How to Break the Cycle of Self-Criticism

how to stop being self criticalHow to stop criticizing yourself-easier said than done, right? In your mind chatter, do you sometimes hear repeatedly harsh, critical words?

Maybe they sound something like some of these:

I’m not good enough.

I don’t deserve it.

I’m not worthy.

I’m not ________________enough (fill in the blank with: “skinny” “young” “tall” “old” “pretty” “smart” “rich” “tall” “short” “strong” or some other adjective of your choice).

Repeated criticism gets lodged in your mind and body. It plagues you day-in and day-out, whether or not these things you tell yourself are true (by the way – they usually aren’t!).

Our brains are like Google searches – they already seem to know what we’re searching for with minimal input – if we’ve been there before. The more you repeat a behavior, skill or thought, your brain learns it so well, that the neurons strengthen and you get “better” at repeating that pattern with minimal effort. It is said that “neurons that fire together, wire together.”

So, by continuing to tell yourself the same stories, the better you get at making yourself feel smaller, “less than” and fearful of owning the beautiful and unique human that you are.


By allowing this cycle to continue, with little consciousness and effort to change it, you keep yourself from living a full, fulfilling, joyful life.

Please understand, that there’s a way out! With committed action, there’s freedom from this painful cycle.

Consider these facts:

  • Your brain is malleable. It’s important to remember that no matter what you’re facing or where you are in your life, your brain has qualities of “neuroplasticity” which means that, with effort, you can train and remold it.
  • Your criticism served you well (at one time). Although being critical of yourself hurts and keeps you from enjoying things more fully, the critical stories you’ve told yourself have helped to keep your body and mind safe. These negative stories held you in your comfort zone, which is the job of your body’s survival mechanism. Your mind and body were doing their job, but in the meantime, these stories have kept you in hiding – fearful of change and growth. In a strange way, you probably feel comfortable in your self-critical stories, even though they’re harsh and hurtful.

Steps to breaking the cycle:

The steps below are designed to help you begin to break the cycle of self-deprecation and self-defeat. They need to be put into practice each time you catch yourself in a self-critical story in order to work. Remember, your self-critical narratives have been inside you for many years, thus they live deep in your cells and can only be reversed with repetitive, committed action.

  1. Be mindful. With awareness, you can catch yourself more quickly when you’re in your story, so as to shift the auto-response that gets triggered in your brain so readily. The next time you catch yourself saying a negative statement to yourself about yourself, pause and notice that it just happened.
  2. Get MindBodyWise. In the moment, pause long enough to notice the physical sensations that arise around this story, by doing a mental scan of your body from feet to head. Note the emotions that are present in the moment. Check in with the thoughts that are showing up. Try not to change any of them…yet! Just notice.
  3. Compassionately, change the narrative. Take a few deep breaths. Ask yourself what would be the most compassionate, loving way of interpreting the situation? For example: if you originally said to yourself: “I’m so dumb for forgetting my keys again!”…the opposite might be: “I have so much on my mind, I forgot my keys again!” or “Everyone forgets things once in a while.”). If you find this difficult, think of what you would say to someone you love if they were in your shoes.
  4. Deepen your MindBodyWise awareness. After you’ve shifted the narrative, again notice what sensations arise, by doing a mental scan of your body from bottom to top. Note the emotions that are present in the moment. Check in with the thoughts that are showing up. These may or may not have changed from the first check-in, and that’s totally ok. Don’t skip this step each time, just because sometimes you don’t notice a shift. It’s all working, but remember change takes time and it begins with awareness!
  5. Initial reflection. In the moment, ask yourself what this was like for you. What’s the initial learning from going through these steps?
  6. Follow up reflection. This reflection can be done later – maybe consider journaling about it. Ask yourself these two questions: 1- What does the original story remind me of from my past (ie: Where did this story originate? How old were you? Where were you? Who was there? How did it feel back then?).  2 – How did the awareness that showed up while moving through the steps mirror the way I currently live my life?

Important note: Be gentle, be compassionate. Would you ever speak to a loved one the way you speak to yourself? We all have patterns that are hard to break. We all have stories – some that move us forward and some that hold us back. It’s ok to be right where you are… working through your not-so-healthy-personal-stories to create new and healthy narratives to guide you through your life. Beating yourself up for having the self-deprecating stories only compounds the pain and wires those neurons together more tightly. I can’t say this one enough, be gentle with yourself.

This exercise is very helpful in beginning to break the patterns and gain some self-awareness about it’s origins. However, sometimes deeper work is needed to go to the source of the pain with a professional and work through it. If that’s something you think you might benefit from, check out: and feel free to contact me for a consultation.

Change takes time. Change takes love.


P.S. If you haven’t yet, be sure to take the free 10-question MindBody IQ Quiz to become more in-tune with your mind-body connection for self-awareness and healing.

P.P.S. To continue this conversation and others like it, join other like-spirited people just like you in the private, free Facebook group: the MindBodyWise Living Room. It’s a safe space of support and introspection.