Do you feel like your inner critic is running the show? You know who I’m talking about: that mean inner voice that finds fault with every little thing you do—the voice that withholds self-love and keeps you trapped and feeling down about yourself.
Self-criticism is a near-constant companion for many people, making life feel like a never-ending battle. Excessive self-criticism can lead to low self-esteem and hinder your personal growth. It’s hard to be happy when someone is mean to you, but thankfully, you have the power to change your inner dialogue and start being more self-loving.
Are you tired of living with that inner bully? Good! I’ll teach you how to recognize and overcome toxic self-criticism and cultivate a more compassionate inner voice. You’ll learn what the inner critic is, how it developed, why its voice is so powerful, and what you can do to replace that inner bully with a nurturing, encouraging inner coach.
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What does self-criticism mean?
Self-criticism refers to the negative thoughts and beliefs that you have about yourself. You are self-critical about any aspect of your life, including your looks, your abilities, your relationships, and your achievements. Self-criticism can be so insidious that you may not even realize that you’re doing it. But when it becomes toxic or excessive, it can have serious consequences for your mental health and well-being.
Toxic self-criticism defined
Toxic self-criticism is a harmful pattern of thinking that involves constantly putting yourself down, feeling unworthy, and focusing only on your flaws and mistakes. It can lead to a negative self-image and low self-esteem and may prevent you from reaching your full potential.
Why am I so critical of myself?
Self-criticism is often a learned behavior. Perhaps you grew up in a home or climate where you were constantly criticized or where you were told that you were never good enough, then you may have internalized this message and begun to believe it.
Self-criticism can also be a coping mechanism. If you feel overwhelmed by emotions or stress, criticizing yourself can provide a sense of control and make you feel like you’re taking action to fix the problem.
“Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” - Louise Hay
Inner critic: What it is and where it comes from
Your inner critic is an internal voice that judges and criticizes your thoughts, actions, and behaviors. Your inner critic has likely been with you since you were pretty young, as it manifests during times of intense, repeated and unwarranted criticism or rejection that many of us experience as children. However, we may be drawn to people and situations where we experience the same wounds as adults.
Your inner critic thinks it’s working on your behalf—it’s trying to protect you from future pain; it recalls what you went through before and is a cautionary voice that you don’t want to go through that again. However, when this voice becomes overly harsh and hostile, it can be harmful and lead to toxic self-criticism, poor self-esteem, and feelings of inadequacy.
By learning to recognize and manage your inner critic, you can cultivate more positive relationships with yourself, which leads to more significant personal and professional success and happiness. Taming your inner critic is an essential step in your self-love practice.
39 Examples of the inner critic's voice
You need to be able to recognize your inner critic when the voice enters your mind. These are a few examples (not an exhaustive list!) of what your inner critic might sound like:
- “You always mess things up.”
- “Why can’t you be more like them?”
- “No one wants to hear what you have to say.”
- “Who do you think you are? You can’t do that.”
- “You’re such a failure.”
- “You’re too lazy and unmotivated.”
- “Why even bother trying? You’ll just fail anyway.”
- “You’re not smart enough to understand that.”
- “You’re too awkward and socially inept.”
- “You’re too old/young.”
- “You’ll never be successful in your career.”
- “You’re too fat/skinny/ugly.”
- “You’re not worthy of love and affection.”
- “You’re not talented enough to pursue your dreams.”
- “You’re too sensitive and emotional.”
- “You don’t deserve to be happy.”
- “You don’t do anything right.”
- “You’re too boring.”
- “You’re not important.”
- “You’ll never be able to accomplish that goal.”
- “You’re not as good as others.”
- “You’re too scatterbrained.”
- “You’ll never be successful.”
- “You’re not popular or even likable.”
- “You’re too indecisive and can’t make good choices.”
- “You’re too quiet and introverted.”
- “You’ll never be fit enough to be healthy.”
- “You’re not a good enough parent/partner/friend.”
- “You’re not creative or imaginative enough.”
- “You’re not knowledgeable enough.”
- “You could never be assertive.”
- “You’re a coward.”
- “You’re too impulsive and make bad decisions.”
- “You’re too sensitive to criticism.”
- “You’re not self-disciplined enough.”
- “You’re not talented enough to pursue your passions.”
- “You’re not successful enough to be happy.”
- “You’re not charming or charismatic enough.”
- “You don’t deserve a good life.”
How being overly self-critical erodes your confidence
Over time, this constant self-criticism can erode your confidence and make you feel like you’re not capable of achieving your goals and aspirations.
You may start to believe that you’re not smart enough, attractive enough, or talented enough to succeed. Toxic self-criticism can prevent you from pursuing your dreams and reaching your full potential. You may also avoid taking risks and trying new things for fear of failure. Your non-stop negative self-talk holds you back and keeps you down.
How toxic self-criticism impacts your mental health
Self-criticism can have a profound negative impact on your mental health. Being constantly self-critical can lead to feelings of disappointment, anxiety, depression, shame, frustration, anger, guilt, stress and hopelessness.
Additionally, self-criticism can also interfere with your ability to form and maintain healthy relationships. When you’re critical of yourself, you may also be critical of others, leading to strained relationships and feelings of isolation. Research studies have found that having solid relationships is the top key to happiness; this means the consequences of living with toxic self-criticism are too severe to ignore.
We all have the tendency to believe self-doubt and self-criticism, but listening to this voice never gets us closer to our goals. Instead, try on the point of view of a mentor or good friend who believes in you, wants the best for you, and will encourage you when you feel discouraged - Kelly McGonigal
11 Best ways to overcome self-criticism
Here are some of the best strategies that will help you transform your inner critic into an inner coach:
1. Practice self-compassion
Instead of criticizing yourself, try to be kind and understanding towards yourself—start practicing self-compassion. When you make an error or fail at something, instead of beating yourself up, imagine what you’d say to a friend who was in the same situation and offer yourself those encouraging words.
2. Challenge your inner critic
When you hear your inner critic speak, challenge its negative thoughts and beliefs. Ask yourself if they are based on facts or just limiting beliefs that you’ve internalized.
3. Focus on your strengths
Instead of dwelling on your weaknesses, try to focus on your strengths and accomplishments. Make a list of your positive qualities and remind yourself of them when your inner critic starts to speak up.
4. Cultivate a growth mindset
When you’re plagued by self-doubt, you have a choice to make. You can view failures as evidence of your inadequacy. Or (the better choice), you can try to view failures as mere setbacks and opportunities for growth and learning.
Success is rarely measured by a straight line representing one win after the next. Success comes from trying and never giving up, even after setbacks. Remind yourself you’re on a journey; with every journey, there will be a few detours along the way.
5. Hang out with positive people (a lot!)
Never underestimate the energy emitted by the people around you. Positive people radiate positive energy; negative people transmit negative energy. The best way to learn to send positive energy is to surround yourself with positive, supportive people that can help counteract the negative messages from your inner critic. Seek out colleagues, friends, mentors, and family members who uplift and encourage you.
6. Practice mindfulness
Everyday mindfulness can help you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings, including your inner critic. When you notice it speaking up, try to acknowledge it and then let it go instead of engaging with it.
7. Reframe negative thoughts
When negative, self-critical or self-defeating thoughts first emerge, pause. Notice the thought and then reframe it in a more positive light. For example, instead of thinking, “I’m a failure,” try to think, “I made a mistake, but I’ll learn from it and do better next time.”
8. Take care of your physical health
So many beautiful things happen when you take great care of your physical health. First, it feels good—mentally and physically. Second, it gives you a reason to be proud of yourself. Being attentive to your physical health can help improve your mental health and reduce the power of your inner critic. Exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet, and get enough sleep. [Here’s our top advice for creating a better nighttime routine.]
9. Accept compliments
Are you in the habit of downplaying the positive compliments you’re given? Time to stop that! When you’re offered a compliment, welcome it with arms wide open. Accept all compliments graciously instead of brushing them off or criticizing yourself. You are awesome; when someone else notices that, thank them and believe them!
10. Set SMART goals
Instead of, setting goals that only a superhero could ever achieve sets you up for failure and gives your inner critic that much more to complain about. Start setting SMART goals that are achievable in the timeline you establish. This will help reduce the power of your inner critic and increase your sense of accomplishment.
11. Seek professional help
If you’re struggling with self-criticism, consider seeking the help of a therapist or counselor. They can help you identify the root causes of your self-criticism and provide you with strategies for overcoming your self-critical habits.
What Louise Hay taught me about self-criticism
In other blog posts, I’ve told the story of how I was once in a pretty dark place in my life where I was “bathing” in toxic self-criticism every hour of every day. It was the works of Louise Hay that helped me emerge from that dark time.
Louise Hay was a self-help author, speaker, and founder of Hay House, a publishing company specializing in self-help and spiritual books. Louise wrote extensively about self-acceptance and self-criticism and was a strong advocate for the power of positive thinking and affirmations.
In her book, You Can Heal Your Life, Louise wrote about the importance of self-acceptance and the negative impact of self-criticism. She explained that self-criticism is a form of self-rejection that creates negative patterns in our lives and prevents us from achieving our full potential.
Louise taught about the link between self-criticism and negative thought patterns and how these patterns can manifest as physical and emotional problems. She believed that by changing our thoughts and beliefs, we can change our lives and heal ourselves. Louise encouraged practicing daily affirmations, such as “I love and accept myself exactly as I am,” in order to counteract negative self-talk and cultivate self-love and self-acceptance.
Louise taught me to be kinder and more compassionate toward myself. She encouraged me to cultivate self-awareness. She also helped me minimize negative thoughts and gave me the tools and strategies I needed to believe in myself more fully.
Here are some Louise Hay books, workbooks, and affirmation card decks I use in my own self-love practice:
Positive self-talk: the powerful tool for overcoming toxic self-criticism
I wrote a post on positive self-talk, sharing nine experts’ lessons. I suggest you bookmark that page now so you can do a deep dive into those lessons later. [bookmark here: article from experts on positive self-talk]
When you change your thinking, you can change your life. For now, here’s the “compressed” version of why I know that self-talk is a powerful tool for overcoming your self-critical tendencies:
Positive self-talk replaces negative thoughts
You can’t hold a positive and a negative thought in your mind at the same time. When you engage in positive self-talk, you’re replacing negative, self-critical thoughts with positive, supportive ones. This helps to counteract the negative messages from your inner critic and improve your overall mood and well-being.
Positive self-talk boosts your confidence
Positive self-talk is like having a cheerleader or an encouraging coach in your mind at the same time. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, you focus on what you can. When you feel good about yourself, you’re less likely to be critical of yourself and more likely to believe in your abilities.
Positive self-talk improves your resilience
Positive self-talk can help you develop a growth mindset and improve your resilience. When you focus on the positive and view challenges as opportunities for growth, you’re better able to handle setbacks and bounce back from failures.
Positive self-talk increases motivation
Positive self-talk can help increase your motivation by making you feel good about yourself and your abilities. When you believe in yourself and your ability to succeed, you’re more likely to take action toward your goals.
Positive self-talk reduces stress and anxiety
Positive self-talk can help reduce stress and anxiety by providing a sense of control and reducing negative self-talk. When you engage in positive self-talk, you’re less likely to become overwhelmed by stress and more likely to take a proactive approach to problem-solving.
How to embrace a positive self-talk habit
To incorporate positive self-talk into your life, try to make it a daily habit. Start each day by reminding yourself of your strengths and accomplishments, and use positive affirmations to counteract negative self-talk. [Here are our favorite affirmations on self-love and self-esteem.]
Try to avoid the comparison trap—comparing yourself to others is harmful. Instead, focus on your own progress and journey. Remember, positive self-talk takes practice, but with time and persistence, it can become a powerful tool for overcoming your self-critical tendencies and living a happier, more fulfilling life.
Can you constructively criticize yourself?
According to Dr. Juliana Breines—a social and health psychologist—there are ways to consecutively criticize yourself. The first rule of constructive criticism is that you’re addressing specific behaviors that can be changed and not focusing on global or unchangeable attributes.
Breines also says that healthy self-criticism is always done in tandem with self-compassion, which makes looking at your weaknesses far less threatening than when done coming from an unkind, bullying standpoint. [source]
Constructive self-criticism can be a valuable tool for personal growth and development
The key to productive self-criticism or self-evaluation is to approach the self-feedback from a place of self-compassion and self-kindness rather than harsh judgment.
When you identify an area for improvement, be specific about what you’d like to change and create a plan to work on it. Focus on the behavior or action rather than labeling yourself as a failure or a disappointment. Acknowledge your progress and accomplishments along the way, and celebrate small victories.
Remember that constructive criticism is not about tearing yourself down but about supporting your growth and improvement. With a positive mindset and a growth-oriented approach, you can use productive self-feedback—that considers both negatives and positives— as a powerful tool for personal development.
“Compassion is the greatest antidote to the poison of your pathological inner critic.” - Byron Brown
Self-love vs. self-criticism
Self-love and self-criticism are two opposing forces. Self-love is characterized by feelings of warmth, compassion, and self-acceptance, whereas self-criticism is marked by negative, judgmental, harsh thoughts, and self-limiting beliefs
A lack of self-love can lead to excessive self-criticism, as you believe that you must constantly improve and be perfect in order to be worthy of love and acceptance. The less love you give yourself, the less likely you are to appreciate yourself; it’s a vicious cycle where you become increasingly harsh and critical of yourself.
When you have a strong sense of self-love and self-acceptance, you’re less likely to engage in unwarranted or toxic self-criticism. You feel secure in your worth and abilities, and you’re more likely to be kind and self-compassionate, even in the face of mistakes and failures.
Therefore, it’s important to cultivate self-love in order to overcome self-criticism. By developing a strong sense of self-love, you can break the cycle of toxic self-criticism and live a happier, more fulfilling life.
If you have developed a habit of excessive or toxic self-criticism, you’ll need more assistance on your journey back to self-love and self-appreciation.
I always recommend seeking therapy when a situative feels severe or is limiting your life in a profound way.
I am aware there are many great books on overcoming self-criticism that may be helpful, so I’m sharing that list with you here:
- The Positive Thinking Workbook: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Build a Strong Foundation for a Positive Mindset, by Alexa Brand
- Embracing Your Inner Critic, by Hal and Sidra Stone
- The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, by Brené Brown
- Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, by Kristin Neff
- Playing Big by Tara Mohr
- Banish Your Inner Critic, by Denise Jacobs
- The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive, by Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer
- The Confidence Gap: A Guide to Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt, by Russ Harris
These books offer practical advice and strategies for developing self-compassion, reducing self-criticism, and increasing self-confidence. They are written by experts in the field of psychology and personal growth and are designed to help you overcome your self-critical nature and live a happier, more fulfilling life.
Final thoughts on firing your inner critic
It’s important to understand that self-criticism is a learned behavior and that it’s possible to break this cycle. By practicing self-compassion and learning to be kind and understanding towards yourself, you can begin to silence your inner critic and rebuild your confidence. With time and practice, you’ll learn to believe in yourself and your abilities, and you’ll be able to achieve your goals and live the life you truly want.