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Childhood Trauma and Self-Criticism: When the Bully Out There Becomes the Bully Within

Updated: Apr 23

How you were treated as a child has a huge impact on how you behave today. That is why professionals can never take away nurture away when having to argue against how nature is the basis of how you act as an adult. 

The nature versus nurture has been an ongoing debate among psychologist to explain behaviour patterns that adults display for when they are in the eyes of the public or when in the confines of their private lives. 

For those who side with nature, they argue that your behavior patterns can be traced back to your familial tree. This belief among the commonfolk is best described by the phrase, “The apple does not fall too far from the tree” or the more patriarchal, “Like father, like son”.

However, the topic that we are going to talk about today gives a strong argument for those who believe that behavior patterns are influenced more by how you are brought up. 

What is Self-Criticism?

Unless you lived under a rock, you should have heard the phrase ‘You are being too harsh to yourself’. This summarizes what self-criticism is. It is when you judge yourself too much without any heed of consolation. 

Among professionals, self-criticism is defined as evaluating yourself and it is viewed as a negative personality because it disrupts your development of an identity. 

I can already hear the yay-sayers arguing that there is no problem with being critical of yourself because it promotes learning from your mistakes. They would argue that it develops awareness of how to better yourself. However, it becomes harmful when it is persistent and long-standing. It creates doubt within yourself.

Self-criticism is common in those who is used to perfection. This has been attributed to growing up in a demanding environment. The pressure may come from your peers, teachers, and parents, and in the short term, it might have pushed you to achieve what you did.  

However, such pressure is nor sustainable. You will eventually feel like you are shouldering a huge weight on your shoulders. Something has to break and unfortunately, it is more likely going to be you. 

Even worse, when you fall, there is a huge chance that they are the same ones who leave first plunging you to an even worse place.

The biggest downfall of self-criticism is that it leads to an inability to express yourself openly. You cannot contribute to any conversation for fear of being judged. 

You are unable to take positive risks that could have helped yourself progress as a person or contribute in a meaningful way on any project because of your inability to share your thoughts as a result of the doubts that the voices in your head whispered to you.  

In worse cases, relentless self-criticism often leads to depression and anxiety which may affect eating habits and how you feel about yourself. 

What is Child Abuse and How Child Abuse and Adverse Environments Impact View of Oneself

Children are considered one of the greatest gifts. That is why it is baffling to think why they are being exposed to varying degrees of abuse. 

Child abuse is defined as any harm that is being inflicted on children who are below the age of 18. This includes omitting care that they should be receiving. 

One of the more common types of child abuse is physical abuse. Presented as unexplained or inconsistent injuries. Such abuse should also be suspected when children are made to wear inappropriate clothes, often that does not fit the weather. These are clothes that cover the body, especially areas where injuries are commonly inflicted upon. 

Less obvious forms of abuse include sexual, verbal, and emotional abuse. Despite this, these types of abuse may even be more damaging because no one can intervene because of the lack of any noticeable signs. 

You may not notice it, but if you went through an abusive relationship you might not notice self-criticism because it only feels natural. This developed because you were made to feel that you never do anything right to help stop the abuse from reoccurring. 

As a result, you continuously strive for perfection and to exceed expectations despite the abuse in the hopes that it will one day stop. 

Additionally and unfortunately, the doubt creeps in and you will feel like anything you do is never enough. You need to know that therapy can help you heal from child abuse

How Do We Know If We’re Being Hard on Ourselves

Seeing that self-criticism has been integrated into your personality, you might fail to admit that you are critical of yourself unless someone tells you.

Becoming self-aware is a key component, and one step toward acknowledging this personality is asking the following questions:

  1. Do you find yourself comparing yourself to others and feel bad when you feel their achievement dwarves yours?

  2. Have you postponed self-care to prioritize new things that come up?

  3. Are you driven towards a specific goal and feel empty when you are unable to achieve it despite the progress that you’ve made?

  4. Do you define success based on other’s standards?

  5. Have you ever felt what you do is never enough?

If your answer is ‘Yes’ to any combination of the questions above, it is safe to say that you are self-critical, and the following traits should be clearer. 

Self-blaming. You blame yourself for mistakes that have minimal to no consequences. Even worse, you continue to feel the same way despite making the necessary corrections and receiving forgiveness from the other person. 

You Make Yourself the Least of Your Priorities. You tend to bump personal care down your list of priorities when a new task comes up, regardless if your time of self-pampering was pre-planned. 

Doing More. This comes from your drive to achieve pre-set goals influenced by the comparisons you drew up against others. This is deeply rooted from the fear of feeling that you did not do enough, especially when you come up short.

Always Contradicting Yourself. You give excuses for other people’s actions, yet, when you do the exact same thing with similar to varying results, you come down hard on yourself. 

What Can Help This?

Having someone step in early is the best way of addressing self-criticism. However, you may not be one of the lucky few who has someone who are able to intervene early. 

Unfortunately, you might be one of the unfortunate few who does not have those people in their lives. Although, you can be in someone else’s. 

One of the indication that a child is developing a self-critical personality is when they start saying phrases like ‘I suck’. As soon as you hear this, step in straight away. Explore why they feel this way and discuss other ways of addressing the matter that made them feel this way. 

Early on, just talking to them is enough to help in addressing the issue and hope that it does not develop into something worse than that one moment. 

On the other hand, if you are already one of those who already has a self-critical personality, professionals suggest that the best way to deal with this is through a method called metacognitive therapy. 

Metacognitive therapy stops the self-critical thoughts before they form in your head by addressing the thought process that leads towards the thoughts that you normally have. This gives you the opportunity to take a step back by avoiding the voices that are in your head. 

By disassociating yourself from the thoughts that make you hypercritical of what you have done and achieved, you gain a more objective view of the matter giving you a better chance of stopping it without any outside help.

You may also want to re-establish what your personal definition of success is, void of others influences. As you may have read above, the self-critical thoughts that you commonly have can be based on the comparisons you have drawn when you put yourself beside others. 

It might also be beneficial to put boundaries between you and the people who can be associated with your old way of thinking. In the early days of your “rehab”, it might even be beneficial to distance yourself from those who has you in this metaphorical chokehold. In fact, you might be better off cutting them from your life completely if you do not see any benefit in keeping them. 

At the end of the day, as they say, you have to always prioritize looking out for number one. 

Your self-criticism is proof that nurture can define you later in life - the way you are brought up and the experiences who had along the way; good or bad. However, it is never too late to change your narrative and it starts with easing up on yourself. Have you grabbed our guide on self-forgiveness? It’s amazing, and you can download it here.

Redefine what being successful is to you because you might already be successful as you are. You just don’t see it because of the harshness of how you treat yourself. 

Always remember that you can become who you want to be- but you are beautiful, whole and complete just as you are. You are an individual and let no one take that away from you. 


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