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.