20 Signs You Are Too Self-Critical

Recognize these not-so-obvious signs of self-criticism.

Posted Feb 17, 2016

I'm pleased to have a Guest Post from Mike Bundrant of the iNLP Center.

Most of us consciously aspire to be the best we can and to do the right thing, and self-analysis can serve us as a tool for measuring our efforts and achievements.

While analysis is a healthy way to observe our own behavior and learn how to overcome weaknesses and bad habits, it often transforms into self-devaluation.

Often we self-criticize on autopilot and need to wake up and realize the damage we are doing. Thus, the following 20 signs that you are overly self-critical.

1. You blame yourself for every negative situation.

You feel you are personally responsible when bad things happen, too quick to take all the blame while ignoring legitimate outside factors. Some people can take this tendency to an extreme. For example, blaming yourself for planning an event on a day it happens to rain.

2. You’re down on yourself as a whole person, as opposed to specific mistakes you may make.

Instead of saying, "This was the wrong way to do that, next time I might try…" you tend to diminish yourself with, "I am a failure." You do not focus on the behavior that caused the problem and what can be improved. Rather, you have negative thoughts about your personality and undermine your confidence in general.

Kostanya, DepositPhotos
Source: Kostanya, DepositPhotos

3. You often avoid taking risks.

You tell yourself you are going to fail, because it happens every time, right? Therefore, you end up convinced that the safest course of action is no action at all.

4. You often avoid expressing your own opinion.

What if you say something stupid? Perhaps you think you are boring, or not informed enough to debate with certain company. It's smart not to pretend to be informed when you know very little about a specific subject, but if you behave the same way in the company of people who are of equal or even lesser knowledge, then you are probably engaged in self-criticism when you force yourself to hold back.

5. You often compare yourself to someone else – and typically come up short.

In this case your self-esteem depends on how (you believe) other people stack up against you, which may be beneficial if they are less informed or less skilled. Yet, when you are the less informed or less skilled, your self-criticism is amplified.

You may also have a tendency to see others as globally better than you. If this is the case, you're going to end up feeling "less than," guaranteed.

6. You are never satisfied with achievements.

Whatever you do, you find nagging flaws. You may believe that if you can’t do something right, you shouldn’t do it at all. However, you are prone to harp on inevitable flaws even when your results are positive.

7. You have impossibly high standards.

Do you believe you cannot be happy if you are not highly intelligent, highly attractive, wealthy and super creative? Yet, are your standards impossible to satisfy? This is a variation on #6, where we position ourselves to be dissatisfied.

You can know if your standards are too high if the results you produce rarely, if ever, match the image in your head. 

8. Worry and 'what if' scenarios...

You foresee the worst scenario of what may happen and obsess about it. Yes, worry can be a form of self-doubt and self-criticism, especially when you worry incessantly about personal failure and the humiliation that you foresee.

9. Body image issues.

Perhaps you have problems your physical appearance that you can't let go. Interestingly, this issue can plague people of all shapes and sizes. It has little to do with how you actually appear, and more to do with how you see yourself. If you never look good enough in your own eyes, you're engaged in self-criticism.

10. You never ask for help.

If asking for help is a major ordeal for you, then you may be self-critical, afraid of appearing weak or inept. Why would you be afraid of appearing less than just because you need help? Chances are, under the surface, you're criticizing yourself.

11. You do not assert your needs and desires.

Self-critical people often fear self-assertion, as it may lead to rejection. If you speak your mind, state your needs or ask for what you want, there is always a chance you will be denied. And that can hurt. This is just life. An overly self-critical person, however, is so convinced of the pending rejection that they often accept it ahead of time and skip the self-assertion.

12. Thoughts of self-harm.

For some people, various forms of self-harm serve as a release of emotional pain. In many cases, the emotional pain has roots in self-criticism.

13. You had chronically criticizing parents or caregivers.

Have you been treated with negative criticism by one or both of your parents? If so, you may have assimilated those messages and developed your own inner critic.

14. You persist in analyzing mistakes.

How often and how long do you think about the mistakes you’ve made? Do you invest enormous time and energy in analyzing what went wrong and how you are responsible for it? If you analyze mistakes past the point of learning something valuable, then you're probably punishing yourself unnecessarily.

15. You don’t forgive easily.

Forgiving oneself and others requires letting go of criticism. If you're bogged down in self-criticism, it will be that much more difficult to let go. Even when you're blaming yourself, you'll find it much more difficult to forgive others their part in life's mishaps and misunderstandings.

16. You don't give yourself compliments.

You don’t see a reason to boost your self esteem with positive messages like: I am good. I can do it. I can handle this. For some of us, talking to ourselves positively may even seem strange or ridiculous. This is a sign of chronic self-criticism.

17. You get defensive in the face of feedback.

Do you tend to get hurt and angry when people give you justified or constructive criticism? If you're harboring deep self-criticism, you might overreact to others' feedback and take things personally.

18. You can’t accept compliments.

When someone says something nice about you, do you feel you deserve it? Do tend you deflect compliments with self-deprecation? If so, you may be favoring a self-critical view of yourself. Hint: When someone compliments you, it's OK to reply with simple 'thank you'.

19. You think within a system of black and white values.

If you do not accept that there are many values between the extremes, everything is either good or bad. Setting absolute ideals leads you to ignore partial successes and give yourself credit for smaller accomplishments.

20. Your achievements in life have chronically fallen beneath your capabilities.

A classic sign of chronic self-criticism is underperformance. After years of doing less than your best, you may look around and be disappointed at how far you've gotten in life. If this isn't a call to deal with your tendency to self-criticize, nothing is!

Mike Bundrant is author of the book, Your Achilles Eel: Discover and Overcome the Hidden Cause of Negative Emotions, Bad Decisions and Self-Sabotage.