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I’m Awful! Anxiety and Self-Criticism

Anxiety and self-criticism team up to make you your own bully. But if you replace self-criticism with compassion, your inner bully will quiet down. Here's how.I must confess; I’m a bully. But not to others. I tend to bully myself relentlessly, criticizing what I do and don’t do, say and don’t say. It’s a nearly endless stream of self-denigration that runs always in the background, often in the foreground, of my thoughts. This harsh self-criticism is entangled with all types of anxiety.

Anxiety can be described as a state of agitation, a fretful condition that frays emotions, spins thoughts, and disturbs the body. It commonly involves fear: fear of failure; fear of the unknown; fear of something specific; fear of panic and of going crazy; fear of, well, a lot of stuff. The fear is naturally paired with the dreaded “what ifs.” And these worst-case scenarios are often laced with self-criticism.

Anxiety Makes Us Too Self-Critical

I have an undulating sphere of fear in my brain (that has a nasty habit of oozing everywhereAnxiety and harsh self-talk often go together. Try this technique for replacing self-criticism with compassion. and giving me digestive and a host of other troubles) that is composed of fear of failure and fear of negative judgment by others. This social anxiety of mine makes me hypervigilant, constantly on the lookout for ways I’m failing and looking incompetent. As I interact with others, a very loud part of my mind shouts constant criticisms. In any given moment, I can spit forth a list of all of the ways I’m stupid and ridiculous.

Any type of anxiety disorder can make us harshly judgmental and negative toward ourselves. Out of fear, we become our own worst critics.

And Being Too Self-Critical Makes Us Anxious

While self-criticism is indeed often a product of anxiety, self-criticism can also aggravate existing anxiety. When we believe the garbage we’re feeding ourselves (I’m stupid. I’m not good enough. I didn’t say the right thing. If I get a flat tire, I’m stuck because I’m too much of a wimp to fix it. I’m going to lose my job because I’m not as good as the other employees, etc.), our anxiety increases. We worry that our biggest fears will come true. Then we bully ourselves for it. Then we worry more. Self-criticism and anxiety so often exist together as a vicious cycle.

Here’s a further kick in the pants: when we are well aware of our anxieties, we often begin to tell ourselves that we “shouldn’t” feel this way or “should” be able to get over it. When we can’t “just get over it,” we become even harsher toward ourselves.

Anxiety and self-criticism knock us down, but we don’t have to stay down.

Anxiety Shrinks When You Replace Self-Criticism with Self-Compassion

Getting up—overcoming both anxiety and self-bullying—does not happen by screaming at ourselves to get over it and just get up. It doesn’t work when we call ourselves harsh names for living with anxiety. It can indeed happen, though. One approach to stopping the harshness and the anxiety is by being nice. Officially, this therapeutic approach is called compassionate mind training (CMT) or compassion focused therapy (CFT).

The general goal of CMT/CFT is to help people develop and work with their inner warmth and kindness, to help our minds be soothing rather than scathing. It sounds simple, and it is, but it’s not always easy. With CMT/CFT, there are exercises from the Compassionate Mind Foundation and conversations to have with your therapist to help you counter cruel self-criticism. Often, as self-kindness increases, anxiety decreases.

I believe the Dalai Lama was incredibly wise when he said,

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

Connect with Tanya on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, LinkedIn, her books, and her website.

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of four critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges as well as a self-help book on acceptance and commitment therapy. She speaks nationally about mental health, and she has a curriculum for middle and high schools. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

13 thoughts on “I’m Awful! Anxiety and Self-Criticism”

  1. I agree with the points in this article. I used to be very self critical…very insecure…always wanting to please others. But over time I was able to change my inner dialogue and I am now my own biggest supporter. It sounds so “hokey” but it truly is possible to change your life by changing your attitudes and your thoughts. I am living proof of it.

    1. Hello Lisa,
      Changing attitudes and thoughts really is powerful and makes such a positive difference.Sometimes the focus on thoughts and attitude does seem hokey at first, but as you discovered, it isn’t hokey at all. It’s a real, research-based technique that isn’t necessarily quick and easy, but it is very rewarding. Thank you for sharing your experience to inspire others!

  2. U no what i find bullshit is that all the things that can help ppl out is costly iv spent alot of money trying new things but 4 some ppl that struggle 2 work n can not pay 4 all this helpful stuf should be really trying 2 reach out n make effort with ppl with these conditions coz it takes over ur life and it is so shit nowing ur not in control

    1. It is very frustrating when anxiety treatments are so costly and often out of reach because of it. While there are so many expensive approaches out there, thankfully there are also inexpensive or even free treatments available. You are taking charge of your own anxiety just by seeking out and reading different information. There are also techniques that you can do at home to manage anxiety, and you can find many different ones to try just by reading various sources online or in library books. You are not alone in being annoyed by high costs of some approaches. Just don’t let that deter you from finding ways to take control of anxiety.

  3. Can’t believe timing of seeing this via Pinterest! I don’t share publicly about my “self hatred demon” but will do my best to look further into your article. Thank you!

  4. it’s so hard to NOT be self critical…i annoy myself and can’t imagine that others aren’t annoyed with me too. i’m at the beach right now trying to be normal and have fun the way normal people do….all i want is to be in a quiet room alone with a book and away from the heat and sun and relentless sounds of the waves.

    1. Hello Margo,
      Sadly, it really is hard to not be self critical, especially when we feel that we annoy others. I really believe that our minds like to play cruel tricks on us and convince us that we’re annoying, awful, etc. Catching ourselves thinking that way and debunking that self-criticism is important and really does help us see ourselves more objectively. I also understand your desire to do what “normal” people do, but I’ve begun to wonder what “normal” really means. Sure, some people love to be out and about and interacting with others, but there are also a lot of people who prefer to be in a quiet room, comfortable with themselves, and alone with a good book. Both groups are “normal” The greatest happiness comes, I think, when people honor themselves for who they really are. It’s okay to curl up with a good book when you want to do so!

  5. Self criticism can really cause it if you criticism yourself too much in everything. Relaxing mind is very essential to feel good and to be confident. Your post is a big help for everyone who criticize themselves too much and unfortunately suffers from anxiety.

    1. Hello Madison,
      Thank you so much for reading and for sharing your thoughts. I’m glad that you think that this is helpful. I completely agree with you that relaxing the mind (I love that wording/concept) is necessary for wellness and confidence. I think others will like it, too!

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