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Why being too hard on ourselves is bad for our mental health

Do you accept small errors or do you beat yourself up about them?

Some of us are too self-critical. It could simply be everyday misdemeanours that are troubling us. However, instances in which we compare our relationships to others, look longingly at celebrity social media photos wishing we looked like them, or convincing ourselves that we should be further along the career ladder than we are, can be harmful.

Why do we do this?

A survey published in the journal Self and Identity last year looked into why so many people find it difficult to practise self-compassion and why this is so bad for our mental health. The results revealed that while the participants recognised that self-compassion is generally a good thing, they didn't think it would be of any benefit.

Those found to practise self-compassion less tended to believe that self-care would have a negative impact on their performance. Their concerns were, if they were kind to themselves after a failure, they may become less conscientious, ambitious and motivated.

They also saw self-criticism as a sign of strength and responsibility, believing that tough love made them stronger, better and more driven.

It was found that those who are rich in self-compassion typically enjoy better emotional health and benefit from higher life satisfaction and a lower risk of suffering from depression and anxiety. They also tend to have a more positive outlook on life and can cope better when bad things happen.

How can I stop being so hard on myself?

  • Identify these behaviours exist and acknowledge that they have become a problem. Start by writing down any critical thoughts you have about yourself for a week
  • Practise talking to yourself the way you would talk to a friend. Would you criticise everything they do or berate them if they made a mistake? Would you convince them they're not capable of doing something? Treat yourself with the same level of respect and empathy
  • Identify whether you're justified in feeling this way. The next time you're giving yourself a telling off, take a minute to think about whether it's really necessary
  • Focus on coming up with a solution when you do make a mistake: it is a much more positive approach
  • Prevent regular behaviours from recurring. One of the things you will discover from writing down the critical thoughts you have about yourself, is if there are any regular patterns occurring. You may notice for example that every morning when you're getting ready you tell yourself that you need to take better care of your skin or lose weight. Be mindful that this process seems to trigger these thoughts so you can stop them in their tracks. Tell yourself to stop and focus on something neutral. Whether it's taking a few deep breaths or replacing it with a positive thought, you can slowly start to unlearn these negative behaviours towards yourself
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