As life would have it, as I’m starting this piece, Kelis’ music video for “Bossy” is playing on the tube. Something that I’ve always liked about Kelis, as an artist, is she’s gonna do whatever she wants to do. We don’t have to get it, so long as she does. If we like it, that’s merely a bonus. Yeah, Kelis would be the opposite of the kinds of folks we’re gonna talk about today. She appears to be very anti-self-critical. And that’s beautiful.
I recently read two articles about why so many of us are so critical of ourselves (if you want to check them out, go here and then here). The therapists who were interviewed touched on things like us fearing complacency and also us choosing to engage in tons of negative self-talk. I think that another reason has to do with our childhood. Boy, if there’s ever a time when my blood boils, it’s when a parent is snatching up a young child and/or worse, cussing at them. Children’s minds, hearts and souls are so fragile; they must be handled with extreme care. If that doesn’t happen, if the very individuals who should be nurturing their spirits are constantly breaking them, a self-critical individual is exactly what they will turn out to be.
Some of us once were those children and, unfortunately, we are so used to treating ourselves with a lack of patience, forgiveness and self-compassion, that we don’t even realize how self-critical we actually are. If you’re wondering if this is something that you struggle with, perhaps more than you think, here are six blaring signs that should not be ignored.
There’s someone I used to be close to who was pretty difficult to be around. A part of the reason was because I could never tell if her responses to compliments were a passive-aggressive way to get more or if she was a bona fide Olympian when it came to tearing affirmations down. I mean, no matter what I said to her, she found a way to knock it. For every time I said, “You look pretty today”, she would respond with, “Maybe if I lost some weight.” I’d give you some other examples, but I’m already worn out, just by reminiscing over all of that toxicity.
I get that sometimes it can be challenging to receive compliments or praise because you are so focused on improving the being that you already are. But if you don’t know how to simply say “thank you” when someone commends you, or there is a part of you that doesn’t believe them, something is very imbalanced when it comes to your self-esteem. Yes, there is something to be said for growth, but there is also something to be said for being proud of the person you are and appreciating when other people recognize the goodness that is already in/on you.
I’ve got a girlfriend who is mad humble. But, as a wise person once said, even the excess of a virtue can be a vice, at times. In her case, she has a tendency to apologize for things that she didn’t do wrong or aren’t her fault. If I call her, she’s busy and has to call me back, she’ll say, “I’m sorry. I was doing such-and-such.” Is that something to be sorry for? Or when her husband completely shows his tail , she apologizes on his behalf (I get that married folks are “one” and all but he needs to take ownership for his own actions).
She apologizes so much that I finally brought it to her attention by saying, “Do you know that you say ‘I’m sorry’ for things that you don’t even do wrong?” After responding with yep and, you guessed it, “I’m sorry” (LOL), she then said that she thinks it’s because she struggles with people-pleasing a lot. Whenever someone is unhappy or even inconvenienced, she somehow believes that she has something to do with it. When I encouraged her to go deeper into where that stems from, she said that she had a babysitter from hell who used to berate and beat her and the other kids that she watched. My friend never told her parents; she just internalized it. She said “I’m sorry” a lot then to keep the peace and she does it a lot now for the same reason (self-awareness is a miracle cure, for real, for real!).
This example is a kinda cryptic form of being self-critical, but it is one nonetheless. It’s also a reminder that we must handle all children with extreme care because they grow up to be adults; sometimes with the same wounds that they had from their childhood. Including being way too hard on themselves.
Along the same lines of what we just discussed, another indication that you are too self-critical is the standards that you have for yourself are super unrealistic. You are a perfectionist. You don’t forgive yourself when you make mistakes. You set way too many goals in a short frame of time. You see where I’m going with this, right? The problem with this is, because we all are flawed, we all sometimes make poor decisions and we all have moments of feeling totally overwhelmed, if you don’t accept this fact about your own humanity, you’re constantly going to feel like you are a disappointment, if not a flat-out failure.
Anyone who thinks that they don’t need help is someone who not only has an ego problem (whether they realize it, like it or not), they also are setting themselves up for failure. If God wanted us to live without the assistance and support of others, we wouldn’t have family members and friends. We wouldn’t co-exist around other human beings on a daily basis either.
How does not asking for help equate to being too self-critical? Because a lot of people are this way because don’t want to come off as appearing weak or needy. Or, they want to show others that they don’t need anyone but themselves.
Being this type of person is typically a sign of also having some pretty serious trust issues. But here’s the thing—if you constantly attempt things that would be easier for you to do if you had some back-up, then they may take a lot longer or not turn out as well as they could have. As a result, you become even more self-critical. Ugh. Doubly so.
Not too long ago, I was checking out the IG page for this site. Under a post that featured, well, gohere and you can see it yourself, I appreciated what a male commenter said—”The Education us Men get following this page. I’m here for it.” I took a sec to check out what the poster, @prewilliams has going on and he had a post that was so appropriate for this article—”You’re over here doubting yourself while so many people are intimidated by your potential.”
There’s nothing wrong with being driven and ambitious. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to become better on a daily basis. There’s nothing wrong with going above and beyond what seems attainable. But a part of what comes with being a healthy and balanced individual is also being at peace with what you’ve already accomplished and just how far you’ve already come.
Stress, anxiety and frustration oftentimes arise out of not knowing how to be satisfied with oneself and/or how to stay in the moment. Life is too short to not know how to just be sometimes.
Some of y’all might remember the episode of A Different World when Tisha Campbell played a student who had HIV. Her professor was played by Whoopi Goldberg and the assignment that she gave the class to write their own obituary (a clip of the episode is right here). Something that Whoopi’s character said, more than once, that has remained with me all this time is, “You are a voice in this world.”
A very wise person once said, “It’s better to speak your mind and tell the truth, than to stay quiet and lie to yourself.” If after reading this, you know that you are way too self-critical, start making some changes today by speaking up more, always remembering, that yes—YOU ARE A VOICE IN THIS WORLD. A voice that deserves to be heard, received and respected. With as little criticism from you as possible.