Self-Criticism and Perfectionism Make You Your Own Worst Enemy

Self-Criticism and Perfectionism Make You Your Own Worst Enemy
Gorka Jiménez Pajares

Written and verified by the psychologist Gorka Jiménez Pajares.

Last update: 07 January, 2023

Why do you criticize yourself so much? Why’s it so difficult for you to recognize your achievements yet so easy to see your failures? When you’re your own worst enemy, everything looks grayer, cloudier, and more uncertain. Treating yourself compassionately is no easy task, but sometimes you just have to do it.

Two commonly used concepts are perfectionism and self-criticism. However, they often tend to be poorly defined. In the field of mental health, perfectionism has been associated with clinical entities such as the severity of eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and stress. While self-criticism has been related to social phobia or suicidality.

perfectionist woman
When you’re your own worst enemy, you tend to criticize yourself excessively, sometimes as a consequence of feeling so far removed from the state of perfection you desire.

Perfectionism

Perfectionism is the tendency to hold yourself to a high standard of performance while, at the same time, over-evaluating yourself. Often, the result of these evaluations is self-criticism. This leads to a growing concern about making more mistakes. There are two types of perfectionism:

Adaptive perfectionism

Adaptive perfectionism implies, in addition to high-performance standards, a low discrepancy if things are far from going the way you want. In effect, you recognize that always doing everything right is impossible.

Adaptive perfectionism refers to the fact that, despite demanding a lot from yourself, you treat yourself compassionately when you fail in your goals.

Maladaptive perfectionism

On the other hand, maladaptive perfectionism alludes to demanding a lot from yourself, but harshly punishing yourself if the results aren’t what you expected. It implies disagreeing excessively with the result of your actions. In other words, having the continuous perception that you’re constantly a long way from meeting the high standards you require.

Self-criticism

Perfectionism and self-criticism are sisters. Self-criticism can be defined as a cognitive personality style through which you evaluate and judge yourself.

When you’re self-critical, you’re hypervigilant at the slightest failure and judge yourself negatively. There are two kinds of self-criticism, adaptive and dysfunctional.

Adaptive self-criticism

Knowing where you failed helps you face the difficult moments in your life with more integrity. In addition, it’s important in the formation of your identity. That’s because, by evaluating yourself and seeing how you can improve, you feel more capable of dealing with the negative contingencies of life.

“In this sense, adaptive self-critical behaviors would increase the individual’s perception of self-efficacy.”

-De Rosa-

Dysfunctional self-criticism

When you believe you’re behaving inappropriately or when, despite achieving success, you don’t recognize it, problems appear. Acting as your own worst enemy means you underestimate the positive results of your actions because you consider them to be mere obligations.

Consequently, when you reach your proposed goal, you experience a high degree of dissatisfaction. In fact, you think that, in reality, what you achieved was far from being particularly important. This is called the devaluation of achievements. It confirms overall failure.

That is, self-critical people tend to evaluate themselves globally, rigidly, and bias their perception towards error.”

-De Rosa-

The importance of practicing self-compassion

Self-compassion involves learning to support yourself when you’re suffering. Many see it as a feeling of kindness, care, and understanding for yourself, even when the results are far from what you wanted. It’s also associated with the recognition that, as a human being, you’re fragile and imperfect.

“Self-compassion is rooted in the biological capacity to care for others, sensitivity to distress, sympathy, tolerance of distress, empathy, non-judgment, and sustaining a warm emotional tone.”

-Gilbert-

Woman with eyes closed and hand on heart
The individual who exercises self-compassion seeks their own happiness and well-being. They also accept that they have limitations.

For Neff, an expert in self-compassion, there are three fundamental characteristics of this response:

However, you might mistake self-compassion for self-pity and feeling sorry for yourself. That’s a mistake. Self-compassion goes much further than self-pity as it involves seeing your own life and those of others from a position of disconnection, without any distortions to diminish the experience.

In conclusion, a good resource when you’re behaving like your own worst enemy is to become your best friend instead. Moreover, you must understand that it’s completely natural to make mistakes and fail sometimes. Indeed, failure simply means you’re human, imperfect yet beautiful.

“Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self criticism.” 

-Neff-

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The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.