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The Silver Lining of Self Criticism

The Silver Lining of Self Criticism

 In our family, we all take turns with various household chores, and this past week, it was my turn for laundry. As I pulled out the still warm load of laundry from the dryer, I noticed that I had shrunk my husband’s favorite shirt, and this wasn’t the first time I have been guilty of this. His wardrobe has suffered under my care (or lack thereof) over the past 14 years together. My self talk immediately started with “gosh darn it (insert your own negative exclamation word here) I can’t believe I’ve made such a stupid mistake again!” If I’m being honest, I wanted to blame my kids and come up with an alibi for where I was at the time of said shrinkage.

But then I paused my crime-based narrative, and noticed how I was talking to myself… Was this how I would speak to a friend? Changing my approach, I shifted my thinking to “you made a mistake, give yourself grace.  Next time, remember to check and sort before throwing a load in…. and be honest.”

In our day and age, self- criticism is almost always seen as negative, but did you know there are also positive forms of this? The key for our own mental health and growth is knowing how to tell the difference and choosing the positive form.

Negative self- criticism is shown through harsh judgements about ourselves, or dwelling on our own (perceived) mistakes or flaws. Negative self-criticism is often engaged in unconsciously, has harmful effects on our mental health, and exposes us to vulnerabilities to various forms of psychopathology (Halamova et al., 2018). Some common signs of this is when attention is focused on aspects of yourself that you might be  ashamed of or,  always seeming to be rehashing in your mind things that you’ve said or done that you perceive as stupid.

So where does positive self-criticism come from? Positive self-criticism comes from honest self-reflection, learning from our mistakes, and setting positive and realistic goals. It involves being able to remember positive things about ourselves, provide encouragement to ourselves when things go wrong, and to still like ourselves even when we mess up (Halamova et al., 2018). Positive self-criticism and self-reassurance support development of well being. When we engage in positive self-criticism, we can acknowledge areas that we feel we can grow in and use them as growth areas rather than as roadblocks.

We all have that internal dialogue running in our brains as we go about our day, and at times it can be full of negative self-criticism. One way to determine if your self talk is negative is asking yourself if you would speak this way to a friend. We are almost always kinder to others than to ourselves. It’s so important to check in with yourself, acknowledge what kind of self-talk you are engaging in, and if needed, start moving towards positive self-talk and positive self-criticism.

As for my laundry habit-- How did I turn my negative self-talk to positive self-criticism?  I now have a sign up in my laundry room that reminds me to check and sort the load-

“Sort, Wash, Fold, Dry, You Don’t Need No Alibi!”


Gilbert, P., Catarino, F., Duarte, C. et al. The development of compassionate engagement and action scales for self and others. J of Compassionate Health Care 4, 4 (2017).


Halamová, J., Kanovský, M., Gilbert, P., Troop, N. A., Zuroff, D. C., Hermanto, N., Petrocchi, N., Sommers-Spijkerman, M., Kirby, J. N., Shahar, B., Krieger, T., Matos, M., Asano, K., Yu, F., Basran, J., & Kupeli, N. (2018). The Factor Structure of the Forms of Self-Criticising/Attacking & Self-Reassuring Scale in Thirteen Distinct Populations. Journal of psychopathology and behavioral assessment40(4), 736–751.

Image by jcomp on Freepik


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