Photo by Michael Mcauliffe
by Andrea M. Darcy
Have a voice inside your head always telling you what you did wrong? Or does every joke you make have you as the punchline? Being hard on yourself isn’t funny, and learning to stop the habit can be life changing.
Why are you so hard on yourself?
That negative voice in your head isn’t something you were born with. Somewhere along the way you learned to think like this. It might have been a parent who always criticised you, a teacher who shamed you, or even a sibling who constantly bullied you.
Always being hard on yourself can also be the result of childhood trauma or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). One way a child copes is unfortunately to internalise the experience(s) as their own fault, bringing on a lifetime of shame and low self-esteem until support for trauma is found.
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Am I really that hard on myself?
The sad thing about being so hard on ourselves is that it can so normal for us we hardly notice. Then one person makes a casual comment about it, and it’s like a worm in our head. Is it true? Are we really always beating ourselves up?
Photo by Jon Tyson.
First, you can set a timer to go off once an hour for several days and each time check in with your thoughts. Were you actually in the middle of putting yourself down?
Or make a list of all the things you think about yourself, being as honest as you can. Do they sound compassionate, or are they tough?
If you are brave enough, ask friends and family for their honest feedback. Or even to point out to you (gently) when you are being hard on yourself.
7 Ways to Stop Being So Hard On Yourself
Why does it matter? Being hard on yourself can lead to depression and anxiety, and it makes relationships hard. Why not try these actionable steps?
1. Record your Wins.
When we are truly hard on ourselves our mind glazes over any accomplishments or accolades, or even forgets them entirely. Writing them down can feel uncomfortable, or be something you try to sabotage.
But it is more powerful than it sounds, because focusing on what we do right? It slowly but surely changes our perspective.
If you find it too hard to stick to, try piggybacking this new habit to an old habit. For example, make your nightly teeth-brushing time the moment you find five things to be proud of from the day. Try saying them out loud to the mirror for an extra boost.
2. Write it out of your head.
Our unconscious can be a tricky beast when it wants to be, and can be set up to protect us. So just ‘journalling’ might be helpful, but it’s unlikely you will allow yourself to really write out your dark secrets.
Trick your brain into a proper cathartic download by promising yourself to not read what you write and rip up the paper immediately afterwards.
And then go for it – write out all your dark, scathing, self-flagellating thoughts, not worrying about penmanship or if you sound like an angry 5 year-old. Then enjoy the ripping. (Do however follow the protocol of not reading and destroying – the last thing you need is to turn this into yet another way to be torture yourself!).
3. Win with wellbeing activities.
Always being hard on ourselves is fed by core beliefs that we don’t deserve good things or to feel happy.
So what better way to counter this than to do things precisely chosen for the way they make you feel good?
Wellbeing activities are the things that make you, personally, feel elevated and energised. You can’t choose them based on what other people do or like, but on you.
Read our article on “The Steps to Wellbeing” for more.
Or better yet, signup now to receive our free Wellbeing Workbook that leads you through creating your Wellbeing plan step-by-step.
4. Do a ‘friend’ detox.
We can hardly feel good about ourselves if we constantly surround ourselves with people who are unkind to us, or even bully us. So we might need to re-educate ourselves about what a good friend actually is, then try to get out there and change up our social circle.
But before you go and get rid of real friends, note that sometimes we are actually pushing our friends to criticise us without realising it. Read our article, “Are you Secretly Encouraging Criticism”?
As for difficult colleagues who are lacking in the nice department, learn about boundaries and perhaps start setting some.
5. Start the self-compassion.
Forget about self-love, which is a big ask for the best of us. Try self-compassion instead, the new way to raise your self -esteem faster.
Try this. Write a letter to your best friend. Tell him or her what you like about him or her, what you think about something they are struggling with lately. What advice do you have for him or her?
Now read the letter aloud but change the name to your name. How strange does it feel? And what would it feel like to talk to yourself like that all the time?
6. Kill the comparison.
Comparing ourselves to others is one of the easiest ways to keep ourselves feeling small. Social media doesn’t help the habit. Remember that you are not actually comparing yourself to the other person, but to your perceived idea of them. You really have no idea what their private struggles are, and if you did, you might be glad to be you.
7. Seek support.
Negative thinking can be very addictive. So sometimes we need support to kick the habit. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be a powerful start. It focuses on helping you gain control of your thinking.
From there, you might find a therapy that looks at your past helpful, such as one that comes under the psychodynamic umbrella.
Again, being hard on yourself doesn’t come from nowhere. It tends to come from tough childhood experiences or parenting that didn’t feed our very real need to be loved and supported just as we were. These things can be quite overwhelming to unpack and process. A therapist creates a safe, non judgemental space to explore and heal.
Ready to reach out for help and stop being hard on yourself? We connect you with some of London’s best talk therapists. Not in London? Our booking platform offers UK-wide therapists as well as Skype therapists you can contact from anywhere.
Andrea M. Darcy is a popular psychology writer with training in person-centred counselling and coaching. She had to train herself to not be hard on herself… and it worked! You can also find her on Instagram @am_darcy