The Contradiction of Self-Criticism

“I’m having a bad hair day,” I tell my boyfriend on a very regular basis. Because really, when do I have a good hair day? Almost never, for I am my worst critic. My boyfriend, however, looks at my hair, then seems confused since he does not see the difference with yesterday’s hair (which he liked). This is the problem: I am so absorbed by my own self-criticism that I counteract what I want to achieve: a better version of me.

Constructive criticism

A small dose of self-critique does not hurt anyone. We need it to be able to improve ourselves and to grow as individuals, to become the best version of ourselves. But the line between self-criticism and derogatory nitpicking is thin. Criticism, I believe, should be a form of constructive feedback. Whenever I provide fellow students with feedback, I make sure that I can justify all of it and that I point out things you can really improve on. More importantly, I do not only point out what can be improved upon; I also mention what’s good already.

Self-criticism: different standards

Yet when it comes to myself, the criticism standards become different. Suddenly I’m allowed to nitpick on the flesh on my hips that’s not as firm as I’d like it to be or the mediocre grade for that ridiculously difficult exam, or even that “bad hair day” that only I regard as such. I am hugely disappointed when I cannot tick-off all my to dos for that day or do not have time for that blogpost, even if I realise that this is because of my overly ambitious planning, which, of course, is another thing to criticise myself for.

Letting go

Becoming a better version of me will not work if I continue to be my own worst critic. Unconsciously, I have realised this years ago by stopping weighing myself and thus cutting out the criticism based on those numbers. It was such a relief and it gave me so much space to be me. Even just yesterday, I realised that I am feeling so much better these days, because I haven’t been grabbing my tummy every five minutes to check “how I was doing” lately or checking out whether I still have my thigh-gap. Not worrying about these things makes me happier.

It’s not just my outer beauty though that I criticise, but also my capabilities (usually measured in numbers: the amount of to do tasks I tick off, the number of blogposts I write, etc). Yesterday I made a decision that is huge for me: to take take it down a notch my Dutch blog, like I have done a few months earlier. The difference between then and now is that I felt absolutely terrible when I did it last time. I was a failure just because of the reduction in the number of posts per week. I feel different now because I do not condemn myself for it any more. Instead, I let it go. Blogging on a lower frequency does not make me a failure – if anything, it helps me to focus on other things, such as my master thesis, and to excel at that. This is a big step forward and I am ready, because I finally know that it was self-criticism that holds used to hold me back.

The contradiction of self-criticism

This is because the contradiction of self-criticism lies in the fact that we believe we have to be this critical in order to become thinner/prettier/funnier/more attractive/smarter/you name it, but it is actually the act of letting go that helps you flourish. Self-criticism often comes with disappointment, which then weighs you down and makes you even more critical. Now that I’m learning to accept and appreciate myself more, I do not feel weighed down by that any longer. Instead, it provides a sense of freedom that gives me energy, power and a fresh kind of motivation — precisely the things I need to become a truly better version of me.

Photo: Helga Weber

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