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  1. Blog
  2. Mental Health

20 Signs You’re Too Self-Critical at Work

When you think you're human garbage, try this

Sign of a person throwing litter away
Photo courtesy of Gary Chan

Success in the workplace isn’t achieved overnight, which is why it’s so important to be kind to yourself day after day. The way you think and speak to yourself has a direct correlation on your work performance and your ability to achieve your goals. Being highly critical of yourself can be harmful to your mental health. 

Recognize these signs of self-criticism, according to Nicole Case, career and leadership coach at Nicole Case Coaching:

  1. You take on more work than others around you.

  2. You’re constantly looking for approval or validation from your boss or others at work.

  3. You don't take credit for your work or default to saying, "It was a team effort." 

  4. You start missing deadlines because you believe your work isn't perfect.

  5. You don’t raise your hand for a big project because you’re afraid you’ll fail.

  6. You get anxious for your performance review because you think you've performed terribly.

  7. You’re constantly in fear you’ll be fired.

  8. You overanalyze any piece of feedback you get.

  9. Your negative self-talk is on overdrive.

  10. You work crazy long hours when you aren’t expected to.

You would never say to others, “How can you be so stupid?” “You are just lazy!” “You can’t do anything right!” but often we tolerate this harsh inner critic, which sabotages our work progress, says Lucia Wallis Smith, LPC, NCC, CCATP at Clear Mind Counseling. “Self-critical people are very uncomfortable with the idea of practicing self-compassion, thinking that they don’t deserve it, that it is ‘conceited,’ or that beating up on themselves is the only way they will find motivation.”

“Self-criticism, in the right amount, can protect you and help you learn from your experiences. One must practice self-compassion to ensure that they stay in balance. If unchecked, this way of thinking can erode wellbeing and overall quality of life,” says Victoria Hepburn, ACC, author, speaker and business transitions coach. 

Hepburn suggests more signs that you’re being too self-critical at work:

  1. You blame yourself for every negative thing that happens (often ignoring logic and outside factors beyond your control).

  2. You feel that you must constantly prove you are good enough to your colleagues and leaders which often leads to overwhelm, overwork, burnout and/or leaving the organization.

  3. You feel you don't measure up to your peers or just about anyone you compare yourself with.

  4. You're constantly apologizing for situations outside your control, which undermines your credibility.

  5. You're so risk-averse you don't take action because you can't figure out the "safest" action. 

  6. You're holding back your opinions and ideas for fear of looking bad or saying the wrong thing again.

  7. People tell you to relax, chill out, or calm down regularly.

  8. People tell you, "Don't be so hard on yourself."

  9. People say "Wow, congratulations," and you diminish your accomplishment and change the subject.

  10. You miss deadlines or opportunities because you get trapped in "analysis paralysis" trying to figure out the right direction.

“Having some level of self-criticism is healthy and can benefit you and your performance at work. Reviewing your work with a critical eye helps you continue to learn and raise your own bar. But being too self-critical can quickly slip into self-sabotage and burnout,” says Case.

Confronting self-criticism

“Lack of self-confidence starts intruding into other aspects of your life,” says Denise P. Kalm, writer, speaker, and coach at DPK Coaching. “Ultimately, it could lead to serious depression.”

To combat self-criticism and negative self-talk, you must nurture positive feedback and encouragement. Smith recommends being mindful of your feelings, practicing positive affirmations, and connecting with the physical world. 

“Many people who listen to their inner critic develop imposter syndrome, perfectionism, and low self-esteem that stalls their ability to reach their goals and build the life they deserve,” says Smith           

To minimize the self-criticism and practice self-compassion, Smith recommends this simple five-step grounding technique, which can be used at any time:    

Another simple exercise is to put your hand on your heart, rub your temples, massage your shoulders, and give yourself a hug, Smith suggests. It doesn't matter what the gesture is as long as it is loving. It will help you show yourself kindness in difficult situations.

If you’re finding it difficult to overcome the self-criticism, you’ll want to reach out to an expert, such as a therapist, who can work through those feelings with you and find new strategies for improving your work life.

About our sources

Nicole Case, of Nicole Case Coaching, is a career and leadership coach and HR Insider to helping people land their next big job or be wildly successful where they are today. A corporate ladder-climber, she was an HR Business Partner, I had the unique experience of being a part of strategic discussions about people and their careers within the company. I consulted the C-Suite down to first-line managers.

For over 20 years, Lucia Wallis Smith, LPC, NCC, CCATP of Clear Mind Counseling, has helped adolescents and adults manage their fears and overcome their anxiety. She is a certified clinical anxiety treatment professional and has extensive training and experience. She uses the most up-to-date, evidence-based techniques to teach clients the most effective ways of handling and overcoming their anxiety.

Victoria Hepburn, ACC, is a certified business coach, author, podcast host, and speaker who happily shares the tools that transform lives—personally and professionally—in an ever-changing world. Using her award-winning business background, she is able to partner with clients working to break through to the next level of success, however, they define it.

Denise P. Kalm is a writer, speaker, and coach at DPK Coaching. Her specialties include enterprise performance management and capacity planning, technical training, software consulting/sales, pure-play solutions and product marketing, product management, national CMG author, freelance writing, speaker, life/executive and creativity coaching.

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