5 tips to recognise self-criticism - "I'm my own worst enemy!"

Do you find yourself being critical towards yourself? Saying harsh things to yourself like "Oh god you're so stupid", "Why did you say that? That was ridiculous", "Why can't you just handle this", "Everyone can do it/understands", "Hurry up"... I could type and type and type but hopefully you get the drift.


If you relate to this, it's most likely that you are experiencing it as an automatic response and often we don't realise the extent to which we are critical towards ourselves and, therefore, the effect it has on us. However, it may be time to understand this more and to figure out if it is helpful in your life. Here are some ways to understand your self-critic which can hopefully bring you closer to figuring out if you'd like it to continue or if you'd like it to change. 

What is self-criticism?

Being self-critical is very common. The majority of people I've worked with over the years experience this kind of inner dialogue (myself included). A significant reason for this is the environment and culture we grew up in.

Many of us would have been parented with the idea that being critical helps a child to change and motivates them. Some of us grew up in emotionally abusive households and were told critical things about ourselves. Lastly, the wider culture around us often tells us to be critical of ourselves as it demands a lot of us. Any one of these experiences can lead us to adopt that same dialogue towards ourselves. But have you ever questioned what it's actually doing to you?

Interestingly, the brain doesn't know the difference between internal and external dialogue and it reacts in the same way. What I mean by this, is that if someone is saying harsh things to you (think back to school), your mind and body react the exact same way as when you are saying them to yourself. Interesting right?! So that means when we feel angry, hurt or sad when someone is saying critical things to us, we will most likely feel that too when we are being self-critical (the difference is that we often don't connect to these feelings).

This can start to move us towards being curious about the effect of self-criticism. So, if you recognise that you are your own worst critic then it may be helpful to explore the following points.

1. Try to explore what your self-critic actually says

Close your eyes and imagine a time when you're often self-critical. What does it actually say to you, what specific words does it use, what tone of voice does it use, and how loud or quiet is it? Open your eyes and write all this down so you don't forget.

2. Try to connect to how it truly feels to be in the company of your self-critic

Close your eyes again and imagine all the above and notice how it feels to be on the receiving end of this. Notice your body's reactions.

  • Do you feel tense?
  • Do you feel sick?
  • Do you feel relaxed?
  • Do you feel your heart racing?

Connect to how it is emotionally, too. Do you feel empowered? Deflated? Small? Confident? 

3. Try to understand your self-critic's intention

No matter how it's going about things, what does it actually hope for you? What are its fears for you?

4. Ask yourself if it's succeeding in its intention

Ask yourself if your self-critic was a teacher at school, would you want it to teach your own child or a child you love? 

5. Learn to shift it

If you notice that, even if it has good intentions, it doesn't feel good to be in the presence of your self-critic then it may be time to learn to shift it. 

I'll be posting another article on how to start to change your inner dialogue if that feels helpful for you, so look out for that coming soon.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Orpington BR5 & London SW19
Written by Lisa Ume, BABCP (Accredited), CBT, PGDip (Accredited), B.Sc (Hons)
Orpington BR5 & London SW19

Lisa is a qualified, fully accredited and experienced Psychotherapist (CBT and other therapies) and can support you with anxiety, depression, trauma, stress, low self-esteem and other difficulties. Please check our her profile if you're interested in sessions.

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