Turn Self-Critical Thoughts into Self-Compassion
We all have self-critical thoughts from time to time. Negative thoughts tend to be critical in their tone and can leave you feeling inadequate. Sometimes we might think that self-critical thoughts can make us work that little bit harder and achieve our goals. However, negative thoughts are often not as helpful as we might like to think and can actually cause more harm than good.
If you want to shift your focus to more realistic thoughts and learn some self-compassion, it can help to understand self-criticism and where it comes from.
What is self-criticism?
Self-criticism can be defined as making harsh, negative evaluations of ourselves. It is often experienced as negative thoughts that translate into feelings of inferiority, doubt, failure, and guilt.
Research has found that negative, self-critical thinking patterns can be harmful to our wellbeing, and can contribute to depression and anxiety. Whilst it’s understandable to want to achieve goals, perform well, and engage in self-reflection, encouraging thoughts are far more helpful in assisting to achieve our goals than demanding, critical thoughts. When our thoughts become more balanced, encouraging and compassionate, this can improve our emotional resilience and wellbeing.
Where do self-critical thoughts come from?
Self-critical thoughts can stem from a range of different experiences, such as our early childhood relationships, the demands of our environment (e.g., school, home, work, friendships), and the expectations we place upon ourselves. Overtime, we pick-up or internalise messages from other people and our environment.
Whilst we all experience negative, self-critical thoughts from time to time, it can lead to poor wellbeing when the thoughts are persistent and excessive.
How can self-compassion help?
Self-compassion involves being kind and understanding towards ourselves when we’re faced with challenges or suffering, showing the kindness and care we would to others. One way to practice self-compassion is by learning to notice, and challenge, negative self-critical thoughts. Simply being aware of our inner-critic can use to help us break the habits or patterns of self-criticism, while still allowing us to be honest about our fears. You could think of it as a friend or coach who encourages you to think about things in a clearer, more balanced way. If you are stuck in the cycle of self-criticism, self-compassion can become a good habit to replace it with.
It doesn’t always come easy at first, and learning to be kind to ourselves is a skill you may need to practise over time. Learn more about self-compassion here.
What are some of the ways to overcome self-critical thoughts?
- Acknowledge that your self-critical thoughts came about for a reason and may be an attempt to help you make changes or achieve a goal. Try not to criticise yourself for being self-critical!
- Write a list of your favourite personal qualities and skills, and think about how they can help. Keep this list handy for when you’re feeling down.
- Try to be curious and have compassion for those negative feelings. Is there another reason for these thoughts, could you be feeling scared, angry, ashamed or sad?
- Challenge negative self-talk. For example, “My friend is probably not avoiding me on purpose. They could just be really busy.”
- Don’t strive for perfection – embrace making mistakes. Try not to compare yourself to others and remember that no one is perfect.
- If you notice your self-critical thoughts are becoming overwhelming, consider speaking with a mental health professional.
How to reduce and shift self-critical thoughts
Thought challenging is a helpful tool to use to manage self-critical thoughts. It involves noticing when you’re having a negative, critical thought, not immediately believing it, and taking the time to really evaluate and question that thought. Is there another more balanced, helpful way of thinking about the situation? How can you think in a way that fosters more kindness and self-compassion?
Some tips for challenging self-critical thoughts include asking yourself:
- How might I talk to a friend going through this same situation?
- How realistic is this thought?
- Is there a different perspective I can consider, rather than this automatic, negative perspective?
- What is the evidence for, and against this thought?
We can also practice self-compassion by changing the language of our self-critical thoughts to a more encouraging, helpful tone. For example:
- I’m going to fail > This could be an opportunity to learn something new
- I don’t want to let anyone down > It’s okay to put myself first and say no
- I need to be in control > I can cope even when I’m not in control
Keep in mind that even though your inner critic may have a loud voice at times, it isn’t always right. Try to be flexible and see if there is a more helpful way of looking at the situation.
Overcoming your self-critical thoughts can be difficult at first but with time and practice you can start to develop a more balanced inner voice, and eventually this will come naturally to you.
With self-compassion it is possible to break the negative cycle and start living your life to the fullest.
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