What Is Self-Criticism?
Learn how self-criticism psychology drives a majority of personal as well as interpersonal dynamics in the workplace.
March 3, 2021 | 7 mins read
Kuldeep is having a tough week at work. Despite working overtime, he has been finding it difficult to manage his tasks. As soon as he completes one project, another task comes knocking. He has barely found any time for his own work, which made him miss an important deadline.
Before his manager reached out to him, Kuldeep decided to make the first move. He told his manager about feeling overwhelmed and overworked. His manager understood his position and allowed for a deadline extension.
If Kuldeep had beaten himself up and felt bad about not submitting the project on time, he wouldn’t have had this conversation, let alone get an extension. This is one of the many benefits of being self-critical. Read on to understand the meaning of self-criticism and what it entails.
Many of us view self-criticism as something strictly negative. However, the term ‘self-critical’ refers to the process of analyzing one’s behavior and can be either positive or negative. It’s typically directed towards various aspects of self such as behavior, physical appearance, intellectual attributes, personality and emotions. More often than not, being self-critical helps you reflect on personal setbacks and work toward self-improvement. But high levels of self-criticism can affect your self-esteem and negatively impact mental health.
Two theorists, Richard Thompson and David C. Zuroff identified two primary types of self-criticism in 2004. They even devised the Levels of Self-Criticism Scale (LOSC) that measured two forms of negative self-evaluation. Let’s look at these two types in detail.
People often engage in this type of negative self-perception when they compare themselves with others. They tend to view others as superior or hostile and base their self-esteem on perceptions of how other individuals view them.
It’s a type of negative self-assessment where you establish impossible standards for yourself. For example, you succeed at delivering your project on time, you constantly feel that it’s not up to the mark. In other words, you view success like failure and don’t give yourself enough credit.
We all listen to an inner voice in our heads. This inner voice (or self-talk) can either guide us or lead us to darkness. Self-critique is the act of examining oneself before you’re consumed by your inner voice. This kind of self-evaluation has both positive and negative consequences. Let’s look at the pros and cons of self-criticism psychology and how you can strike a balance between the two.
The positive aspect of self-criticism is that you can look back on what you’ve done and identify areas that’ll help you avoid missteps in the future. You’ll likely adopt healthy habits, change your behavior and improve your outlook in life. Here are the advantages of being self-critical:
Self-criticism helps you identify personal strengths and weaknesses and get a clearer idea of how you can work on your setbacks. You realize your true potential and work towards goals that help you unlock success. For example, you want to lead a healthier lifestyle. When you’re self-critical, you’ll realize that you need to develop healthy habits, eliminating particular behaviors (junk food or screen time).
Self-awareness is the cornerstone of personal growth and development. When you’re self-critical, you look at yourself from a third-person perspective. You get to the root of problems and identify solutions. For example, we often complain about not having enough savings for retirement. Being self-critical will help you prepare a budget plan and cut down on unnecessary expenditures.
In contrast, excessive self-evaluation can rob you of your mental strength. When you have a tough inner self-critic, self-doubt, harsh words and catastrophic predictions are common. Self-critique entails several disadvantages.
Self-criticism often leads to analysis paralysis, where you overthink or overanalyze situations or things. You’re likely to be harsh on yourself when you don’t make room for mistakes or failures. There may even be situations where success feels like a failure because you seek out perfection. The more you convince yourself that you can’t do something (perfectly), the more you’re going to believe it. Self-limitation will be an automatic consequence.
Feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem are common symptoms of excessive self-criticism. If you’re constantly analyzing flaws or setbacks, you can develop an unhealthy relationship with yourself. It’ll likely escalate and negatively impact your interpersonal relationships. You may remove yourself from social situations more often.
Self-criticism psychology drives a majority of personal as well as interpersonal dynamics in the workplace. It even clouds your judgment and affects your problem-solving and decision-making skills. Organizations value employees who know how to separate emotions from facts and self-criticism can act as a limitation. Here are some common examples of self-criticism in professional settings.
I don’t think I’m qualified enough
I’m so afraid of saying something stupid
I rarely speak up in meetings, how can I ask for it now?
I should be more organized; I always take so much time
I’m not very creative and hence remain mum in meetings
I don’t feel confident enough to lead this project
I’m not great at presentations or speeches
I don’t make sense when I speak to someone senior to me
I can’t negotiate at all; I don’t deserve to be on this team
Come to think about it, self-criticism has the potential to impact your productivity and efficiency because you’re filled with self-doubt. You’re unable to think clearly and make poor choices or decisions because of the constant nagging inside your head. This doesn’t solely impact you but the organization as a whole. It’s crucial that you take active steps towards addressing and overcoming such detrimental thoughts. Here is a short check-list that’ll help you determine if you’re being overly self-critical at any point.
You feel personally responsible for bad situations, even if they’re beyond your control
Even the smallest error undermines your overall confidence, shaking you to your core
You often prefer the safest route or option and avoid taking risks
During discussions, you prefer to remain quiet and listen rather than proactively participating
You contribute very little to conversations because you feel that you don’t know enough about that particular topic
You find it difficult to ask for help because you’re afraid of appearing weak or incapable
You don’t feel comfortable asserting your needs or expectations i.e., you don’t ask for what you want
Instead of learning and moving on from your mistakes, you constantly analyze what went wrong
You can’t let bygones be bygones and find it hard to forgive yourself as well as others
You get defensive when someone provides critical feedback; you have a tendency to take things too personally
It’s no secret that your thoughts affect how you behave and act in different situations. Overly harsh self-criticism can undermine motivation and impede progress towards goals. If you want to develop healthy ways of being self-critical, here are the four key ways to constructively criticize yourself.
We often tend to blame bad situations on the permanent aspects of ourselves such as personal attributes. Focus on modifiable areas of improvement like unhealthy habits or behaviors. For example, instead of saying ‘I’m not very smart’, try saying ‘I should start reading more to expand my knowledge base’.
Even if we are to blame in particular situations, identify the external factors responsible for it. Remember to not use situational factors as an excuse, use them as leverage instead. For instance, you reached the office late but it was the traffic that slowed you down.
Try not to get caught up in self-judgment. An effective way to do it is by shifting the focus from yourself to others. Thinking about how your actions may affect others will encourage you to reorient your attention towards other important aspects of life. Being compassionate and empathetic not only helps you build better relationships but also build a network that’ll guide and support you.
Self-compassion acts like a cushion that’ll allow you to be critical about yourself without being harsh. It won’t let you off easily but at the same time, you won’t overanalyze situations. For example, I made a mistake but I’ll do everything in my capacity to make it better. This helps you make room for self-development.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the famous philosopher once said, “Patience is bitter but its fruit is sweet”. Fostering self-awareness is a time-consuming process, which is why you need to be patient and persevere. Harappa Education’s Interpreting Self course will teach you how to engage in self-knowledge and discover the best version of yourself.
The Kaleidoscope framework in particular will help you reflect on different aspects of actions and behaviors. You’ll use your strengths to work outside your comfort zone and practice healthy forms of self-criticism. Change your perspective to change your outlook!
Explore Harappa Diaries to learn more about topics related to the LEAD Habit such as What is Self-Motivation, How to Develop Self-Awareness and a Guide to Personal SWOT Analysis to become the best version of yourself.