Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

How to Break the Cycle of Poor Choices and Feeling Bad

Learn how self-criticism impairs problem solving and what to do about it.

Despair by Lloyd Morgan.

Considerable research is emerging showing that self-compassion motivates self-improvement and increases prosocial behavior.

In contrast, self-criticism and rumination reduce motivation for taking positive problem solving steps, and impair the quality of problem solving solutions generated (see, for example, Susan Nolen-Hoeksema's research on rumination).

The Cycle of Self-Criticism and Poor Problem Solving

Imagine someone who criticizes themselves "You're useless," "You're a loser," "You're a failure." These are typical examples self-criticism. They're black and white statements. They destroy a person's belief in their capacity to do anything about their problems and imply that there is no point in even trying positive behavior or problem solving because as "a loser" and "a failure" how likely is it that they can be possibly be successful at anything they try? Self-criticism also tends to intensify whatever negative emotions the person is already feeling, which the person then typically manages through avoidant coping (e.g., the binge eater who thinks "I've broken my eating rules, now I'm going to eat till I'm sick or there is no food left.").

To Summarize the Self-Criticism > Poor Problem Solving Links:

Negative emotions > Self-criticism > Reduced belief in capacity for positive behavior + increased negative emotions > Avoidant coping + no skills for positive coping are developed.

The Fix: Take a Self-Compassion Approach Whenever You Notice Self-Criticism

Using self-compassion is likely to lead to you:

- having better ideas about helpful actions you could take,

- actually making better behavioral choices,

- feeling better,

- better relationship outcomes (where applicable),

- over time, accumulating stronger problem solving skills because self-compassion is more likely than self-criticism to lead to you practicing adaptive coping, and practicing will lead to improved skills.

How to Be Self-Compassionate

Learn the three essential components of self-compassion.

More from this author

Read my other Psychology Today articles.

Follow Dr Alice Boyes on Facebook

or Twitter @DrAliceBoyes

or read more on her other blog

Photo credit: Depair by Lloyd Morgan.

More from Psychology Today

More from Alice Boyes Ph.D.

More from Psychology Today