Liberate yourself from the judge within
Do self-critical thoughts keep you trapped or stuck in a rut?
If so, you might have something in common with a white tiger named Mohini.
Mohini lived in the National Zoo, in Washington, DC, in the 1970s. After being kept in a small cage for many years, Mohini was transferred to an enclosure with acres of space, trees and even a pond. Her owners at the zoo were sure she’d love her spacious new home. But they were mistaken.
Mohini lived the rest of her life in just one corner of her new enclosure, pacing an area the size of her old cage until the grass wore away beneath her paws. Despite the freedom on offer, her mind kept her trapped in old patterns of behavior. And just like Mohini, many of us remain stuck in our habits, even though greater freedom is possible.
But what exactly keeps us encaged? Instead of iron and concrete, it’s self-criticism and feelings of inadequacy. We listen to our inner critic, which tells us that whatever we do, we’ll never be good enough. This negativity keeps us trapped in lives that are small and narrow, just like Mohini’s cage.
Surprisingly, some of the most famous people in history battled self-criticism and self-esteem issues. Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Steinbeck felt like an impostor for the praise he got for his work. He wrote in a 1938 journal entry: “I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.” Known for the “Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper,” it was revealed in a New Yorker article that, like the rest of us, Leonardo Da Vinci also experienced self-criticism and self-esteem issues. Da Vinci was known for abandoning and never finishing certain projects, and he was also very hard on himself. Apparently a line from one of his diaries read: “Tell me if I ever did a thing.”
We’re often our own harshest critic, but that criticism doesn’t always need to be negative. To help your criticism be effective, you need to take a step back, distance yourself from the work or self-critical thoughts in question and look at it from a new perspective. Ironically, Da Vinci recommended this very approach. He would set up a mirror so that he could look at a reflection of his latest painting. This offered Da Vinci, quite literally, a new perspective. Seeing the reverse image in the mirror allowed him to be objective and judge a painting as though he were seeing it for the first time.
Similarly, you can learn to reframe the negative thoughts in your head and overcome them.
You’re encouraged, therefore, to read on, and discover how to reframe your self-critical thoughts so they stop inﬂuencing your decisions, emotions, and how you feel about yourself.
Most self-criticism can be separated into two categories: comparative and internalized criticism.
Comparative criticism is when you compare yourself to others.
Internalized criticism is when you feel like you can’t live up to your own standards.
Both comparative and internalized self-criticism can be dangerous.
Learn about these two types of criticism:
Comparative criticism makes you constantly compare and contrast your life with friends, family members, coworkers, and others.
You might view others as superior or better than you with this type of criticism.
You’re also likely to think that others are judging you and assume you don’t measure up.
Internalized criticism makes you feel that you’ll never be perfect or achieve the things you desire.
The obsession with being perfect can be overwhelming with this type of self-criticism.
Understanding the different types of self-critical thoughts, you can now begin to effectively address the issues.
“Much protective self-criticism stems from growing up around people who wouldn’t or couldn’t love you, and it’s likely they still can’t or won’t. In general, however, the more you let go of the tedious delusion of your own unattractiveness, the easier it will be for others to connect with you…” — Martha Beck
“I’m Not Enough”
One of the most common self-critical thoughts is that you’re not enough. It can stem from both comparative and internalized criticism.
How can you change the “I’m not enough” thoughts?
Understand where these negative thoughts come from and how to reframe them:
Why do you feel like you’re not enough?
The ﬁrst step is to get to the root of this thought.
Examine your feelings and consider your past.
Why do you feel you’re never enough, and where do these feelings come from?
In many cases, the roots of this self-critical thought can be found in the past.
Dysfunctional families, difﬁcult childhoods, traumas, and illnesses can make you feel less worthy.
Remember it’s an internal message.
Even if others are praising you and complimenting your life, you may still feel like you’re not enough. This happens because it’s an internal thought that’s hard to shed.
Start to heal the past.
Therapists share that not feeling like you’re enough may require healing the past.
If you’re having difﬁculty letting go of this self-criticism, counseling or therapy can help you get past these thoughts.
You can even try journaling, meditation, or other contemplative activities to release the things that are holding you back.
Say, “I am good enough.”
Each time this negative thought comes up, rephrase it to a thought that uplifts you and makes you feel like you’re good enough instead.
Remember that you’re unique,
with your own special combination of talents and characteristics, and worthy of love and happiness.
Remind yourself that you’re enough. You’re smart enough, strong enough, and good enough to do anything. You’re capable of great things and can accomplish what you desire.
Once you realize that your past may be controlling your present, it becomes easier to reframe this self-critical thought.
“Fear has governed my life, if I think about it. I don’t even know why I’m saying this in an interview situation, but I always feel like I’m not good enough for some reason. I wish that wasn’t the case, but left to my own devices, that voice starts speaking up.” — Trent Reznor
“I’ll Never Improve”
When you’re stuck and haven’t reached any goals, it’s common to have the self-critical thought that you’ll never improve.
You may think you’ll never get better and never get beyond a certain point.
However, the “I’ll never improve” thought can hold you back.
It can make you give up on your dreams and make you walk away from potential opportunities.
It’s important to reframe this self-critical thought before it makes life more difﬁcult.
Try these ideas:
Understand the learning process.
You might think you’ll never get better at something while you’re still learning it.
For example, when you’re learning a new skill, language, or subject, it can be tempting to give up before ﬁnishing. The process can be hard and time-consuming.
However, it’s important not to stop before giving it all of your effort.
Continuing your learning process will give you proof that you do, indeed, learn and get better.
Remember you’re not alone.
It can be tempting to have moments of self-pity mixed with self-criticism and believe you’re the only person who struggles with something.
Keep in mind that some things, such as learning a new language or subject, can be hard for many people.
Reach out to friends and family members for help and you’ll see you’re not the ﬁrst person to struggle.
It’s a normal human feeling that everyone experiences at some point.
Give it time.
It’s important to give yourself enough time to strengthen your skills in the area or topic you’re working on, and not judge the process.
Pay attention to the little details and take notice of your progress.
Say, “I’m learning and getting better.”
Reframe the self-critical talk by reminding yourself that you’re always learning.
Another way to ﬁght the self-criticism is to say,
“I’m good enough now.”
You can also say,
“I’m getting better all the time.”
Practicing these new phrases will help you feel more optimistic about what you’re struggling to learn and also boost your self-esteem.
You can also get rid of this self-critical thought by putting less pressure on yourself. You’re more likely to be critical of yourself when you expect too much, even if that expectation is unrealistic.
Give yourself a break.
Be patient with yourself and feel good about learning something new.
“Those who improve with age embrace the power of personal growth and personal achievement and begin to replace youth with wisdom, innocence with understanding, and lack of purpose with self-actualization.” — Bo Bennett
“Everyone Is Better Than Me”
Thinking that everyone is better than you is a common struggle, shared by many others. Most people experience it at one point or another.
However, if you think about it, you’ll realize that it’d be impossible for you to be the best at everything. There’ll always be others who seem to be more talented, successful, or educated in their own ﬁelds.
The key is to remember that you, too, have unique talents and special skills that matter!
Use these strategies to handle this self-criticism:
Understand the root of the thought.
Often, this self-critical thought comes from past experiences or childhood.
You may have grown up hearing your parents or someone else compare you to others.
They may have told you that you’re not as smart or well-behaved as another child.
You believed it then and you still believe it.
Unfortunately, these negative thoughts can carry over from childhood to adulthood.
Learn to love yourself.
Instead of beating yourself up over every mistake, learn to accept your faults.
Practice forgiveness of yourself and others.
Learn to let go of mistakes once you’ve learned the lesson.
It’s important not to hang on to negative ideas or experiences.
Be conscious of how you view your body, mind, and accomplishments.
Reframe the self-critical thought.
Instead of saying everyone is better than you, say things like, “I’m good,” “I’m talented,” and “I’m more than just okay.”
Remind yourself of the unique qualities you possess.
Point out things like your kindness, perseverance, and other positive parts of your personality.
Avoid letting this self-critical thought stop you from trying new things.
It’s crucial to remember you have talent.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena . . . who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error…” — Theodore Roosevelt
Reframe Other Self-Critical Thoughts
You may have many different types of self-critical thoughts affecting your conﬁdence.
Remember, you’re your own unique combination of characteristics, shaped by past and present experiences.
This unique identity and history affects the type of self-critical thoughts that are in your head.
Consider these common self-criticisms and how to change them:
Reframe “I shouldn’t have done this.”
This thought appears after a mistake or other issue.
Change it by saying,
“I learned from this.”
Focus on the positive aspects of the mistake. Find the silver lining that’s hiding inside.
Reframe “I can’t do anything right.”
This thought can also appear after mistakes. It can also show up after failures or not being able to accomplish goals.
Change it by saying,
“I do many things well.”
Accept the mistake or failure and move forward. Remind yourself of all the things you do well and are proud of having accomplished.
Reframe “I’m never going to be happy.”
During difﬁcult moments, it can be a struggle to see beyond the sorrow.
Change it by saying,
“I can be happy, even in difﬁcult circumstances.”
Remember that you’ve been happy in the past and can return to this feeling again.
Reframe “I’m always a mess.”
Again, this self-critical thought frequently shows up after a failure or other shortcoming.
Change it by saying,
“I am in control.”
You can also say,
“I am put together just right.”
The key is to ﬁght the negativity with positive thoughts.
Avoid focusing on failures or comparing yourself to others. You may not see the struggles they face and don’t know how much of a mess their lives are in.
Instead, think about the things you do well and control.
Reframe “I’m always alone.”
Relationship struggles and other issues can make you feel isolated and lonely.
Change it by saying,
“I am surrounded by people who love me.”
Keep in mind that, even if you’re single, there are always others around you, and many of those people love you.
From coworkers to friends, you just have to reach out for help.
Self-critical thoughts can come in many forms, but each one can be changed.
“I am continuously struck by how frequently the various thought processes of the inner critic trigger overwhelming emotional ﬂashbacks. This is because the PTSD-derived inner critic weds shame and self-hate about imperfection to fear of abandonment, and mercilessly drives the psyche with the entwined serpents…” — Pete Walker
More Tips For Dealing With Self-Criticism
It’s important to remember that the thoughts in your head are just stories. They may not be an accurate reﬂection of you or your life.
Your internal dialogue can be very deceptive.
It can make you feel alone, discouraged, and unhappy. And it can affect how you view the world and relate to others.
Instead of letting the self-critical thoughts take over, try these tips:
Remember the stories might not be the real truth.
The stories in your mind are all shaped by how you perceived certain situations.
Human perception is tricky.
The world is colored by your past, present, and current emotions.
The way you think about things is affected by multiple factors.
Be mindful of your thoughts and emotions.
Ask yourself, “What is going on in my head right now? Is it positive or negative? Why?”
Pay attention to your thoughts and how they affect you. Listen to the mind, but avoid letting self-critical thoughts take over.
Remember to reframe the self-critical thoughts.
This powerful technique turns things around in your head and boosts your self-esteem.
Reframing can be the key to letting go of the negativity.
Self-critical thoughts can be changed!
You have the power and ability to do this.
It may take practice, but you can accomplish it.
“Turn down the volume of your negative inner voice and create a nurturing inner voice to take it’s place. When you make a mistake, forgive yourself, learn from it, and move on instead of obsessing about it. Equally important, don’t allow anyone else to dwell on your mistakes or shortcomings or to expect perfection from you.” — Beverly Engel
Self-critical thoughts can appear in different forms and wearing different capes. They can ﬁll your mind with negativity and judgment.
Remember that you’re the one who is in control of your thoughts. You can alter them.
Learn to reframe your negative self-talk so it stops inﬂuencing your decisions, emotions, and how you feel about yourself.
Once you’ve practiced reframing and changing the negative statements in your head, it’ll get easier to do, and your self-esteem will only grow.