The self critical voice


Liz's Example

Lately I’ve been very self-critical and when I look at my paintings, I think they look awful. 

All I can think of is how they are so much better than me and how awful my drawing looks.



As you can see, Liz had unhelpful perfectionism and was very harsh on herself about her drawings (e.g. thinks her work is awful). Indeed, self-criticism is strongly related with unhelpful perfectionism. Being very harsh on yourself can cause problems such as low motivation, cutting yourself off from family and friends, low moods, avoiding the problem which makes it worse. Self-criticism is like your inner critic or bully, the voice in your head that always points out your mistakes. It calls you names like bad, stupid, hopeless, loser, useless or failure.

Do any of these describe you? Tick
• I don’t live up to my own standards or how I’d like to be
• I tend to put myself down e.g. call myself stupid
• I find it difficult to accept that I have weaknesses
• I tend to be very harsh on myself
• If I do well, it is probably due to luck, but if I do badly, it is probably my own fault


If most of the sentences describe you, you are likely to be very hard on yourself. Many people believe that self-criticism is a way to motivate themselves to do things and to do them better. But is it truly helpful? What happens to you when someone criticizes you? What about when someone praises you?

You’d probably notice that when you are criticized, you feel bad about yourself, and may even stop trying to avoid the criticism. When you are praised, on the other hand, you tend to try harder and work better! 



It is likely that for most of your life, you have talked to yourself negatively, calling yourself names and criticising yourself for making mistakes, ignoring the times when you have done well. This is unhelpful and we would like you to learn to not criticising yourself, which will lead to a better performance.

Changing your self-criticism is not about lowering your standards but deciding which voice you want to have for yourself – the critical one who will scold you and ignore how well you do until you feel like a failure and discouraged to try; or the kind, understanding voice who will notice when you are trying and encourage you to learn from your mistakes, improving your performance over time. The goal is to decrease the power of your self-critical voice and increase the power of your kind compassionate voice, just like controlling the volumes of two radio stations. In time, you will learn to ignore the critical voice and not take its messages to heart.