For many people, it’s easy to forgive someone else, but a lot harder to forgive him of herself. Holding yourself to an impossible standard of perfectionism is a common cause of this inability to forgive yourself. Ignoring positives and solely focusing on the negatives during self-reflection can lead to wrong turns, missed opportunities, and mistakes. Of course, striving to be the best version of yourself and continuously improving yourself isn’t a bad thing, but if you’re constantly focusing on your own shortcomings and errors, it can take a toll on your mental health.

“The tone of your self-talk is the key,” said Amy Cirbus, a New York-based Talkspace therapist. “There’s a difference between saying ‘That didn’t work out, I think I might be able to do that better’ versus ‘I can never get this right, I’m such a failure.’ Personal growth is defined as improving through honest reflection, realistic goal setting, and understanding that failure is part of the journey. Self-criticism is the antithesis to growth.”

We all have an inner critic, and for the most part, that’s a good thing. That little voice can keep us motivated and make sure we make the right decisions. For example, treating others well, meeting our goals, and eating healthy. But that inner dialogue can be harmful if it gets too negative. Studies have linked negative self-talk with low levels of self-esteem and high stress levels. This in turn can lead to decreased motivation, feelings of helplessness, and depression.

Signs You are Being Too Hard On Yourself

According to Cirbus, these are some signs you’re being a bit too hard on yourself and may want to give yourself a break:

  • You give up on challenges quickly, fearing you won’t be successful.
  • You ruminate on failures long after they’re over.
  • Your self-talk consists of harsh criticism and generalizations.
  • When situations don’t go as planned, you blame yourself.
  • You keep commitments to everyone but yourself, believing you’re not as worthy as others.

How to Stop Your Negative Self-Talk

Cirbus said there are practical and relatively simple things you can do to reduce your self-criticism. For example:

Pay attention to your behavior

We often behave and think automatically, allowing our negative self-talk to go unchallenged. It takes the intentional act of paying close attention to what’s going on inside of ourselves to challenge the negativity. Once we’re paying attention, we can take note of how we speak and treat ourselves in order to create different thought patterns and behaviors. If you’re already telling yourself you won’t succeed, you increase the risk of not succeeding. This can feed into a cycle of proving to yourself that you’re incapable.

Be positive

Create a few realistic, positive personal mantras that you can meditate on or even keep close by that can replace negative self-talk. While easier said than done, this is one of the best routes to combat self-criticism. Replace the negative with something better, something positive.

Be gentle

Just as you would give a friend space to make mistakes, give yourself that same courtesy. When your inner critic is at its most negative, it can sound like your worst enemy. Try to instead acknowledge your inner critic and focus on being kind to yourself.

Understand your actions

Your behaviors don’t always reflect your character. Practice focusing on finding the difference between the two. You might have failed, but you are not a failure. Mistakes don’t define who you are!

Take care of yourself

Make a commitment to self-care on a regular basis. Creating time for yourself and sticking to it is not only healthy, but it reinforces that you are a priority. You deserve the same kindness and care that you give to others.

Your mind can be your greatest strength or worst enemy, so it can be hard to get a fair perspective when evaluating your own behavior, especially in the midst of turmoil. That’s why it’s important to take a step back and question your motives. If you have a harsh inner-critic, it can be beneficial to talk to a therapist, who can help change the way you think. With a better understanding of your thoughts and a new perspective, you can silence the toxic self-criticism that is holding you back.