following are a few of the most popular theories:

  • Cognitive-behavioral theory: According to the cognitive-behavioral theory, self-criticism results from unfavorable ideas and beliefs that can feed a vicious cycle of unfavorable feelings, actions, and thoughts. With the help of more constructive and adaptable thinking, CBT aims to identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs.
  • Attachment theory: According to attachment theory, self-criticism is a result of unhealthy attachment patterns that develop in early life. These early career experiences have a lasting impact on an individual’s later relationships, including their relationship with themselves.
  • Social comparison theory: According to social comparison theory, self-criticism develops from comparing oneself to others, frequently in an unfavorable and unconstructive way. Feelings of inadequacy and self-criticism are frequently brought on by this kind of comparison.
  • Self-Determination theory: According to this idea, people develop self-criticism as a means of trying to restore control when they feel they lack autonomy and are not self-determined in their life choices and activities.
  • Self-discrepancy theory: According to the self-discrepancy theory, self-criticism results from a difference between one’s true self and their ideal self. Negative self-evaluations and self-criticism are more likely to occur in people who have a significant difference between the two.
  • Theory of self-compassion: According to this theory, people who lack self-compassion are harsh and judgmental toward themselves, which can result in poor self-evaluation and self-criticism.

Although there have been additional theories put out and research in this area is still ongoing, these are some of the more well-known theories. It’s crucial to keep in mind that different people may experience self-criticism for various reasons, and several theories may interact to explain it.

What is the relationship between self-criticism and compassion-focused therapy? 

A therapy called compassion-focused therapy (CFT) aims to promote the development of self-compassion, or the capacity to be understanding, kind, and forgiving of oneself. CFT was initially created to assist people who struggle to control their emotions and behavior due to excessive levels of self-criticism, shame, and self-directed rage.

According to CFT theory, self-criticism is a result of having trouble controlling one’s emotions and actions as well as having unfavorable internal working models (IWM) of oneself. Different life experiences and events can trigger these negative self-schemas, which then cause negative feelings including shame, guilt, rage, and worry.

Self-compassion, according to CFT, can be a useful strategy for dealing with self-criticism. People can lessen the detrimental impacts of self-criticism and negative self-schemas by learning to be kind, compassionate, and forgiving towards themselves. Through methods including visualization, mindfulness, and cognitive approaches to alter damaging self-talk, CFT tries to promote self-compassion.

Read Blog: Compassion-Focused Therapy (CFT)- Core principles and The Three Circles Model of Emotion

A CFT therapist might work with someone who has been battling with self-criticism for not being able to achieve a goal to help them learn how to be compassionate toward themselves.

Enroll in our course: Compassion-Focused Therapy (CFT) Practioner Guide

Case studies on self-criticism

  • Case study 1: Emily

Emily is a 25-year-old woman who has been struggling with self-criticism for several years. She has always been a perfectionist and has always set high standards for herself. She is constantly criticizing herself for not being good enough and not achieving her goals. She has difficulty completing tasks and making decisions, due to her harsh self-criticism, which leads her to doubt her abilities. She has been experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety and has been struggling with low self-esteem and a sense of failure.

  • Case study 2: John

John is a 35-year-old man who has been struggling with self-criticism for as long as he can remember. He was raised by a critical and perfectionist father and grew up feeling that he could never measure up. He has a hard time accepting compliments or positive feedback and always finds something to criticize about himself. He is overly self-critical in his professional life and has trouble taking risks or trying new things because of his fear of failure. He experiences low mood and difficulty in enjoying life activities because of his self-critical thoughts and behavior.

  • Case Study: Sara

Sara is a 32-year-old woman who has been struggling with self-criticism and feelings of inadequacy for most of her life. She was raised by a critical and perfectionist mother and has always felt like she could never measure up. She has a hard time accepting compliments or positive feedback and always finds something to criticize about herself. She has been experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety and has been struggling with low self-esteem and a sense of failure. Sara began attending compassion-focused therapy (CFT) sessions with a therapist trained in CFT. The therapist helped Sara to recognize her self-critical thoughts and to understand how they were affecting her emotions and behaviors. Through visualization and mindfulness exercises, the therapist helped Sara to develop a more compassionate and kind inner voice, which she could use to talk to herself instead of her usual harsh self-criticism. The therapist also helped Sara to understand how her childhood experiences with her mother had contributed to her self-criticism and helped her to develop a more compassionate understanding of herself and her mother. Sara also worked on developing a sense of self-compassion and learning to be kind, understanding, and forgiving towards herself. Through the therapy sessions, Sara was able to see a significant decrease in her self-criticism and an improvement in her self-esteem and mood. She was also able to complete tasks more easily, and make decisions without being held back by her negative thoughts. She also started to enjoy activities she used to avoid and was able to form healthier relationships. This case study illustrates how CFT can be an effective treatment for self-criticism, by helping individuals to develop self-compassion and change negative self-talk and negative self-schemas. It’s important to note that therapy can be beneficial but results may vary depending on the individual and the circumstances.

How do you break the cycle of self-criticism?

It can be difficult to break the cycle of self-criticism, however, there are some methods that might be useful:

  • Understand self-criticism: Recognizing self-criticism when it occurs and realizing that it is a pattern of negative self-talk rather than a reflection of reality are the first steps in breaking the cycle.
  • Dispute bad ideas: When you catch yourself becoming critical of yourself, confront the negative ideas by asking whether they are actually true or if there is any proof to back them up.
  • Reframe your thoughts: Try to concentrate on what you’ve learned from the experience and how you can get better in the future rather than dwelling on your faults and shortcomings. Reframe errors as chances to improve and learn from them.
  • Practice self-compassion: Rather than self-criticism, self-compassion means treating oneself with kindness, understanding, and forgiveness. To be kinder and more understanding to yourself, try to picture yourself speaking to a friend in the same way that you speak to yourself.
  • Practice mindfulness: By assisting you in becoming more aware of your thoughts and emotions and in responding to them in a non-judgmental manner, mindfulness can help you lessen self-criticism.

Watch Video: We have created this playlist to help you get started with practicing mindfulness

Read Blog: How to practice mindfulness?

  • Get support: Speaking with a therapist or counselor may teach you how to recognize and combat unfavorable emotions and ideas, as well as provide you tips on how to stop the vicious cycle of self-criticism.
  • Make a self-care plan: Taking care of oneself can help one become more resilient, increase self-esteem, and decrease self-criticism. Make a self-care schedule that includes your favorite activities.
  • Be reasonable: Be reasonable in your expectations of both yourself and other people. Rather than striving for perfection, set reasonable expectations for both you and others.
  • Be kind to yourself: Remember that this is a process and that it may take some time. If you notice that you are reverting to self-criticism, don’t be hard on yourself. Try once more while being kind to yourself.

How do you turn self-criticism into strength?

Although self-criticism can be challenging to resist, with practice and effort it can be turned into a strength. Listed below are some techniques to help make self-criticism a strength:

  • Constructive criticism can teach you: Instead of feeling attacked or upset, constructive criticism can be useful in identifying areas for progress. Learn to distinguish between helpful and destructive criticism, then employ the former to drive forward constructive change.
  • Utilize introspection: Instead of dwelling on your shortcomings, try to think about who you are, your strengths and flaws, and what you can do to get better.
  • Change the way you think: Try to change the way you think from “I can’t” or “I’m not good enough” to “I can improve” or “I’m learning” so that you can put more of your attention on growth and development than on stagnation.
  • Practice self-compassion and improve your self-concept: Self-compassion is a virtue to cultivate since it can offset the damaging consequences of self-criticism. It entails being compassionate to oneself, showing forgiveness to oneself and others, and accepting that everyone makes errors.

Read Blog: What Is Self-Concept And How Can You Enhance IT? Tips and Case-studies

  • Seek assistance: For support and inspiration, speak with friends, family, or a therapist. They can give you direction and support as well as assist you in developing a fresh viewpoint.
  • Develop gratitude: Focus on the good things in your life and show gratitude for them to cultivate gratitude. This can assist you in turning away from self-criticism and toward a more upbeat viewpoint.
  • Create a growth mindset: Rather than having a fixed mindset where one believes that ability is unchangeable, adopt a growth mindset where one believes that abilities may be developed through commitment and effort.

Watch the video: 3 steps model of self-growth

  • Set attainable targets: Be reasonable in your expectations for both yourself and other people. Rather than striving for perfection, set reasonable expectations for both you and others.
  • Be consistent: Consistency is the key to turning self-criticism into a strength. Be aware that it may take some time and effort to stop the habit of self-criticism. You may develop self-criticism into strength and use it to further your objectives and enrich your life with perseverance and practice.

Download our free worksheet to start working on self-criticism.

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