Why Are We So Critical Of Ourselves?

One thing I have noticed over the years as a counselor is the large amount of self-criticism coming from a younger generation (millenial and below) that is constant. These same people are incredibly kind, generous, and unjudgemental of others, but when it comes to themselves not only are they the harshest critics but their own worst friend.

What I see is that we have grown up in a world where are constantly exposed to how we are probably doing something wrong, even if we don’t know it. We might be eating the wrong foods (orthorexia anyone?), doing too much isolating, hanging out with the wrong people, not working hard enough, working too hard, not speaking up for ourselves, saying the wrong thing, obsessing, etc. The list goes on and on.

Advertisers have been using pop psychology for a long time to sell their products. I see a lot of image-based or fear-based advertising appealing to our inner critic that wants to be perfect, to be seen, to be acceptable. If we only do this one thing, then we will be alright, we will be alright, we will be just FINE.

However, in the real world, it never works that way. We are beautiful, sloppy, crazy, wonderful, imperfect, tearful, hormonal, aggressive, sensitive, insert-any-other-adjective human beings full of change, wonder, and unpredictability. We are VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity). So what should we do with our VUCA selves amidst our own desire for perfection, stability, certainty, and simplicity?

Stop the pathologizing

What is it that you find yourself worrying or criticizing yourself for the most? Think about that quality or behavior from all angles. Is there something truly wrong with it, or is what you are doing pretty normal, understandable, and loveable? Most likely yes. We all break our diets sometimes, we all sometimes need to stepback, sometimes we say the wrong thing, sometimes we don’t say enough, etc. Find a way to look at your problem as a strength, rather than a possible diagnosis.

Practice self-compassion

Sometimes this is easier said than done (speaking from experience), but when you find yourself being anxious or harsh or judgmental about yourself, think about you and that place you are coming from. Is it a place of hurt, of feeling small, of wanting to be pleasing to others? This part of you deserves love, not shame and blame. Be kind to this part of you and do something nice for yourself. Remind yourself that it’s okay to mess up, to not be perfect, and to want things that everyone else wants.

Get creative with your thinking

We all have an inner critic. The inner critic is one of the most boring, predictable, and negative part of ourselves. When the inner critic starts speaking, it’s time to change the message. Find a way to be creative, beautiful, and positive about that thing that seems so negative. Here is an example. Let’s say that you beat yourself up for being too sensitive. Instead, how about you think about all the great things about being sensitive – like how attractive it can make you to others, how it makes others feel understood, how it helps you to be in tune with others and want to connect with them, etc. Paint a different picture and enjoy admiring the results.

Photo by Olga Guryanova on Unsplash