Self criticism vs self assessment

Published on Nov 22, 2020

I'd been following this trauma-informed, integrative psychotherapist's IG account @seerutkchawla, and love the tiny nuggets of wisdom that she shares. This one caught my eye today, about self criticism versus self assessment.

Self criticism when it has no purpose is just beating yourself up emotionally, all we accomplish when we do this is to make ourselves feel defeated and low. But honest self criticism is actually quite important. This looks more like an assessment of where you are, with a view to look at things you might want to work on. Self assessment is being honest with yourself without beating yourself up.

This was a really good mirror on how I cope with difficulties and defeats. Truth be told, I'm have Stockholm Syndrome with self criticism. I'm in love with my abuser, this critical, harsh, paternalistic voice in my head who has nothing but negative feedback for my mistakes. In love because I'd come to learn how to use that emotional beating to incite a fight response, to man up, and to punch back. No wonder anger is often my first response to defeat. Anger at myself, my capability, and then anger redirected at correcting and improving myself so that I will punch through those walls. Literally. A warrior mentality is a nicer way of putting it. Other times, it just feels like Hulk smash. 

Which is why when she said self assessment as a flip side to self criticism, it resonated. In my calmer moments, or when certain situations didn't trigger me towards a fight response, I would be able to assess things without beating myself up, and pick myself up quite easily, without the over-compensatory effects of anger. Instead of saying things like, "I'm suck at this." in my head, I would ask "OK it's not my strong point. So what can I do to get better at it?" No additional baggage of self flagellation, just calm, almost cold, analysis of what the reality of things are like, and how to get on it. I love the sound of this approach. Self assessment instead of self criticism. It's like growth mindset, but with a calmer, kinder inner voice (Yes, you can have growth mindset with an angry, harsh inner voice too. You can still grow, but not in the most wholesome and nurturing way). 

Lately, with all my coding adventures, my inner, self-critical voice had been repeatedly saying, "I suck at coding. I'm just not good enough. It's really just not my thing. My brain's not wired that way." Perhaps, starting today, using this little insight of transforming self criticism into self assessment, I could instead say something like, "The truth is starting anything from ground zero is hard, so the fact that I'm struggling now is expected. I'm committed to getting better at it, step by step. What does "good enough" look like, and how do I get there?"

So yes, self assessment over self criticism. Today.