The Harm of Self-Criticism and the Importance of Self-Love
Like many, you might admire self-criticism.
Most of us equate this trait with self-assessment and awareness, and as a badge of honesty, responsibility, integrity, and high ethical standards – four highly coveted moral virtues. We deem self-criticism as a pre-condition for self-improvement and growth. It is only when we courageously look inside and identify our flaws and own them, that we can begin the journey of correcting – or at least minimizing – them, thereby becoming better people.
Psychology defines self-criticism as “an intense and persistent relationship with the self, characterized by an uncompromising demand for high standards in performance, as well as an expression of hostility and derogation toward the self when these high standards are not met.”
So, self-criticism often involves a significant amount of self-bashing and with the bashing comes a formidable amount of adverse effects on physical and mental health.
Research in the U.S., Canada, Israel, and Europe concurs, showing that self-criticism can lead to self-directed hostility, bashing, and derogation. Self-criticism also contributes to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance-use disorders, juvenile delinquency, physical health conditions, and even suicidal tendencies. It seems, then, that maybe science itself is suggesting we rethink our ideas about self-criticism.
This doesn’t mean, though, that we should stop holding ourselves accountable for our actions, thoughts, or beliefs. We should absolutely be aware of what we think and do that help us grow, learn and become a better person. It does mean that we shouldn’t be overly-critical of ourselves to the point of physical or emotional self-harm. On the personal level, try not to make uncompromising demands of yourself that increase the likelihood of eventually not meeting ever-rising standards.
If you have self-critical thoughts that aren’t adding any value to yourself, your life, or your outlook on life, you must learn to cope with these thoughts. “But how?” you ask.
First, get at the core of why you’re having critical thoughts in the first place. Malignant self-criticism develops as a reaction to people’s – particularly young people’s – inner confusion about their true identity, or who they are.
No need to fret, though, as we at Kvell are dedicated in helping you, our hero, in answering this perpetually nagging question.
Discovering who you are in the world and what you want in life are classic struggles of coming of age and actualizing yourself. They require lots of introspection and self-love. Take care to not confuse loving yourself with narcissism. Loving yourself simply means taking care of and giving yourself the things you need to grow as a person. It does not happen overnight – it can take years for some people to get to a place of mental well-being. There is always light at the end of the tunnel, though. You have to love yourself, treat yourself, reward yourself, and most of all, work hard for yourself. This is self-love.
The act of self-love is about identifying self-critical utterances that are detrimental to your growth and well-being. It’s about firmly requesting that they discontinue while also holding yourself accountable to reasonable and sustainable measures of growth and learning. It’s a journey taken one day at a time.