I am sure that you are an expert at self-judgment. After all, you’ve had enough practice, right? Who better than you to magnify your multiple flaws, faults, and weaknesses in all their glory. But, in striving to be your best, you could end up being your own worst enemy.
We all judge ourselves harshly at some point or another in life and there’s nothing unusual about that. The problem arises when we do it so often that it becomes a long-lasting habit. It’s one thing to kick yourself for being late to an appointment or not meeting a deadline, but if such events turn into grand general statements about your unworthiness as a whole, then that’s a slippery path.
I admit that one of my old bad habits was to expect too much of myself in my working day. Not being superwoman, more often than not, I found that I couldn’t possibly do everything I had planned to, and this left me blaming myself for being incompetent.
Now, I recognize this auto pop-up window when it appears in my thoughts and I immediately click on the small x button in the top right-hand corner to close it — you know the one I mean.
The truth is that life is too short to reprimand myself for things I wasn’t able to do in the 24 hours that I have and I try to set a more manageable workload or list of tasks. This way, I don’t go to bed feeling overwhelmed by my inadequacies or telling myself I am incompetent.
When we tell ourselves what we think we are like, we become that person if we are not careful.
But it’s not easy to overcome all of this self-criticism that you load onto yourself day after day, week after week. Eventually, you will even become the supreme judge and jury of your imperfections, inabilities, and inadequacies, sentencing yourself to a life of discontentment and unfulfilled dreams.
You may not even be aware that you are constantly talking down to yourself, and even if you are, perhaps you feel powerless to stop it. It’s a complicated type of thought pattern that many of us women experience but it is undoable if we are prepared to make some changes in our perspectives.
How Do We Self-Criticize and Judge?
There are many ways in which we self-criticize and judge. Some common examples are things like blaming yourself for every negative situation or outcome. You feel personally responsible when things go wrong, even though there may have been other external factors, such as taking on the blame for the bad weather when you have planned a picnic. It could be that you are extremely hard on yourself as a whole, instead of just owning up to a one-off mistake.
Failing to remember your friend’s birthday does NOT make you an uncaring, selfish person. You simply forgot this event — human error. End of story!
If you are a pro at self-criticism, you will avoid taking risks in life. I don’t mean refusing to go bungee jumping or skydiving, which makes perfect sense to me. I am thinking more about the times when you have refused to try something because you believe that you are going to fail.
When you avoid applying for that cool job with a new tech company because you don’t believe you stand a chance of getting it, that lack of action can seriously damage your future.
I know many women who find it hard to express their opinion because they are afraid of saying something stupid. Fair enough; if I find myself amongst a group of astrophysicists, I probably won’t be able to add much to the conversation.
But if I do the same thing when with my peers, that would be a clear sign of my judgmental self at work. I would be telling myself I have nothing worthwhile to bring to the conversation, or that I am boring, or that no one listens to me, so why bother. That’s me putting myself down.
Another way in which we sell ourselves short is by constantly comparing ourselves to others. If you don’t have a healthy level of self-esteem, you are vulnerable to feelings of inadequacy when meeting people more attractive, cleverer, or wealthier than you, and only feel good when you are with those you deem ‘lesser’ than yourself.
That’s a very unstable barometer of your self-worth because it is based on other people, and not on your inner balance.
And guess what… there will always be someone smarter, prettier, richer than you, just as there will always be someone worse off. More often than not, you will probably end up comparing yourself with those who have more, which is going to make you feel very lacking indeed.
As women, we often have to juggle our careers with family life, which may include raising children or looking after other family members. We also want to spend time with friends, take care of our health and be good partners, daughters, mothers, sisters. It’s a lot to handle and there will often be times when you feel dissatisfied with your achievements in at least one of those areas.
You could end up going on and on about your shortcomings, taking them out of proportion, and being extremely hard on yourself. I know many women who do this and tell themselves that, no matter what they do, it’s not enough.
Being too self-judgmental also means that you worry about possible outcomes and obsess over the oncoming disaster that you see looming on the horizon. When you aren’t 100% confident in your abilities, it’s easy to believe that nothing is going to work out as planned and this could even stop you from pursuing your ambitions and goals.
Appearing as weak is another no-no for many women, who often struggle alone without asking for help, even though they may feel inside that they just can’t cope. This is a classic self-sabotaging pattern of behavior and a mindset that can be changed.
Self-harm is something that has been associated with emotional pain that has its roots in self-criticism and can range from using toxic substances to actual self-inflicted bodily harm. It’s very complex form of behavior that really needs expert support but what I would like to stress is that it can be overcome with the right help. There is no need to suffer alone so please reach out to a professional if you are experiencing this kind of behavior.
Self-sabotage is also a common mode of behavior and has many causes, manifesting itself in various ways. It is the terrible twin of self-criticism, working behind the scenes to trip you up whenever you wish to pursue something that could bring greater joy to your life. When you put the two together, you get one big mess.
Think of self-criticism as the opposite of self-compassion and self-sabotage as the opposite of self-esteem. That’s a lot of negativity that you are laying on yourself and a big lack of self-love.
Why, oh why do you do it?
First of all, I want you to chill out before you start down-talking yourself even more for being guilty of such terrible crimes. Self-criticism is not a dirty phrase. It is a perfectly normal human response to life.
Being overly judgmental with yourself is one of those responses that can be explained, understood, and overcome. So, let’s break down the types of negative behavior and learn what we can do to kick those habits.
When the global dieting company Weightwatchers asked 2000 women in the UK to take part in a survey in 2016 as part of its #WomanKind campaign, the results were pretty depressing. It turned out that the average woman in the study would criticize herself at least 8 times a day for similar reasons with her peers.
In fact, 82% of British women involved in the study wished that they had a better relationship with themselves. The most common self-hate slogan of the women, aged between 18 and 60, was the well-known phrase; “You’re too fat.” Next came, “Your hair is a mess,” and “Your belly looks big.”
Other self-criticisms were things like; “You wish you were as photogenic as other women on social media,” and “You’re not wearing enough makeup.”
The study also found that 42% of women admitted that they never give themselves compliments and the remaining 58% rewarded themselves with a positive comment only once a day. Over half of the women questioned said that they would often criticize themselves constantly throughout the day and that the urge to self-criticize was most intensely felt when out shopping for clothes or in front of the mirror.
I know, it sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? But it seems that these behaviors are so common that we can probably all relate to them.
The rise of social media hasn’t helped us to accept our appearance, with so many unreal expectations being set by a tiny minority of female influencers and celebrities. But, I have a feeling that if we couldn’t blame it on social media, we would blame it on something else.
A lack of self-esteem or self-worth isn’t a 21st-century phenomenon for women, after all. Perhaps it is simply more public now, but it has never been easy for women to assert themselves and ooze self-confidence throughout most of recorded history.
Being unkind to ourselves has definitely intensified as culture becomes more centered on how people present themselves on their social media profiles. This even exposes you to a world of criticism and makes you vulnerable to hate-talk, cyberbullying, body shaming, or worse. That’s a scary thing.
Personally, I don’t usually upload photos of myself on any of my social media pages. It’s not that I’m afraid of criticism but more that I don’t feel the need to be validated in that way.
Going back to the survey carried out by Weightwatchers, when women were asked what qualities they wished they possessed, sentiments like ‘believing in myself’ and ‘being more confident’ came out tops. So, while outward appearance plays a large role in how women feel about themselves, they are aware of the importance of self-confidence and self-belief.
I think this is an encouraging message, and all we need to do is unlearn the bad habits we have picked up that prevent us from having both.
Let’s delve a little deeper into how much you personally criticize yourself. This isn’t a pass or fail test but merely a chance for you to look at the aspects of your mindset that you need to change. Think about how many of the following statements you make in an average day about yourself:
1). I’m too fat/overweight
2). My hair is a mess
3). My belly looks big
4). I don’t do enough exercise
5). I feel a mess next to other women
6). I’m not earning enough money
7). I’m having a ‘fat day’
8). I’m wearing jeans today because I look obese
9). I wish I was as photogenic as other women on social media
10). I never believe compliments when made to me
11). I worry that people are talking about me behind my back
12). I feel underdressed
13). I’m not stylish enough
14). I don’t have sex enough with my partner
15). I’m not as creative as other women
16). My butt looks huge
17). I’m not as organized as other women
18). I don’t spend as much time with my friends as I should
19). I’m not wearing enough make-up
20). I’m not attractive to my partner
How many did you get? The truth is that most of us make at least one or two of these statements every day to ourselves and even one is enough to get you down. Whether you criticize your appearance, your worthiness, your attractiveness, or your lack of style, something is going on that is preventing you from feeling 100% happy.
The downside to self-criticism
Being aware of our faults and errors is a good thing if that means changing what we don’t like and learning to cultivate something better.
But more often than not, self-criticism is harmful because it can stunt our self-growth and lead to the following issues:
- It can prevent us from taking risks because we don’t believe we will succeed
- It can stop us from being vocal about our opinions
- It makes us blame ourselves for every negative situation that occurs
- It makes us continuously compare ourselves to others
- It makes us dissatisfied with our accomplishments and demands perfection
- It impacts our mental wellbeing, often creating anxiety, depression, eating disorders, body image issues, and substance abuse
- It can provoke feelings of shame, guilt, anger, sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness
The upside to self-acceptance
When you embrace all of your highs and lows, good points and bad points, strengths, and weaknesses, there is no need to be critical of yourself. You are simply who you are.
This doesn’t come about by fixing your hair or buying a new dress. It comes from your inner belief in yourself and your value, without a need to compare and contrast with others. Getting to that point isn’t easy, but you can do it.
Look closely at the following strategies and when you have read them, choose one that you can begin to implement today. Just by starting with one, you are on your way to letting go of that asphyxiating hold self-judgment has over you.
1. Find your strengths
Take a pen and paper and note down your strengths. It could be anything that comes to mind, such as, I am a good friend, I am a caring mother, I am a generous person, I like to help others, I never give up, I always do the best that I can.
When you identify your strengths, read each one of them out loud at the beginning of every day. Keep them at the forefront of your mind, just like a crash helmet that will protect you from any oncoming collision. Never forget your strengths because they are part of your self-love cache.
2. Don’t be so hard on yourself
Everyone makes mistakes, believe me. When you think of a recent one that you have made, it’s OK to spend some time reflecting on what you may have done wrong, but don’t linger there too much. Did you fail that online job interview because you weren’t prepared?
That’s disappointing, but there will be other opportunities for you so, until they come up, work on practicing your interview technique. In fact, put the experience under your belt and use it to grow and improve in the future.
3. Evaluate your inner criticisms
If you constantly think that you are ugly, fat, a failure, a terrible person, and so on, press pause and look at each belief separately. Now, ask yourself, “What purpose does this thought serve in my life?
Does it make me feel good about myself or not?” Once you begin to ask questions like that, I am sure that you will discover that these criticisms can go straight to the trash bin. It may seem difficult at first to let go of ingrained beliefs but you owe it to yourself to get rid of whatever isn’t serving you.
4. Validate self-judgments
Often, those negative self-judgments have been initiated by other people in your life, yet stay with you as ‘truths’ rather than opinions. When your mother said you were clumsy or your partner said that you complain too much, you need to ask yourself:
1). Is this a true and accurate description of me?
2). Is it true sometimes or always?
3). Could it have been true in the past but not applicable now?
If these observations are not true and accurate for you right now, yet you still allow them to judge you, then see them for what they are: unwholesome thoughts that cause pain and get in the way of self-love and self-acceptance. Shaking off hurtful words, especially by those we love, can be difficult, but remember that they are just words.
No one has the right to tell you who you are and the more weight you give to their remarks, the more powerful they become.
5. Practice self-compassion
I have mentioned self-compassion previously, and can’t stress enough how important it is. Think of it as a soothing bandage to your painful wounds and allow it to heal your anxieties, fears, and doubts. Being kind to yourself should be a priority, not an exception, so begin to treat yourself as you would a dear friend and share kindness, care, and genuine concern.
6. Let go of the need for outside validation
Much of our negative thinking also comes from how we ‘think’ the world sees us or how we ‘think’ we should be in the world. Although you will feel the need or desire to fit in, that doesn’t have to be at the expense of your wellbeing.
The desire to be thin, for example, may come from social pressures and that affects how badly you feel after you eat too much. The self-directed angst that follows is directly related to external influences, which is not a healthy way to be.
Instead, be your own source of happiness and not reliant on the approval of others. Set your own terms of what is or isn’t a healthy body weight for you and live according to your standards alone.
7. Forgive yourself
Self-forgiveness is truly liberating if only you would allow yourself to do so. The act of forgiveness means letting go of self-judgment and criticism and opening up to a more joyful existence.
If you can master the art of forgiveness, bitterness, pain and anger will no longer lead you to reprimand yourself for your misgivings and I highly recommend it. It does require a lot of soul-searching, especially if you have a victim mentality, so begin by repositioning your role in past events and understand the need to grow, not wither.
8. Learn to take feedback
If you feel hurt when people give you justified or constructive feedback, this is really a reflection of your own self-criticism mechanism at work. If you can accept this kind of feedback without taking it personally, you will be doing yourself a great favour.
Listen to what the other person has to say, weigh up in your mind if it is a valid point, and then use it to do better. You can’t stop others from having their say, but you can deal with it differently.
9. Avoid disappointment
When you set high expectations of yourself, it is very easy to feel that you have underachieved if you don’t reach your goals. That’s why you should set yourself reasonable expectations instead, based on the time, resources, and skills that you have.
By all means, dream big, but don’t aim for the top if you don’t know how to get there, because failure will only make you feel worse about your abilities.
Now that we have explored strategies for dealing with that tendency to self-judge, it’s time to tackle those self-destructive thoughts and behaviour. As I said earlier, self-sabotage goes hand in hand with self-criticism, and we are going to look at ways of getting rid of that once and for all.
Don’t forget to include the below affirmation in your daily life as you move forward with a sense of renewed freedom and strength!
Every day is a new opportunity. I won’t let self-doubt or judgment hold me back from the future.