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David Baxter PhD

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Learning to Be Less Self-Critical

by Debbie Jacobs,
July 25, 2022

Are you too hard on yourself? Living with bipolar and perfectionism, I found that I was overly self-critical, which negatively influenced my mood and well-being.​

Photo: Mystockimages / E+ via Getty Images

It’s very common to be hard on ourselves. We are our own worst critics and can be relentlessly self-critical when we mess up, say something wrong, act inappropriately, do something wrong, or for almost any other reason.

What we may not realize is that this comes from our conditioning, and we perpetuate this almost subconsciously, almost automatically. It’s just what we do, it’s a negative reaction to ourselves and a built-in way we are hard on ourselves when we do wrong.

Perfectionism & Self-Love​

Being hard on myself was something that came to me very naturally and way too frequently, especially since I am a perfectionist. They say perfectionism is the highest form of self-abuse, and I agree.

Perfectionism basically sets us up for self-abuse and being hard on ourselves. Because I live with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, my mind always found reasons to cause myself problems and create upset and unhappiness. For years, I found myself mindlessly oscillating through the same patterns of being hard on myself, putting myself down, and beating myself up—and not thinking anything of it. This, of course, was not good for my mood, depression, mental stability, or self-esteem.

Years ago, after I was diagnosed with bipolar and at my “rock bottom,” I began working on myself. Another saying that I’ve found to be true is that self-improvement is life improvement.

Having left therapy for personal development, I started learning about positivity, coping, and self-love. This helped me in ways therapy didn’t. My focus was on self-love, a concept by Louise Hay, who identified that we have to love ourselves, accept ourselves, and approve of ourselves. (Just to note, this wasn’t my first brush with the concept of “self-love,” but it was my first time being open to learning it the right way.)

And what I learned about self-love is that you cannot be hard on yourself, invalidating, punitive, angry, or, in any way, abusive—not even in jokes. Self-love has to do with treating ourselves with love and respect, and coping with love by being accepting, nurturing, comforting, patient, forgiving, understanding, empathetic, compassionate, and so on. As you can see, this excludes being self-critical, putting yourself down, and invalidating yourself.

Starting New Habits​

Behavioral patterns are hard to break because they become so ingrained in our way of being, but it is particularly good for our mental well-being and self-esteem to break those habits that don’t serve, support, or validate us.

It takes awareness and a conscious effort to catch yourself and redirect yourself in a positive, loving way. What I liked about personal development was that it was specifically about changing the way I handled things, which was different from talk therapy. I was open to changing my habits and willing to create new behavioral patterns that better suited my needs. It did take time, commitment, determination, and persistence to change these patterns and ingrain new behaviors, but it was possible.

When I set my mind to it, I really didn’t find it that challenging. I made a promise to myself to stop all the ways I was being hard on myself. And I kept to it. I really monitored myself at all times. We are always with our thoughts, and I began to coach myself through my thinking when I would find myself being hard on myself. I would catch my thought pattern and redirect it with more supportive, accepting, and validating thoughts.

This actually taught me new ways to cope without being too hard on myself. It helped me to eventually eliminate this bad habit of being self-critical, which was really good for me because I did have a tendency to be too hard on myself at times. This also helped me learn self-acceptance, which further eliminated the habit of being hard on myself.

Learning & Self-Improvement​

Learning new habits helps to reprogram the mind, thus eliminating undesired habits from your mind or consciousness. So instead of being self-critical, we can learn ways to start perpetuating ways to support, accept, and validate ourselves. These ways of being are better to build our self-esteem, and they help with mental and mood stability as well.

Self-love and positivity really are about change and changing our patterns. I think this is very good for those of us living with mental health conditions because it creates opportunities for us to change and grow, which could benefit our mental well-being, our happiness, and the quality of our life. (Actually, I think it is good for everybody.)

Louise Hay famously said, “All our problems can be solved with self-love.” We all have ways we may take ourselves for granted or not prioritize or value ourselves, and, with self-examination and aligning with self-love, we can make positive change, which would be good for our self-esteem, well-being, and stability.

And this is what is great for us all, that this is even an option. Improving our mental well-being and our life is a real possibility.

About Debbie Jacobs

Debbie Jacobs is an advocate, writer, and healing specialist living in Alexandria, Virginia. She lived most of her adult life with a diagnosis of depression and anxiety, and then was diagnosed with bipolar. She speaks out on how self-improvement is life improvement and believes we all can live happy lives by making positive changes to ourselves. Her influences are Louise Hay, Napoleon Hill, Les Brown, and Tony Robbins. She does positivity life coaching and is in the process of writing her first book on her healing process of accomplishing positive thinking, positive effective coping skills, and healthy self-esteem—what she calls “freedom and happiness.” She shares her work to motivate, inspire, and help others make positive changes to themselves for their freedom and happiness, too.
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