Self criticism and what to do about it - Suzy Sallam

Self-criticism – noticing the harm it’s causing and what to do about it

Most of us will have dealt with some sort of negativity during our career. Negative situations start during childhood and continue throughout our adult lives, with many of them affecting our experiences as we grow up in the world of work. This is a normal part of life that we all deal with.

But have you ever allowed negative situations to affect more that your experiences? Do you ever hold yourself back from taking a step to achieve your career goals because you tell yourself that you won’t succeed? Have you ever harshly scolded yourself for making a mistake? If your answer was yes, then I would like you for a moment to imagine a friend going through a similar situation… now ask yourself how would you support your friend? what words would you use? and what words will you NOT use?

It’s admirable to do your best and attempt to be the best person you can be. I also think one should always examine the negative results in life, understand where they went wrong, and try to do things differently the next time. However, there is a fine line between critiquing yourself, and becoming so self-critical that you sabotage your own success. And this is where the danger is.

How do you know if you are being too self-critical?

Consider these signs that you might be too critical of yourself:

  1. You’re paralysed. One sign that you’re overly critical toward yourself is a lack of action. If you’ve been stuck in the same situation for an extended period of time, you’re too hard on yourself. Otherwise, you’d be out there taking care of business and making positive changes to your life and your career.
  2. You’re slow to forgive others. When you can’t forgive yourself, you’re unable to forgive others. When you can let go and forgive yourself, you can do the same for the other people in your life.
  3. You’re never pleased with your accomplishments. It doesn’t matter to you that you shaved 10 minutes off your best 10K time or graduated from medical school. You’re bothered by the fact that you didn’t win the race or didn’t have a great come back for your boss in the meeting.
  4. You’re not assertive. You have to be comfortable with yourself to feel comfortable with asserting yourself. Assertiveness also brings the risk of rejection. Being too self-critical can increase the fear of rejection from others.
  5. You consistently say bad things to yourself. There’s little harm in a small amount of negative self-talk. But a constant barrage of self-criticism is highly damaging. Imagine telling your child that they can’t do anything right and should give up trying. It sounds crazy when viewed from that perspective.
  6. You’re a chronic underachiever. Underachieving is both a symptom and a cause of self-criticism. Consistent underachieving is a call to action!
  7. Others feel comfortable being critical of you. The average person isn’t comfortable criticising others. However, after they’ve heard you criticise yourself repeatedly, they’re likely feel they can join in on the criticism.
  8. You criticise yourself in general terms, rather than just for specific events. There’s a difference between telling yourself that you’re not a good tennis player and telling yourself that you’re not good at anything. General criticism is false and highly damaging. Just remember that not succeeding at a particular activity doesn’t make you flawed at everything. It’s illogical.
  9. You keep your opinions to yourself. While you have every reason to avoid telling your co-worker that their presentation skills are terrible, you should feel comfortable sharing your opinion about your expertise. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your opinions freely, you’re too concerned about being judged by others or saying the wrong thing.
  10. You spend too much time dwelling on your mistakes. Can you move on quickly after a short period of self-reflection or do you dwell on your mistakes for an extended period of time?
  11. You find yourself unable to ask for help. It shouldn’t be difficult to ask for help. In fact, the more help the better! Are you afraid of being viewed as incapable? If so, you’re too critical of yourself.
  12. You can’t give yourself a single compliment. Everyone is good at something. Or maybe you know you’re good at a few things but don’t think you deserve a compliment. Either way, you’re being too hard on yourself.

In summary, being too self-critical, or indulging in negative self-talk, is one of the most damaging behaviours one can adopt. It’s extremely detrimental to your mental health which will in turn affect your ability to remain resilient in the face of hardship. Excessive self-criticism also hurts your self-esteem and confidence. Not the best combo when you’re aiming for a promotion.

Self criticism and what to do about it - Suzy Sallam

So what can you do about it?

What to do about self-criticism, or excessive negative self talk

If you have noticed yourself self sabotaging your success by being overly self-critical then I would encourage you to try out the 6 steps below.

  • Distinguish between negative thoughts and critical thinking.
    We need to have a certain amount of self-critique, otherwise we will never believe that we are doing something wrong. However, you need to recognise when that critiquing becomes negative self-talk and the impact this has on your ability to move forward.
  • Accept failure.
    If you like to beat yourself up whenever you fail, you are in for a steep road ahead. Let me tell you my friend, you and I will fail, and we will fail many times over. Rather than beating yourself up about it, embrace your failures as a gift rather than a burden – after all, failures mean you have high standards! Try to view each failure as a lesson learned and establish what didn’t work so that you can move onto the next experiment. Be very careful not to self identify as a failure. You as a person and the actions you take are two distinct things.
  • Repeat daily affirmations.
    I’d like to invite you to look for affirmations that can help you thrive in your career. Use these as often as you can. Try repeating these affirmations every day. Write them out on a piece of paper and keep them next to your laptop. The idea here is to program your mind for positive thinking. The more you keep at it, the more natural it will become. Ideally, those negative things you tell yourself, will eventually be taken over by your positive affirmations.
  • Limit your exposure to people who are negative.
    Have you heard of the term mood hoover? These people thrive on negativity and enjoy dragging others down with them. If you cannot avoid them altogether, then spend as little time with them as possible. If you know that you already struggle with negative self-talk, then you don’t need them adding more negativity. Try to spend time with positive people that build you up – that way your negative self-talk will naturally reduce.
  • Learn to see the good in people.
    If you are always thinking negatively of others, then you will naturally think negatively about yourself. Being more open minded towards others will help you be more accepting of your own flaws as well.
  • See your negative thinking as a choice. And be Kind to yourself
    You may have been critiqued as a child and grown up in an environment that constantly criticises your actions and your decisions. But you are in control of your own mind now and you have a choice – you can either choose to indulge in negative self-talk, or you can choose to be kind to yourself. Make a promise to yourself today to be positive and go easy on yourself. This isn’t an easy quick fix, it takes a lot of work and practice. …so start now!

Need a hand to stay positive and develop your career?

I help professionals, just like you, find fulfilling careers and develop their personal presence as a leader so they can better serve their people. If you’d like to talk about your career strategy then drop me a line or book a free consultation today.

Suzy Sallam

I am a Career and Leadership Coach on a mission to help professionals just like you, experience the confidence and satisfaction that comes from being authentic to yourself and living in a fulfilling career.

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