Are you too hard on yourself?
I’m too fat. I’m dumb. I’m a terrible parent. They’ll never hire me.
Sometimes the things we tell ourselves can be incredibly harsh. This negative inner voice, or inner critic, can make us feel like we’re not good enough or even worthless. This may be especially true when we’re stuck at home for long periods or can’t connect with friends or loved ones the way we’re used to.
“While we all have an inner critic to some degree, if you’re consistently overcome by negative thoughts about yourself, it can impact your mental health,” says Pamela Honsberger, MD, family physician and assistant area medical director overseeing physician development and support at Kaiser Permanente in Orange County.
“If you’re too self-critical,” she says, “it can cause high anxiety, depression, or life paralysis where you can’t move past certain experiences.”
One of the best cures for self-criticism is self-compassion. This means treating yourself kindly — the way you’d treat someone you care about.
“Self-compassion is a way to turn your negative inner voice into a friendly, positive voice,” Dr. Honsberger says. Here are several tactics to help you get started:
“If you’re an overthinker and very self-critical, meditation for more than a minute is going to be difficult,” Dr. Honsberger says. She suggests meditation apps to help you get started. Kaiser Permanente also offers meditation resources online, including guided meditation exercises and activities.
2. Use positive affirmations
Saying short, encouraging statements to yourself is a great way to build up your self-compassion. “When you say affirmations, it can be powerful to hear positive words in your own voice,” Dr. Honsberger explains. This can help shift your mindset to a more positive space.
3. Talk to yourself like you would a friend
When your inner conversation starts to go negative, Dr. Honsberger suggests rethinking the situation. “What would you say if you were talking to a friend and they were telling you these things?” she says. You’d probably tell them they’re being too hard on themselves. Show yourself the same compassion you’d show a friend.
4. Stay connected with people you trust
Self-criticism makes you feel isolated and alone. But everyone has these experiences. “Share how you’re feeling with someone you trust,” Dr. Honsberger says. “Talking to others can help you feel less alone and part of a community.” And when you can’t talk in person, reach out by phone or with a video chat app like Skype or Zoom.
5. Write down what you’re thinking
Start journaling. “Even if you only write for 3 to 5 minutes, it can be very helpful to go back and read what you were thinking about yourself,” Dr. Honsberger explains. It’s a great tool to help you see the missing pieces of the story, or help you work through a difficult event or stressful time.
6. Talk to a therapist
“Behavioral therapy is a great way to get professional, objective help on how your inner critic is affecting you,” Dr. Honsberger says. Mental health services can be particularly helpful if you’re dealing with a major life event, can’t get past a difficult experience, or just feel stuck.
Shifting to positive self-talk
You’ll never completely silence your inner critic, but you can build up your self-compassion and start having more positive conversations in your head. “Remember, learning self-compassion is a day-to-day practice that isn’t easy,” Dr. Honsberger says. “Try out these tactics to find one, or a few, that work with you. And then be kind to yourself while doing it.”