Can’t stop self-criticism? Then do it healthily. Just do a simple search on Google on “criticizing yourself” and you will find a ton of articles teaching you how not to criticize yourself and all the dangers that come with self-criticism. But not criticizing yourself is not possible as a human with a working brain.
Time must come (and several such times) where you have to criticize yourself. Instead of grinding in frustration by trying not to criticize yourself since you are going against the natural functioning of your brain, I have come up with the guide that has helped me and we help you actually criticize yourself without all the dangers that come with negative self-criticism.
What is Self-Criticism?
Self-criticism is the process of finding fault in yourself or the things you do. It can be as mild as finding fault in the colour of clothes you pick, to as severe as totally disliking yourself because you think you are not the way you think you should be.
Self-criticism is necessary for self-improvement because you cannot improve on something you think is already perfect. So you must, at least, find some lapses or faults in yourself before you can work on improving them.
However self-criticism can be taken too far, and that is the aspect of self-criticism that receives the most attention. Self-criticism becomes harmful when you think you are all wrong and don’t see any positivity in yourself. Once a person has gotten to a stage in self-criticism where they don’t see any positive thing about themselves, they are incapacitated and won’t work out or even attempt any improvement.
This level of self-criticism leads to low self-esteem, poor self-image, depression, and other ills to mental well-being. But the presence of this level of self-criticism doesn’t make it all bad. Self-criticism can still be done healthily without messing things up, and it is still beneficial
Benefits of Self-Criticism
1. It gives a true self-esteem
True self-esteem is when an individual values themselves based on their true worth. It is neither a high or low self-esteem, but knowing and accepting your true worth.
Several benefits come from holding true self-esteem, one of which is mental peace. Although the extreme of self-criticism brings depressing thoughts, doing it healthily brings a deep sense of security that you are truly what you think you are and there are no uncertainties that will come because of a false belief you have about yourself.
2. Self-criticism is necessary for self-improvement
Improvement happens when you can move from where you are to the next level. However, effective movement can only happen when you are aware of where you are.
Like in building a house, there are different requirements for different stages of the growth of the building. If your life is still at the foundation level, roofing is not an improvement. It takes self-criticism to identify that you need building and what needs to be built upon.
How To Do Constructive Self-Criticism
1. Understand that the purpose of self-criticism is self-improvement
You shouldn’t criticize yourself because you want to fully grasp how awful you are and how you can’t be any better. Instead, you are trying to fully identify the lapses that are stopping you from becoming who you want to be so you can work on them or navigate yourself around them.
Any other self-criticism that does not seek to achieve this purpose should be avoided, but since it is difficult to totally avoid self-criticism, redefine your self-criticism and begin to use it as a system for growth.
2. Criticize behaviours not your person
The reason why your self-criticism ends up being destructive is that you are criticizing yourself and not behaviors when there’s nothing that can be done about yourself; you are who you are already.
You and your behaviour are two separate entities. Although your behavior or action can give a clue about your person, it is not your person and does not define you.
For example, if you did something that made a friend leave you, even if that is the 10th friend leaving you, it doesn’t mean something is wrong with you. Instead, it means something is wrong with the behavior you’re portraying that is chasing those friends.
So what you should criticize is what you are doing, that is chasing the friends. Instead of saying, “I just can’t make friends,” you say, “dishonesty is not letting me make friends.” This puts you in the position of power because something can be done about dishonesty that will satisfy the purpose of criticism.
3. Be objective and specific about what you are criticizing
Even after you are criticizing behaviours and not your person as a whole, you must also ensure you are specific about what you’re criticizing and I mean very specific. That is instead of saying “poor communication is a reason why my relationships keep having a bad end,” you should specify what poor communication actually means in that context like I don’t listen enough or I don’t fully express what I have in mind.
Not specifying exactly what needs to be worked on can also make your criticism unhealthy because it is easy to get overwhelmed thinking you suck at communication since that’s too broad and will not spur you into improvement.
Communication and other broad terms are difficult to improve as opposed to working on something specific like expressing your feelings clearly. You can take it even further. The more specific you are about what is wrong, the better you are at fixing it.
4. Always find solutions to the lapses you find
This is the core of healthy self-criticism. You shouldn’t end the journey knowing what is wrong, you must also identify what can be done about what is wrong. Self-criticism will destroy your mental well-being when you don’t see solutions. That is the reason why self-criticism has been grossly spoken against.
If all you have is a list of all that is not as it should be with you, you will get overwhelmed and might give up on yourself but if side-by-side every lapse, is a solution, it has empowered you for action and you can then take on the challenge of working and those lapses.
5. Identify your strengths too
Just like I said earlier, having only a list of flaws is destructive. Now, add to your list of solutions, strengths that you have. You are not someone that totally needs to be worked on; some things have been worked on already, things that others are still trying to work on in themselves.
Identifying your strengths makes you see that you do not have a bad self. It also encourages you to work on those weaknesses you have spotted. Since I am good at all these, it means I can be good at these other things too.
6. Only focus on things that can be worked on
Some things about you cannot be changed: your gender, height, voice, etc. Although these things aren’t you, they are also things that cannot be changed. The only time you should criticize these things is when you can identify specific things that can be done about them.
Focusing and criticizing things that cannot be worked on will make you hate yourself because you won’t find any solution and it won’t bring any improvement.
For the cases of things that cannot be worked on, you should rather criticize how you feel about them, the effects they have on your life, and how you can navigate through them. This way, you can find solutions to the effect and feelings and that would bring improvements too. You can also see alternative ways to live your best life without them.
Self-criticism is a normal functioning of the human brain but it can become unhealthy and destructive if not done well. Instead of trying to stop self-criticism which mostly is very difficult, individuals should learn to criticize themselves healthily the same way, constructive criticism makes others grow, constructive self-criticism also makes the individual grow.
Olusegun Iyejare is a career coach and certified counselor. He helps individuals discover and maximize their potential to live satisfying lives regardless of obvious limitations holding them back.