Why People Are Hard On Themselves
We accept the fact that ambition is generally a good thing. It can fuel success and achievement. It’s good to dream big.
While we all know those people who never seem to take a day off, we also occasionally encounter those people who are relentlessly self-critical.
It might be a classmate or a colleague, maybe even yourself. They are extra hard on themselves, and can be a bit of an over-perfectionist. When mistakes are made, they blame themselves and can take setbacks pretty hard.
It may have you wondering what is it that drives someone to be so hard on themselves, and why can’t they be a little more self-compassionate?
The Problem of Being Too Critical
Having lofty goals and setting a high standard for yourself are generally noble qualities, but it can be taken to the extreme. There is such a thing as being too hard on yourself.
Why could this be a problem?
Mainly because this type of thinking and behavior can lead to a number of negative consequences, such as job burnout.
But it goes deeper than that. The reverse – being self-compassionate – has been shown to lead to a number of positive life outcomes. The most obvious is research which points to happier and healthier lives of those who are able to forgive themselves. But it also means better coping strategies and resilience to stressful situations.
It’s Not About Values
A group of researchers from the US, Canada, and Germany – whose research was published in the journal Self and Identity – wanted to get inside the heads of people who are self-critical. Could it be values that separate the two types of people?
To find the answer, they asked a number of young adults about their tendency towards self-compassion or self-criticism. They also asked them about how they rated different values like equality and prosperity.
The researchers also had participants imagine two different scenarios where they had a personal failure. One scenario where they were hard on themselves, and the other where they were more self-compassionate.
Suprisingly they found that both types of people agreed that self-compassion was a positive quality that could lead to a happier life.
And as far as their values? Researchers found no differences in how both sets of people rated values like success or equality.
Where did they see differences?
It came down to how the two types of people felt after having imagined themselves being more or less self-compassionate.
How Does a Self-Critical Person Think?
Despite the fact that practically everyone interviewed believed self-compassion to be a good thing, those who were hard on themselves reported feelings of empowerment, being responsible, and industrious.
On the other hand, being kinder to themselves elicited far different feelings. They reported that they felt lazy, less competitive, careless, and less ambitious.
In short, even though both types of people have the same interest in being successful, people who are self-critical do so because they believe it fuels their ability to achieve. It gives them an advantage.
For them, being kind to yourself is a sign of weakness and a way of shirking responsibility. They felt self-compassion would reduce their performance in some way.
You might be wondering how this type of thinking might fuel motivation.
While there isn’t much evidence that being self-critical is associated with success, other research hints that being self-compassionate can affect motivation. Mostly because it makes people less anxious and can reduce a person’s fear of failure.
It’s okay to shoot for the stars. Just realize that there will be bumps along the way, and not to be too hard on yourself when they come along.
When it comes to ambition and self-compassion, you don’t have to choose between the two. It’s possible to have both.