When you judge yourself harshly, scrutinize everything you do from a negative lens, and feel deeply afraid of failure, you are likely experiencing self-critical thoughts. While everyone can be self-critical at times, this thought process becomes harmful when it becomes consistent.
Being self-critical is hearing that internal monologue that analyzes your every thought and action. It’s that voice that tells you either, “Great job, you worked hard on that!” or “You should have done better; you’re never going to achieve anything.”
See the difference between the two?
Self-reflection and being self-critical can be helpful when used productively. For example, you can critically evaluate what you can improve about yourself and your quality of life.
Self-critical thoughts can be learned behavior. Toxic thoughts can become barriers to your happiness and personal growth. As sex addicts, you may be very familiar with self-critical thought patterns. These patterns create and encourage the cycle of addiction: you feel feelings of shame, guilt, anger and you turn to your addiction to make you feel better. But, as you probably already know, indulging in compulsive sexual behavior may help you feel better for a moment but eventually, you begin to feel those same feelings again. So you repeat the cycle.
Understanding how to move out of self-criticism and into self-compassion can help you tackle your addiction.
How do Self-Critical Tendencies Develop?
Have you ever tried listening to the thoughts going on in your head? Do they sound familiar? Do you question where they originate?
More often than not, our tendencies to be self-critical stem from our childhood experiences. The way your parents, teachers, or caregivers treated you can become part of your internal monologue.
If your loved ones supported you during your growth and development, you might have learned self-compassion and understanding helpful feedback. However, if you were frequently compared to others or that you were somehow unworthy of praise, you may have internalized those opinions.
The Levels of Self-Criticism
Not all self-criticism is negative. However, it can be incredibly toxic if you ruminate on those thoughts or allow negative self-critical thoughts to rule your choices. Not all self-criticism is created equally.
Comparing yourself to others’ careers, lifestyles, and achievements is one of the most dangerous things you can do to yourself. When you compare yourself to others, it is easy to reflect on what you lack.
That reflection can lead to you developing negative feelings about yourself and others. Seeing others as superior to you can lead to deep feelings of resentment and even hostility.
Do you have unrealistically high standards for yourself? Holding yourself to an unreasonably high standard often results in putting yourself down, even in instances of success. Small gains amount to almost nothing when you have internalized your self-criticism, which can manifest in feelings of inadequacy, depression, and self-loathing.
Examples of Self-Criticism
Self-Criticism can manifest itself in both positive and negative ways.
While you may think that you’re merely practicing self-awareness and trying to gain insight as to why you haven’t performed well, you may find yourself saying things such as:
- I’m not smart enough to do this; why did I think I deserved it
- I’m a loser; why would I ever succeed
- I’m not good enough; why am I not good enough
- I’m hopeless; I’ll never get better
These are all examples of negative self-talk that can cause you to unhelpful spiral into constructive self-criticism. However, that is far from the truth. These statements are far from productive.
By shifting your language, you learn from the past and move forward towards constructive self-criticism. Just change the ‘why’ statements to ‘what’ statements.
- I didn’t do my best; what can I do better next time
- That was really difficult for me; what can I learn to help me be better in the future
- I tried my best; what can I do to improve
- I need to look at what I did well and what I could have done better; understanding that will help me.
The what questions lead you towards answers and guide you on where you can improve.
Why questions can lead you to a downward self-critical spiral.
The Hazards of Being Self-Critical
Following the same negative feedback loops can lead you towards difficulty or inability to achieve your goals.
Placing Overemphasis on Negative Thoughts
Focusing on the negative aspects of yourself rather than rewarding and praising the good aspects often stems from childhood treatment.
Putting energy into only the negative aspects of your life can cause you to withdraw from otherwise positive aspects of your life. These thoughts make you feel unworthy of the right things.
Withdrawing from social situations or turning your anger for yourself onto other people and relationships is common. You feel negative on the inside, so you present the same way outwardly.
Leads to Negative Distortions of Yourself
Imagine yourself as a young child. Now tell yourself that you’re a failure. You don’t deserve happiness. You’ll never achieve anything or be good enough.
How did that feel?
Probably not good. You may have even imagined those comments in another person’s voice.
When you internalize this constant negativity, even if you know you’re dramatic at the moment, you’ll start to believe that it’s true.
These thoughts can easily lead to things such as body dysmorphia, depression, and even suicidal ideation.
Am I Too Self-Critical?
When you are ready to join us at Begin Again Institute to begin healing your addiction, we can help you uncover your self-critical tendencies. However, there are a few other signs you may have noticed in yourself or that sound all too familiar:
- Anything negative that happens is your fault
- Avoid expressing your opinion because you’re afraid of how it will be perceived
- Can’t ask for help even when you need it
- Continually analyze your past mistakes and feel unable of letting them go
- Spend a significant amount of mental energy and time on “what if” scenarios
- Don’t give yourself or accept compliments from others
If these sound like your inner monologue, you may be too self-critical and need some support.
There are several things you can do to help improve yourself and how you speak to yourself.
How to Address Self-Critical Tendencies
The term self-help sometimes makes people roll their eyes. However, there are several ways you can improve your self-talk without having to step into a therapist’s office.
The practice of mindfulness and mindfulness meditation stems from Buddhism and is the practice of staying present and aware of reality.
During mindfulness sessions, you focus on feeling your breath. Inevitably, your mind will begin to wander – to thoughts of deadlines, what to make for dinner, or a problem you may be experiencing. When you notice that your mind is beginning to wander, you merely gently return your attention to your breath.
Practicing mindfulness allows you to be fully present – and not reactive or overwhelmed by the things occurring in and around your life.
“If we hold ourselves to impossible standards, if we never give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, chances are we will have trouble doing so for others. And thinking about others’ feelings and giving others breaks are key skills for developing solid relationships.” Ravi Shah
Having self-compassion means being forgiving, accepting, and loving towards yourself despite the situations you find yourself.
Another crucial element of practicing self-compassion is also practicing self-kindness. Self-kindness is how you show yourself understanding, even if you’ve failed at something. Instead of being self-critical, you show yourself patience instead.
According to the Self-Compassion Scale, these are some way you can practice self-compassion and kindness:
- Allow yourself to have the tenderness and care you need, especially if you’re going through something hard
- Understand and show patience to yourself about your perceived flaws
- Be tolerant of your shortcomings and don’t allow yourself to dwell on them
As put forth by the author, storyteller, and researcher, Brene Brown, shame is “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of connection and belonging.”
You can develop shame resilience so that those self-critical thoughts and feelings don’t impact you as much.
There are four key elements of shame resilience that include:
- Recognizing and identifying the personal vulnerability that led to you experiencing feelings of shame
- Recognizing the triggers and external factors that led to you experiencing feelings of shame
- Cultivating authentic connection with others and receiving empathy for your experience
- Discussing, exploring, and deconstructing the feelings of shame
Recognizing, understanding, and taking responsibility for your inner voice and self-criticism can help free you from the negative cycle. Reaching out and getting help isn’t a sign of weakness; it is a sign of determination and strength.
If you or your loved one want and need support on your journey through sex addiction, contact us here at the Begin Again Institute.