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  • Adam Stanford

Overcoming Self-Criticism

What is Self-Criticism?

Self-criticism is when we judge ourselves harshly which can lead to becoming our own worst critics. It can manifest as negative self-talk or it can be expressed outwardly as berating ourselves to others for our mistakes or our perceived failures. I’ve done a lot of my own work around how I criticize myself for things like coming across as awkward or overbearing, not standing up for myself enough, and many mistakes that I have made.

It is important to remember that self-criticism is not constructive – it does not help us learn from our mistakes and it does not motivate us to do better. Instead, it can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and worthlessness which contribute to an overall sense of hopelessness and overwhelm. Additionally, self-deprecating humor can be funny, and it is important to be able to laugh at yourself, but sometimes it becomes excessive to the point of causing harm.

Types of Self-Criticism

There are several different types of self-criticism. One example is perfectionism – when we expect perfection from ourselves and are never satisfied with our performance. Another type is personalizing – when we take responsibility for negative things even when they are not our fault. A third type is overgeneralizing – when we draw sweeping conclusions about ourselves based on limited incidents or experiences. A fourth type is magnification – when we exaggerate the negative impacts of our imperfections. One last example is discounting the positive – when we refuse to acknowledge our successes and accomplishments.

Rational Responses to Automatic Thoughts

One of the key principles of CBT is that our thoughts influence our feelings and our behavior. When we are feeling down, it is easy to fall into a cycle of negative thinking which can lead to more negative feelings and unhelpful behaviors. With CBT, we can learn to challenge and change our negative thoughts and replace them with more rational and balanced thoughts.

True CBT therapy goes even deeper to help people identify where those thoughts are coming from and to address their cause- our unhealthy core beliefs. Common unhealthy core beliefs include, “I’m not good enough,” “I’m unlikeable,” and “I’m a failure.” By shifting these to healthy rational beliefs, I have made great strides in reducing self-criticism and you can too.

Strengths-Based Approach to Self-Criticism

This approach focuses on our strengths and ability to grow rather than our challenges and mistakes. It can be difficult to break out of the cycle of negative thinking and self-criticism, but by focusing on building on our strengths and adopting a forward looking perspective in which we embrace challenges and persist in the face of setbacks, we can learn to be kinder to ourselves and acknowledge our successes and accomplishments. A strength-based approach to self-improvement is far more motivating as it keeps our focus on working toward more of what we want rather than getting stuck on what we don’t want.

Self-Gratitude as a Tool to Overcome Self-Criticism

Another way to overcome self-criticism is to practice self-gratitude. Self-gratitude is the practice of recognizing and appreciating our successes and positive attributes, no matter how small. It takes time and dedication, but research has also shown that practicing self-gratitude can lead to increased levels of happiness and well-being. This is key to developing self-compassion and self-love and it really helps to combat perfectionism and overgeneralizing.

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

Essentially, a growth mindset is the belief that one's abilities and intelligence can be developed through hard work, dedication, and persistence. On the other hand, a fixed mindset is the belief that one's abilities and intelligence are fixed traits and cannot be changed.

The difference between these two mindsets is significant and can have a huge impact on one's life. Those with a growth mindset tend to embrace challenges and view failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. They are more resilient and have a greater sense of self-efficacy. On the other hand, those with a fixed mindset tend to avoid challenges and give up easily when faced with obstacles. They are more likely to view failure as a reflection of their abilities and may have a lower sense of self-esteem.

It's important to note that these mindsets are not set in stone and can be changed. By adopting a growth mindset, individuals can develop a more positive outlook on life and achieve greater success in their personal and professional endeavors. So, which mindset do you have? If you find yourself leaning towards a fixed mindset, don't worry! With a little bit of effort and dedication, you can cultivate a growth mindset and replace self-criticism with self-encouragement.


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