How Perfectionists Can Give Up Self-Criticism
We live in a technology-driven society that never stops. We’re constantly bombarded with “my life is perfect” messages on social media. It’s no wonder that so many of us feel like we’re not measuring up.
But what is it that we’re not measuring up to? Perhaps we need to take another look at how we measure our worth. Perhaps achievement, traditional markers of success, and being perfect aren’t the ultimate measures of our worth. Perhaps valuing these things is actually causing us to hate ourselves.
I’m sure you’re intimately acquainted with self-criticism — one of the hallmarks of perfectionism. Perfectionists never feel good enough. We’re never satisfied with our performance or even our effort. We create unrealistic expectations for ourselves and when we inevitably fail to meet them, it serves as evidence that we’re not as good as everyone else. Perfectionists meet this sense of failure with harsh self-criticism.
You might think being hard on yourself is necessary, as if it will motivate you to do better. But criticism usually leads to shame, not to greater motivation. In other words, criticism makes us feel worse about ourselves and we can’t do better when we’re cutting ourselves down.
Many of us find it easier to love others than to love ourselves. Sometimes we’re truly quite awful to ourselves. We subject ourselves to a harsh inner critic, unhealthy relationships, toxic substances, and self-mutilation because we’re convinced that we’re different and inferior, instead of that we’re flawed, but completely lovable people.
You’re probably hyper-aware of your faults and shortcomings, but quick to dismiss your strengths and positive personality traits. Perfectionism gives you an inaccurate perception of yourself. You’re internally obsessed with your imperfections and failures while trying to present a perfect persona to the rest of the world. This inevitably leads to a negative view of yourself and harsh self-criticism.
9 Ways Perfectionists Can Decrease Negative Self-talk and Quiet Their Inner-Critic
- Have realistic expectations. It’s not possible to do everything perfectly, so don’t set yourself up to feel bad with this unrealistic expectation. Use progress as your measuring stick instead of perfection.
- Acknowledge your strengths. As a perfectionist, you’re so hard on yourself that you have trouble noticing your strengths. You don’t have to be good at everything, but we all have strengths. You can explore some of yours here.
- Accept your weaknesses or imperfections. Just as we all have strengths, we also all have weaknesses. Some we simply try to accept because we can’t change them and some we work on improving, but we don’t have to be ashamed of our weaknesses or ruminate about them because it’s normal to have imperfections.
- Self-worth isn’t based on success. When you explore your values and think about what matters most, you recognize that people don’t have to be perfect, or “winners,” or “successful” in order to be loving, generous, creative, or hard-working. Successful people aren’t the only ones who are worthy; realize that it isn’t your accomplishments that matter most.
- Turn mistakes into learning opportunities. Instead of seeing mistakes as failures, try seeing them as opportunities to learn, grow, and do better. Instead of beating yourself up emotionally, ask yourself what you’ve learned.
- Don’t count on others to make you feel worthy. Self-worth should be an inside job. You’re giving away your power if you let other people determine your worth. Value your own opinion.
- Keep negative people at a distance. This is challenging for sure (you can read more here). But if others refuse to treat you with respect, you can choose to separate yourself. It’s hard to leave unhealthy relationships when you feel like a failure and think you deserve lousy treatment from others. This is why you have to work on both the inner and outer critics at the same time.
- Practice self-compassion and self-forgiveness. We all screw up. Most of us just don’t talk about our biggest failures and our insecurities, so it’s easy to think that everyone else has it together and you’re the only one struggling. Self-compassion is the opposite of self-criticism. It’s a way to give yourself grace for being a flawed individual who’s trying the best s/he can.
- Challenge your negative self-talk. Negative self-talk is automatic and well ingrained. Before you just assume it’s accurate, check-out the negative things you’re saying to yourself. Are they true? What’s the evidence? Do you really believe them or are they things other people told you are true? You can create new beliefs about yourself based on your own experiences and your own values.
We all deserve kindness – from others and from ourselves. You can decrease self-criticism by gaining a more accurate picture of yourself – seeing your strengths; acknowledging your mistakes and seeing them as learning opportunities instead of dwelling on them; setting realistic expectations; remembering self-worth isn’t based only on performance; and offering yourself compassion and forgiveness. Being kinder to yourself is likely to help your productivity and goal achievement, improve your emotional health, and strengthen your relationships.
©2017 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
Photo courtesy of Jimmy Bay on Unsplash.
Martin, S. (2017). How Perfectionists Can Give Up Self-Criticism. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 23, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/imperfect/2017/03/perfectionists-decrease-self-criticism/