Self-Criticism: Does it Really Lead to Self-Improvement
If you are like many people, you can be deeply self-critical. It seems like we are always nagging at ourselves about things we would like to change. Whether it's your weight, your performance or some aspect of your personality, you can get very harshly judgmental of yourself. And yet, based upon the amount of change people actually make, it doesn't seem like the self-criticism is working. If you really want to change, why do you keep coming back to self-criticism if it doesn't work? I mean, self-criticism and self-improvement must be related, right?
Self-criticism versus self-evaluation
It's important to understand that here I am talking about repetitive, cruel and destructive self-criticism, rather than much milder self-evaluation that leads to a decision to do things better next time. The self-criticism that I am talking about doesn't target what we have done, but targets ourselves as people.
Here's an example: Let's say that you forgot to pick up something important from the shops for your partner, and they're disappointed.
Self-evaluation sounds like saying to yourself:
- “Damn! Okay, when can I go back to the shops and get it?”
- “I need to make sure I set a reminder for things like this”, or,
- “I am going to say I'm sorry to them, then we can work out what to do from here”
Self-criticism sounds like:
- “I'm an idiot – I always do this”
- “I never get this right” or
- “Why do I just keep making these stupid mistakes?”
Born to be critical?
It can seem like self-criticism is just an inbuilt part of our personalities. Even if you are outwardly successful, you can find yourself being very self-critical about the things you do, the things you think, the things you feel and the way that you are. It seems very difficult to find somebody who is truly at peace with themselves.
With all the self-criticism that we do, you'd think that it would be actually more effective. You'd think that with all the emphasis we put on self-criticism, it would be a surefire and fruitful path to change – and yet the evidence is that it doesn't change us.
We remain self-critical about the same things, over and over.
Self-criticism as a substitute for change
So this really begs the question – if you really want to change, and self-criticism doesn't lead to change, why be self-critical? Why would you keep doing it?
I think the answer lies in the past. I believe that our self-critical voices are reflected voices of parents who have been critical with us. Their criticism of us when were are young produces such shame, and it is this link between criticism and shame that we seem to keep playing out as adults.
We are fooled into thinking self-criticism and self-improvement are related.
Self-criticism and Self-improvement – Making changes
This leads to three important points. Firstly, we need to find a more effective way of instigating change in our selves. I have written a lot about effective change strategies in this blog.
Secondly, if we can find a way to effectively make changes then perhaps this will reduce our need to criticise ourselves.
Lastly, if destructive self-criticism doesn't actually produce change, then it's something that serves no purpose and we can do without.
– Tim Hill
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