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  • Janet Chang

Dealing with Self-Criticism: We are our own worst critic


"I should've done better", "I don't know what I'm doing", "I should be more (or less)...". We all have a version of an "I am not good enough" story that we tend to tell ourselves. Sometimes we beat ourselves up, sometimes we demand a lot of ourselves, yet other times we compare ourselves to others or to some ideal and unreachable perfect self.



Everyone has an inner critic- for some, it originated from harsh criticisms and expectations placed on us by adults in our childhood, for others, from experiences of rejection from caregivers or peers. Even for those who would describe their childhood as "normal" or "mostly happy", it could've been in the form of more subtle messages we received. Perhaps we were rewarded and praised only when we did well, perhaps love and affection were withdrawn when we did not perform or meet up to standards. Or perhaps we were frequently reminded of what/how we "should be".


Even though our circumstances may have changed now and we're not subjected to the same, we have over time internalised these voices and standards, such that we become our own worst critic. We're always expecting more of ourselves (even when we don't expect the same of others), we feel guilty when we accept help from others, we feel undeserving when people do things for us. On one hand, it makes us feel miserable, yet on the other hand, we believe we need it to "motivate" us- that the critic ensures we don't become "lazy" or "complacent".


Understanding and becoming aware of our inner critic can also help us to understand why we struggle with difficult emotions like sadness, shame, guilt, and anxiety. Sometimes we feel sad because our critic tells us we're not good enough, guilt because we are to blame for things that don't go well. Other times, we feel anxious, because our critic reminds us of how inadequate we are, and how we are bound to fail.


The bad news is, this critic can't disappear forever. The good news, though, is that you can learn to manage it better, not let it run your life, "tune out" of it sometimes, and balance it out by developing a kinder, more compassionate way of speaking to yourself.


The first step toward this change is awareness. In therapy, your psychologist will first work with you to understand your inner critic further. You will learn to identify times when your critic appears, what emotions and responses it evokes in you, and any unhealthy patterns that you tend to fall into. In addition, you will explore the origins of this critic.


The strategies or approach that your psychologist employs to help you work with and mange your inner critic would depend on his/her orientation and assessment of the factors that have contributed to and continue to drive your critic. At Still Waters Psychology, some of these might include:

  • Addressing negative emotions

  • Challenging your often biased negative self-judgments and expectations that you set for yourself

  • Changing the way you speak to yourself by using a more self-compassionate tone

  • Healing from and addressing past hurts that might have contributed to the development of the critic


If you are keen to explore your inner critic further and find ways to manage it,