Self-criticism: listening to the inner voice and getting rid of negativity

By Vladimir Marchenko

  1. What is self-criticism
  2. From self-identification to self-criticism
  3. The benefits and harms of self-criticism
  4. Types of negative conversations
  5. How excessive self-criticism manifests itself
  6. If self-criticism makes life worse

What is self-criticism

Self-criticism is usually understood as an internal dialogue that allows you to discover and analyze your own achievements and mistakes, advantages and disadvantages, to assess thinking and behavior. It acts as a natural curator, produces self-exactingness, independent control over the ongoing internal processes and their external expression, and takes measures to eliminate them. It is considered one of the criteria for a person's mental health; a decrease in critical thinking leads to an overestimated self-esteem and not entirely adequate self-perception. The same applies to an increased level of self-blame, which causes one to lose confidence in their abilities.

Most often, internal dialogue occurs using speech patterns, sometimes in the form of images or symbols. In cartoons, it is usually depicted as an angel and a demon sitting on the shoulders of the hero. Although this form of intrapersonal communication has been known for a long time and is closely related to the quality of human life, they began to study it within the framework of introspection quite recently. In 2014, the study ‘Self-Talk as a Regulatory Mechanism: How You Do It Matters (E. Kross et al.)’ was published, in the course of which it was discovered that negotiations with oneself, conducted in the third person, significantly reduce stress levels. And positive beliefs improve mental health and other psychological indicators, which cannot be said about negative conversations.

From self-identification to self-criticism

Some psychologists study self-criticism as a negative character trait, a consequence of a disturbed self-identification. It is often associated with depression. In support of this, it is indicated that people with depression are usually prone to excessive self-flagellation and, even after getting rid of this affliction, continue to negatively perceive themselves. Self-criticism is also seen as a sign of introjective depression.

kid in the leaves
Often, excessive self-criticism in childhood is provoked by very demanding parents and bullying from other children

However, self-identification is a rudimentary mechanism of personality development. It allows to define oneself in gender and age identity, role and place in society, and forms initial behavioral skills. The person assimilates and accepts / does not accept the values ​​of the sociocultural group. Considering that it develops from early childhood, it is here that "breakdown" and deviation from normal development are possible. Gradually, self-identification is supplemented by self-criticism, which sometimes takes hypertrophied negative forms.

The benefits and harms of self-criticism

The benefit of healthy self-criticism is that a person gets the opportunity to evaluate themself from outside, to accept successes and failures, to determine further development paths. In the professional field, this allows you to find the shortest paths to achieve a result, assess the level of your knowledge and, if necessary, improve it. In interpersonal relationships, it is used to evaluate the judgments of other people, respect their point of view, obtain new information, etc.

Adequate self-criticism follows the plus-minus-plus formula. That is, if you managed to accomplish your plan, it's already good. If not, try again based on your experience and follow through. Self-criticism also helps to build a personal value scale, a kind of reference point from beliefs and positions, which directs the internal motives of the individual. With a harmoniously built self-criticism, a person receives both internal support and a portion of criticism.

Sometimes motivation comes from external sources, but then it passes through itself and it seems that it is a product of the mental activity of the individual themself. An example of such a suggestion is short motivating statements (affirmations). Usually they are spoken to oneself, but there are more exotic options. For example, when affirmations are played while the user is sleeping, as implemented in the Hypnopedia mobile app. You can choose the appropriate motivation for the topic, as well as the voice of the reader and go to bed. Thanks to the information received from the Apple Watch sensors and its processing by a special algorithm, affirmations are read at the optimal time for perception, but at the same time they do not wake up the user. The effect is observed even after waking up, improving the mental characteristics of the user.

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Self-criticism can progress from a normal reaction to a fairly serious destructive psychological state. In its acute form, it lowers self-esteem, causes insecurity, inaction and guilt, deprives of positive emotions, drives into depression.

In particular, there are some ‘wake-up calls’:

- there is a desire to exaggeratedly inform others about your shortcomings, failures, and bad mood. The goal is to gain some pity while maintaining the awareness that things are not really that bad. Often, a person openly manipulates their "worthlessness" in order to remove responsibility or hide insecurity (mild form);

- due to a sense of over-responsibility, perfectionism, a desire to please everyone, to approach a certain ideal, one begins to engage in self-criticism. At the same time, external manifestations are almost not observed, but internal destruction occurs much more strongly (hard form).

- self-torture becomes a habitual state for any reason. Something could have been done better, something could not have been completed at all, and some other result of the work received a low rating from the outside. As a result, the individual no longer even pays attention to successful results and levels out any achievements (psychoneurotic form).

Types of negative conversations

For the purposes of cognitive-behavioral therapy, the classification of D. Burns from his book "Feeling Good" is used. He identifies ten types of negative self-talk:

1. "All or nothing". This is a maximalist approach, because of which one considers any failure as a tragedy. Accordingly, they are engaged in self-digging.

2. Over-generalization. It is expressed by the words "always", "never", "all", "nobody", etc. and arises when a person considers a single event as part of a global trend or state.

3. The mental filter sometimes works incorrectly. For example, when events with positive and negative connotations occur, the emphasis in perception remains only on the negative.

4. Devaluation of the positive. In this case, any success is associated exclusively with external factors. For example, "the successful sale was carried out solely due to the accidental call and the customer's disposition."

5. Jumping to conclusions. Usually based on assumptions about what someone is thinking. As a rule, it is assumed that someone has negative thoughts. The same applies to fortune-telling that an event must invariably end with the worst outcome.

6. Exaggeration / understatement or making a big deal of something. It is observed when the relative importance of an incident increases / decreases unreasonably.

7. Emotional reasoning. Described as “emotion = facts”. The simplest example is jealousy - suspicion of cheating on a partner is based mainly on unfounded feelings.

8. “Must”. If the words “should”, “have to”, “must” prevail in the internal dialogue, this is a reason to think and relax a little.

9. Absorbing other people's moods. It is also a fairly common cognitive distortion. In the worst form, people blame themselves for what happened.

10. Labelling. Associated with generalization or adherence to the principle of "all or nothing". It is not very good when it is used in relation to other people, but much worse if a hasty assessment is given to oneself.

man looks in the mirror

How excessive self-criticism manifests itself

The fact that an individual is predominantly focused on shortcomings and does not notice the merits is evidenced by the following external manifestations.


With regular and unjustified self-criticism, people develop doubts in their strengths, capabilities and prospects. A person does not seek to change themself, refuses tempting offers, speaks quietly, tries not to express their opinion (as it seems to them, deliberately wrong) and obeys the majority.


Constant self-examination develops distrust of both yourself and those around you. Such a person ceases to communicate, to find a common language with others, fences off and drives themself into the trap of unhappiness.

Finding and talking about flaws

The endless identification of shortcomings and especially their transmission to the outside world is considered one of the main signs of an overly self-critical personality. Moreover, we can talk both about appearance and character traits. In this case, the merits are diligently pushed to the background.

Living ‘in the past’

First, the individual constantly refers to the negative experience that took place earlier and transfers it to the present day. Secondly, he or she believes that the analysis does not allow to avoid such things in the future, but serves only as another reason for self-criticism.

If self-criticism makes life worse

If the inner voice begins to negatively affect the human psyche, that must be dealt with. Therefore, you also need to criticize yourself correctly, using the following recommendations:

Be honest and objective with yourself. Listen to other people's opinions, but don't live by them. Compare yourself not only with those who were better, but also with those who were left behind.

Accept yourself for who you are. Of course, it is necessary to strive for the ideal, but we are all unique, even in our problematic moments. And such criteria as money or power are very conditional.

Mistakes and failures happen to everyone, but they should be accepted and regarded as an acquired experience, not a sentence.

Create realistic expectations. Excessive demands, especially those built on comparing yourself to pictures on social networks, lead to disappointment. Confine your requests with the powers to carry them out.

Learn to take responsibility. This implies not only the right to commit certain actions, but also the obligation to work with their consequences.

Analyze the feelings that arise. When a person is able to clearly answer the question of what they are feeling at a given moment, this increases the ability to reflect. Feelings remain in control and a rare event can shake inner freedom.

List of achievements. It is very important not to forget about the victories achieved and periodically refresh them in memory. This helps a lot when assessing your own uniqueness.

Favorite things. Confidence arises where we succeed. Most often, we open up through those activities that give us real pleasure.

Develop in the directions in which you are interested. Find like-minded people, attend hobby groups, courses and seminars.

Forgive yourself. Sometimes it's easier to forgive someone else, but not yourself. Therefore, it is so important to show compassion to yourself, without going too far, of course.

the guy is watching the sunset

Thus, self-criticism acts as an important moderator of personal experiences and one of the first bells reporting that something goes wrong. Sometimes the internal censor begins to go beyond reasonable boundaries and needs to be put back in place. To do that, you should work on self-identification and self-confidence.

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