I’m going to mess up. 😳⠀
I’m so stupid. 😩⠀
I’m a failure. 😖⠀
I did well that time, but anyone could have. 🙄⠀
Does this kind of self-talk sound familiar?
In a world where we expect so much from ourselves, it’s easy to fall into a trap of not feeling good enough. The way we talk to ourselves when we fail to meet our or someone else’s expectations is important. In these situations, it makes a huge difference whether we provide some comfort, kindness, and encouragement to ourselves, or we turn to self-criticism. Unfortunately, too often, we choose the latter.
Where Does All This Self-Criticism Come From?
Self-criticism is an inner voice that takes a derogative stance when we don’t meet our expectations. It includes negative judgments of your abilities, physical appearance, intelligence, behaviour, even thoughts and feelings.
Rigidly demanding parents, teachers, culture or religion, unhealthy relationships, or friendships that undermined our confidence can all be the root of our self-criticism.
When we are young, we soak everything from our environment like a sponge; we learn about the world, about ourselves and other people from everything we see or hear. The messages important people in our lives send are crucial in shaping what we will believe and how we will behave. For example, if your parents had incredibly high expectations and harshly criticized you for every small mistake, their words may become an integral part of your inner voice, translated into self-judgment. They probably had good intentions – they wanted you to build working habits, to do well in school, to strive for achievement, and minimize mistakes, because they believed this would help you succeed in life and be happy.
This kind of self-talk was probably helpful to you at some point – in order to avoid punishment (both external, such as, for example, being forbidden to go out or watch TV for a month, and internal, which is more powerful – experiencing guilt and shame from failing to meet someone’s expectations), you did well, you achieved great things, and you derived a sense of pleasure from that.
So, not only that self-criticism became an integral part of how you talk to yourself earlier in life, but it’s also kept and strengthened because you may believe it’s a useful strategy. However, as you may realize now as an adult, although self-criticism may seem like it can serve certain functions, it can be psychologically devastating.
How To Tame Your Inner Critic (And Why It’s So Important)
Self-criticism is like living with a bully. That scolding voice that’s giving you a hard time over small things, always looking over your shoulder and keeping inventory of your mistakes, can seriously hold you back in reaching your goals and undermine how you feel about yourself. Self-criticism brings an overriding sense of not being good enough, can keep us from thinking realistically and from being present in our lives, and can contribute to feeling anxious or depressed.
By criticizing ourselves, we focus on our (many times non-existent, or at least exaggerated) weaknesses, or think irrationally. This moves us away from constructive evaluation and inhibits our capacity to be fully present and rationally and actively engage in our lives. Instead, we get so preoccupied with shame, guilt, and frustration that we may make even more mistakes and feel awful about ourselves.
An important thing is – you don’t have to be the victim of your harsh inner voice. Your thoughts have a powerful impact on how you feel and behave.
So how to be more friendly toward yourself when times are challenging? Here a few tips and techniques.
1. Actively notice and challenge your inner critic
Sometimes, the little voice that puts us down is so embedded in our daily inner monologue that we don’t even notice how harsh it is. What we can do is to pay attention to what the voice is saying but not giving it the power over us. We can commit to notice it and treat it as someone who is unnecessarily rude or annoying, and actively stand up for ourselves, showing it how to be more kind.
Conquering that unrealistic, overexaggerating, harsh inner talk and replacing it with a soothing voice that is not only gentler and kinder, but also more realistic, is possible and more than beneficial. But it’s not easy. Proactively changing the way you talk to yourself may not feel natural immediately. And it’s okay – you are used to one way of thinking and it takes time to rewire your brain and create new pathways. The key is to catch yourself in those unrealistic and extreme statements and not let yourself get away with them.
You’re not good enough. – I don’t need to be perfect to be enough and loveable.
You’re so dumb – Whoops, I made a mistake. Let’s see how I can do better next time.
No one likes you – I don’t need to please everyone all of the time.
You will never make it. – This is really hard, but I believe in myself.
You never get anything right. – I haven’t figured it out yet. Learning is part of the process.
2. Develop a compassionate relationship with yourself
Self-compassion is a way of treating yourself with acceptance and understanding whether or not you behave intelligently, competently, or correctly. It’s having a friendly attitude and sending a message to ourselves: “I see you with your strengths and flaws and it’s okay, I accept the whole of you”.
This is a new concept for many people; it’s different from what we are used to. Thus, there are some misconceptions about it. Some people are afraid that, by being kind to themselves and refusing to engage in self-criticism, they will become lazy or self-indulgent. Others see it as a weakness, something that will stay in the way of their progress. We debunked some of these myths HERE, and provided some tips for practicing self-compassion, so you might want to take a look.
Like a good coach, self-compassion motivates us through love, kindness, and support. This helps us focus less on dwelling on our mistakes, and more on the present moment and moving forward. It is the opposite of self-criticism, which induces guilt and shame. On the surface, self-criticism can seem like it helps to motivate us to change, but in reality, it’s an inefficient motivator. First, because there is a high price to pay for it. And second, because self-criticism might keep us where we are for longer because we may be reluctant to admit our shortcomings, afraid of the overwhelming feeling of not being good enough if we do. In contrast, self-compassion provides us with emotional safety to see ourselves realistically and, from there, acknowledge our mistakes and try to do better.
3. What would you tell to your best friend?
Would you talk to your good friend the way you talk to yourself? When times are challenging and we feel bad, when we are dealing with failure or loss, the last thing we need is to be criticized. Instead, we need someone to help us see things from a realistic perspective and offer support, guidance, and reassurance.
You can be that friend to yourself. Thus, acknowledge your good qualities and abilities, make an effort to appreciate your uniqueness more, and offer caring and gentle words to yourself.
RAIN Technique for Dealing With Difficult Emotions
Sometimes, shame and guilt that come from self-criticism in situations when we make a mistake or fail at something, can be overwhelming for us. So overwhelming, that it becomes difficult to concentrate on anything else, or move away from self-loathing and self-judgment. What we need the most in these situations is something to help us ease the emotional chaos first, and then slowly start overcoming these intense feelings.
In these moments, the RAIN technique can be helpful. It’s a mindfulness technique used to soften and de-channel negative thoughts and provide a soothing balm for emotional pain. It can help you be your best friend instead of your own worst critic.
Take a step back and observe your thoughts and feelings. Be honest and acknowledge what you are feeling without trying to sweep it under the rug. Naming can also help, for example: “I feel worried right now” or “I feel so embarrassed for asking that question”.
“How am I feeling? Where do I feel it in my body?”
Step 2: ALLOW life to be just as it is
Accept that those thoughts and feelings are there, as part of your reality. No denial, no trying to remove or change them, no mental resistance. Just simply let them be there. This doesn’t mean you like them; it just means you are brave enough to face the reality within you.
“These thoughts and feelings are here. I can accept that, even if I don’t like it.”
Step 3: INVESTIGATE with kindness
Like a curious scientist, try to approach your state with interest and without judgment. You can investigate possible reasons you may be feeling this way, or ask if these feelings and thoughts are useful or in line with reality. Simply pause to ask questions so you can better understand what is happening.⠀
○ When did this feeling start?⠀
○ What triggered it?⠀
○ Have I felt this way before?⠀
○ What is this feeling trying to tell me?⠀
○ How realistic is my thinking?⠀
○ Is it helpful?⠀
○ What do I need right now?⠀
○ What can I do to support myself?
When you have an intense emotion, it can feel like it is the only part of you that matters at that moment. But you are not your thoughts and emotions. They come and go, and you can watch them like clouds flowing by. You are YOU, unique and complex, and this is just one of the countless experiences you had and will have.
You can use this technique to ground yourself and not feel consumed by negativity when everything seems just too much. However, we are all different which means that the same things don’t work for everyone or in every situation.
How do you deal with self-criticism? Will you apply some of these tips to your daily life? Let us know how it goes!
And be free to share this blog post with your friends and family on social media.
Aronfreed, J. (1964). The origin of self-criticism. Psychological Review, 71(3), 193.
Neff, K & Germer, C. (2019) Kind to me. Excerpt in Mindful, 6 (6).
Powers, T. A., Koestner, R., & Zuroff, D. C. (2007). Self–criticism, goal motivation, and goal progress. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 26(7), 826-840.
Brach, T. Working With Difficulties: The Blessings of RAIN. Tara Brach. https://www.tarabrach.com/articles-interviews/rain-workingwithdifficulties/
“Being assertive means that you are willing to hold up for yourself fairly – without attacking others.”
– Albert Ellis
We can all think of times when our boundaries were violated but we didn’t know how to protect them. When we knew we should speak up, but we didn’t. When we sensed that we are being taken advantage of, but we just accepted it, unable to say NO. These are not pleasant situations, and they can easily leave us feeling neglected and powerless, seeming like whatever we do – confront or comply– we won’t feel good about ourselves. But there is a way to actually not feel guilty for expressing your thoughts and feelings and defending your rights. The key is – learning how to communicate assertively.
What Is Assertiveness?
Assertiveness is a skill of communicating your opinions, wants, and needs in an open and honest way, while also considering the opinions and needs of others. It refers to being able to recognize our rights whilst still respecting the rights of others. Assertive people don’t shy away from defending their points of view or standing up for their goals but do that in a respectful and polite way.
Assertiveness starts with recognizing two main things: your core values and your (and other people’s) assertive rights.
Your core values are the fundamental beliefs and principles that guide your behaviour. They reflect what is important to you, who you want to be, and how you want to live your life. Your core values help you set priorities and provide direction and criteria that influence your personal decisions. When we live in alignment with our core values, we derive a sense of fulfillment and, often, a higher level of confidence in our choices. Thus, defining your personal core values is critical for setting priorities and feeling self-confident when setting boundaries or standing up for your rights.
Assertive rights highlight people’s freedom to be themselves and take responsibility for their choices. When you are assertive, you know your rights and also know that others have them too. From there, you are self-assured and draw power from this to get your point across firmly and fairly, without disrespecting others.
Being assertive can sometimes come across as being rude or “cocky”. It is important to be clear and concise about your message especially when you’re communicating in and around the workspace. Learning to be presentable, to communicate well, is not an easy practice. It takes time to master these skills. To help you become more assertive in your speech, there are services provided online like those from Development Academy.
Assertiveness As a Sweet Spot Between Passive And Aggressive Communication
Assertiveness is a core social skill because it dramatically helps in delivering your message successfully. If your communication style is too passive or too aggressive, your message may get lost because people either won’t recognize or acknowledge your rights and needs, or will be too busy defending themselves.
With a passive communication style, you’re sending the message that your needs, thoughts, and feelings are less important than the needs, thoughts, and feelings of others. Not being able to express yourself honestly, or doing it over-apologetically and feeling guilty about it, putting yourself down and shying away from saying NO are all signs of passive communication style. Although your intention may be to keep the peace and increase the chances of other people liking you, this kind of behaviour easily permits others to disregard your wants and needs, which can quickly lead to building up stress, resentment, and anger, which can damage your relationships.
On the other hand, with an aggressive communication style, you don’t have the problem to state your thoughts, needs, and feelings, and do so in a very open way. However, this style sends the message: “I am right and you are wrong!” The main difference between assertiveness and aggression is that the first is about balance, while the second is about winning. Being assertive means you consider your rights and the rights of others as equally important. There is a big difference in the words used, the tone of the voice, and in body language used. Assertive people are firm without being rude. Aggressive people demand what they want while dismissing others’ wants and needs and violating their rights. You can make choices for yourself, and that is what assertiveness is about. But when you make choices for others, that is aggressive.
- Being open about your thoughts and wishes, and encouraging others to do the same
- Being solution-oriented
- Realizing you have the freedom but also the responsibility for your decisions and actions
- Being able to admit mistakes and apologize
- Having the confidence to stand up for your rights when they are violated
- Behaving as equal to others – not above, not below
Assertiveness is a sweet spot between passivity and aggression, and like any skill, it can be developed and improved through practical exercises and experience.
Benefits And Risks of Practicing Assertiveness
Learning assertiveness skills can help you:
- Politely and effectively say NO
- Negotiate win-win situations
- Feel good about yourself and others
- Decrease stress and anxiety
- Set healthy boundaries
- Communicate more clearly and openly
- Develop your leadership skills
- Protect yourself from being taken advantage of
It’s important to note that assertiveness is not a tool for “getting what you want”. Being assertive is about choice, responsibility, and healthy boundaries. It may increase the chance of getting what you want by promoting open communication and respect, but is by no means a guarantee for a positive outcome.
Sudden use of assertiveness may be mistaken for aggressiveness by others, especially by individuals with a passive style of communication. Also, be aware that some organizations and cultures prefer people to be passive, and can find assertive communication rude or offensive.
An Assertiveness Training can teach you how to speak assertively, use appropriate body language, understand your rights in interpersonal situations, give you the opportunity to practice, and much more. If you think assertive training is something that you need, be free to contact us for more details.
If you like this blog post, please be free to share it on your social media.
What is your communication style? How difficult do you find being assertive? Let us know your opinion in the comment section below!
Smith, M. J. (2008). When I say no, I feel guilty. Pacifica Tape Library.
You are a busy professional. Summer is coming to an end. You feel the pressures, the last quarter goals of 2011 are at the forefront of your mind. The new school year is close, and the nervous tension that comes with these pressures can hit a family and business hard. Not only do you have your usual duties, but kids can also feel the anxieties of starting a new year, which can impact your business and personal life.
While the causes can be something other than work stress, here are the most common symptoms and early signs of stress:
- Low morale
- Physical symptoms
But how do I beat stress and reduce signs of it, you ask? Here are 4 tips how to effectively do it:
1. Delete, delegate, deposit
Take 5-10 minutes at the beginning of your day to clear your desk , work-space, or living space. Doing so might help alleviate the sense of losing control that comes from having too much clutter. Keep your goals S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, tangible) helps maintain focus and control in your life.
2. Talk it out
Sometimes the best opportunity to reduce stress is to simply share your thoughts with someone, either someone close to you, or a trained therapist to help you work through the changes. The act of talking it out, and seeking professional support and empathy from someone trusted can be an excellent way of increasing positivity in our lives.
3. Laugh or allow yourself to smile
Finding humour in life helps us when we start to take things too seriously. Share a joke or funny story.
4. Change the situation
Remember the 4 A’s:
If you remember the 4 A’s when it comes to stress, it might help you work through it.
Staying positive in this modern life is an important act for us all to practice. Coping with stress isn’t easy, but with a little effort, you will be back on the road to emotional wellness and well-being!
Meyer,P. J. (2011). LMI Canada Inc: Personal Leadership, “Living with Purpose”. http://www.lmicanada.ca/EPL.aspx