Destructive Self-Criticism vs. Constructive Self-Criticism

Sometimes, it seems easier to criticize ourselves than to give ourselves a compliment, especially for those who are living with mental illness. Some people think it is egoistic to compliment ourselves. Other think putting ourselves down will motivate us to do better. Some believe in all or nothing.

Some just simply have low self-esteem and confidence.

I admit, I have believed all of this in different points of my life. In the past, I have drowned myself in self-pity and negative thoughts a handful of times.

I’m going to talk about those three negative thought patterns and how we can change them.

  1. It is egoistic to think highly of ourselves.

It’s one thing to think we’re the absolute best at something and rub it in people’s faces, than to say, “I think I did pretty good today.” There is nothing wrong with acknowledging your hard work and success.

2. Putting ourselves down will motivate us to do better.

I find myself saying this to myself all the time. Research says that this is not true. “Self-criticism has been shown to increase procrastination and rumination and impede goal progress. If you already feel worthless and incompetent, you may feel like there’s no point in even trying to do better next time” (Breines, 2014).

3. All or nothing/black and white thinking.

This is where one believe that the thing they’re trying to accomplish has to be perfect or it’s not good. Sometimes, I lose myself thinking about a perfect end result that I don’t give myself enough credit during, or after if it’s not how I thought it’d turn out. Same goes for everything else: Looks, grades, relationships, projects, special events, meetings.  Even if it doesn’t go the way you wanted it to, or even if you fail, don’t be so hard on yourself. Pat yourself on the back and say “it’s okay. You tried your best.”

Try Constructive Criticism

Constructive criticism is “helpful and specific suggestions for positive change” (BusinessDictionary.com, n.d.). Destructive criticism is criticism with the sole intention to harm someone and/or their reputation.

Constructive and destructive self-criticism means the same thing but towards oneself.

The one most of us engage in is destructive, but it is better and healthier if we turn those destructive thoughts into constructive self criticism.

“Self-criticism tears us down; it presumes that ‘I am bad.’ Self-compassion, however, focuses on changing the behaviour that’s making you unhealthy or unhappy” (Tartakovsky, 2012).

“The focus is on, am I a good person or a bad person? It’s easy to lose sight of questions that are more likely to get us somewhere, like how did this happen, and how can I avoid letting it happen again?” (Breines, 2014).

Situation

Destructive

Constructive/Compassionate

I got a C on a test. I’m such a failure. It’s just one test. I guess I have to study harder next time.
I forgot something. I am so stupid. I’ll remember for next time. I’ll write it down somewhere so I’ll remember.
My presentation didn’t go as well as I hoped. My presentation sucked. My presentation went okay. There are still some things I have to improve on. I just need more practice.
I didn’t like the way I looked today. I looked so bad today. I didn’t look my best but I looked okay. I’ll try wearing a different colour next time.
Only a couple people showed up to my birthday party. I suck. None of my friends like me. My friends were probably just busy. It doesn’t mean they like me any less. I had fun with the couple people that did show up.
Ways to Constructively Criticize Yourself

In an article, The Art of Constructive Self-Criticism, the writer gives the following tips:

  • “Criticize specific, changeable behaviours, not global,unchangable attributes.”
  • “Criticize external circumstances, but then try to change them.”
  • “Shift your focus from yourself to others.”
  • “Practice self-compassionate self-criticism.”

“Self-compassion means saying, yes, I messed up, but this doesn’t make me a horrible person. This makes me a person who has strengths and weaknesses and room to improve. In this atmosphere of warmth, taking a closer look at those weaknesses is not as scary” (Breines, 2014).


References

Breines, J. (2014). The Art of Constructive Self-Criticism. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-love-and-war/201310/the-art-constructive-self-criticism

constructive criticism. BusinessDictionary.com. Retrieved from http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/constructive-criticism.html

Tartakovsky, M. (2012). 5 Strategies for Self-Compassion. PsychCentral. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/06/27/5-strategies-for-self-compassion/

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