Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Self-Criticism, A False Friend

Self-criticism may motivate you to pursue success, but at what cost?

Source: Clkr-Free-Vector-images/Pixabay

At its best, being self-critical is an objective self-assessment that can lead to personal growth. But, if you are like many people, you may find that you use it as a blunt tool to attack yourself. Rather than just being introspective in the hope of developing greater self-understanding, you target all the ways you fall short or that you are inadequate. And in doing this, you inevitably inflict pain on yourself. Yet, you may still feel compelled to do it.

Many people believe that self-criticism is the very source of any current or future success. They value self-criticism as a friend that spurs them on to work harder and do better. Fearful of the weakness or failure they believe resides in them, they are driven to cover it up. But with that as their motivation, they remain focused on their shortcomings. And if that is all you can see, you are doomed to be unhappy. For this reason, harsh self-criticism is always linked to unhappiness, even when it motivates you to be a success by outward standards.

If you want a successful life that you can actually enjoy and feel good about, you must be open to appreciating your successes, even the little ones along the way. Or, maybe, especially the little ones along the way. When you can see and acknowledge the good in yourself and the successes you’ve had, you will feel positive about yourself. Just like when a friend shares their good feelings about you, such kindness can nurture an inner strength that is often motivating.

It also helps to understand your struggles with a sense of empathy. When you feel knocked down by life or some unkind person, viewing yourself from a positive, caring perspective can infuse you with a sense of being validated and supported. This can help you stand up and keep going, even when it feels like all you want to do is stay down.

Being positive and compassionate does not mean telling yourself that whatever you do is good. For instance, you may be unhappy with your failure to look for a job while out of work, but you can respond by understanding your sense of hopelessness. You can validate for yourself that it is a difficult situation. And then you can encourage yourself to act anyway; envisioning yourself creating a better future, as opposed to mercilessly calling yourself lazy and a loser. By having compassion for your struggles, you are more likely to feel encouraged to take positive action, and keep taking action, than you would be by criticizing yourself.

Think about it this way: When beating yourself up is your way of achieving success, you are also beating yourself down—and you likely keep doing that despite any success. By contrast, being self-compassionate can infuse you with the validation, support, and encouragement you need to persistently pursue your goals while also feeling good about yourself.

If you would like to learn more about this topic, check out this brief video:

If you would like email notification of new blog postings by Dr. Becker-Phelps, click here.

Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant to your particular situation and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.

Personal change through compassionate self-awareness.

More from Leslie Becker-Phelps Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today