Self-criticism is meant to be a healthy balance of self-awareness with an intention of continuous growth. But when we’re too critical of ourselves, it stunts progress.
We find ourselves feeling stuck, confused, and losing trust in our capacity to even do anything.
If you’ve had these feelings, and want to know if you’re too critical for your own benefit, here are 10 signs.
1) You struggle with starting anything
Beginning is hardest for those who are too critical with themselves. Ideas and thoughts are blocked by fear and corrections before they have a chance to flow out.
Because of this, you’ve been told that you’re simply procrastinating or being lazy. But this isn’t true. Studies show that procrastination is often caused by our desire for perfection (or fear of imperfection).
So…before you even try to start, you always find something wrong in your surroundings—from the weather, the kind of pen you’re using, even the chair you’re sitting in. You even engage in productive procrastination like washing the dishes just because you’re worried you can’t perform well once you start.
2) You lose sleep over your mistakes (even when no one else noticed)
When your self-worth is attached to outputs, even small typos translate to character flaw—that you’re stupid, and careless when all you are is a human who made a mistake.
If you just had a meeting that day and you felt like you left a bad impression (*cringe*), you may find yourself rehearsing conversations in your head on how you should have talked to people better.
You stress out beyond reason for things that don’t really have much of an impact anyway. The typos can easily be corrected and so what if you’re not the most articulate person in a meeting anyway?
3) You think people who praise you are just being nice
When other people praise your work, you can’t help but think they’re just trying to be nice (or that they’re outright lying) because all you see are errors and imperfections.
Because of this, you react in a strange way.
Instead of saying “Wow, thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed reading my essay.”, you say “Oh no, it’s actually still very rough.” or “Are you serious?! But it’s loaded with typos and I think the ending was too abrupt.”
How sad is that? Instead of you becoming your own cheerleader, you’ve become your worst critic.
4) You’re not okay with “good enough”
You keep improving your work until time runs out because you KNOW you can do better.
You find it very hard to feel accomplished because there is always more to do, a better way to do it, or other ways to improve if only you had more time.
Your standard of “good enough” is a constantly moving target that leaves you exhausted and depleted.
And the worst part is, every single person in your life is somehow forced to chase it, too.
5) Doing nothing makes you uncomfortable
It’s impossible for you to sit still and do nothing.
Even when you “relax” you still have to be productive—you wash dishes, sweep the floor, delete emails.
If you want to be a writer, you keep reading, taking workshops and classes even on your breaks and holidays.
While learning is often a good thing, the truth is you find it very hard to take breaks and relax because doing so simply feels like laziness.
You always have a need to fill your time with more productivity, more output, and you are always looking for ways to improve and things to fix because truth is, you never feel like you are good enough.
6) You get anxious and stressed when things are easy
On a related note, ease is so unnatural for you that you end up overcomplicating even the simplest of things.
To you, “easy” means not pushing one’s potential.
This is unfortunate because it just means that it has reached a point that feeling stressed has become your norm.
You get irritated— sometimes to the point of anger— when other people are relaxing because you think they should be doing more and you feel bitter by your incapacity to be carefree.
7) You are an expert at catastrophizing
When something goes wrong—even if it’s just very minor—you panic!
You research and simulate in your head almost non-stop as if the survival of the species depended on it.
You expect things to go wrong and the only way you know how to go about anything is to imagine the worst case scenarios and prepare for all of those, even when they are unlikely to happen.
That’s because you don’t want to be unprepared when there’s a crisis because…what kind of person doesn’t prepare?! An irresponsible one, and you’re anything but!
You even make holiday preparations feel like a battlefield.
8) You’re overwhelmed when you have to make decisions
There are always too many factors to consider when every decision is attached to who you are.
You’re reached a point where even small things like purchasing a new appliance feels like a life or death decision.
When everything has to fill all of your very rigid criteria you end up wasting so much time and energy just trying to pin it down.
And even when you’ve finally decided, you always second guess yourself if there was a better decision that could have been made.
9) Your self-worth is attached to your work
You value yourself based mainly on the things you’ve accomplished—your awards, your job position, your work of art.
And so naturally, you’d devote all your time and energy in becoming successful at what you do.
And when there are setbacks, you bang your head on the wall because you know you could have done better!
You always have a “Failure is not an option!” motto and while this kind of mindset certainly pushes you to the top, it can also pull you down and erode your self-worth.
10) You’re hard on others
You have been told by friends, family, or colleagues that you’ve hurt them with your criticism.
“You have a sharp tongue.”
“You’re too strict!”
“Why can’t you just be a little gentler on people?!”
And you just don’t understand because you honestly believe it was just “constructive.” In fact, they should be glad because it’s the “toned down” version of what you really wanted to say.
Deep down, you feel like it’s normal to criticize other people that way because your standards and criticism of yourself is much harder.
You know what they say, “Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself.”, But instead of perfume, you got poison, and instead of “a few drops”, you’re a waterfall…well, unless you learn to be less self-critical.
Tips to develop a more compassionate self
Half ass it
“Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first until you master it,” says self-development expert Brian Tracy.
If you’ve been raised to believe to always give a 100% and give it all you’ve got, half-ass-ing it will feel so repulsive to the point that you might feel sick.
But doing things poorly is the only way to curb the resistance to begin doing anything.
Half-assing it doesn’t mean you’re being content with mediocrity or the poorly done work. What we advocate for is the belief and practice of small, consistent, incremental progress, rather than giving it all in one go.
Watch your language and practice your affirmation scripts
Are you cursing yourself for every tiny mistake, name-calling or shaming?
You really have to be conscious of your self-talk, because even when you don’t say it outloud, it’s affecting your mental health and self-esteem.
When you find yourself saying, “Oh you’re so stupid!,” prepare self-affirmation scripts that feel true to you such as: “That’s okay, I’m allowed to make mistakes.”
For every single insult that pops up in your mind, write it down in one row, and a self-affirming script across it so you’re ready.
Intense self-criticism attacks at our weakest moments so exercise the muscle of self-compassion with consistent practice.
If you are consistent, you will entirely shift not just your self-talk, but your entire relationship with yourself.
Ask for support from your friends, partner, or family
This could possibly be the hardest tip for people who are too critical of themselves because they don’t want to appear weak, inconvenience others, or honestly believe they are the best person to do it.
We are all meant to grow and thrive as a collective and asking for support includes that.
Try asking a colleague to remind you when they notice you falling into old habits. This could mean being reminded of objectives and if it’s already accomplished, it’s done.
Or maybe ask your partner to remind you to take breaks and breathe when you are compelled to be overly critical of yourself or other people.
As you build new habits to restore yourself to a healthy level of self-criticism, be gentle with progress-it will take time, practice and a lot of patience with yourself.
When you find yourself self-sabotaging by losing focus of what matters because you are getting too critical again, choose to be present and gain a wider perspective on your situation.
Once you detox from being too critical, when you begin to fall into it again, you might be surprised to find you’ve lost your taste for it.
And that’s when you know when your compassionate version of you has won over the hyper critic.