Motivation and emotion/Book/2020/Self-criticism and emotion
How does self-criticism affect emotion?
Overview[edit | edit source]
Have you ever found yourself at one point or another in your life being overly self-critical? Consider the following statements:
"Why have I not completed the three loads of washing today? I am clearly very lazy."
"I am so terrible at giving presentations in class, what was that disgrace of a presentation that I just delivered?"
"This artwork that I am creating is just horrid, it does not even look like art; I am a failure."
These statements are not constructive and can in fact hinder your ability to complete daily tasks altogether, your ability to improve, and can also lead to negative emotional consequences and low levels of self-esteem (see Figure 1). It is quite common to be critical of yourself, and there are rare ways that engaging in self-criticism can be constructive. However, it can be destructive to your emotional well-being to be overly self-critical in the above manner, especially to the point where you are not allowing yourself the necessary room and kindness to improve.
This chapter begins with a detailed explanation on the different types of self-criticism including summaries of the characteristics for ease of differentiation Furthermore, the main discussion of this chapter will consist of explaining the different effects that self-criticism can have on human emotion (see Figure 2). Additionally to this, the correlations between self-criticism and emotional or psychological disorders will be included. Finally, suggested treatments and prevention methods that have been found in psychological research will be outlined and examined before the conclusion of this chapter on self-criticism and emotion.
What is self-criticism?[edit | edit source]
Based on the definition of criticism, self-criticism is the act of assessing and subsequently judging one's own perceived faults, flaws, and even merits. Unlike the negativity that the word "criticism" can emanate, self-criticism can be considered to be quite beneficial and can actually have positive effects on human growth (Silvia & O'Brien, 2004). However, much of the research has suggested that this seldom occurs, and that self-criticism is generally referred to as a negative psychological process (Whelton & Greenberg, 2005) that can instil feelings of failure (Warren, Smeets & Neff, 2016). Other research suggests that when delivered effectively, self-criticism is constructive when maintaining a positive view of the self by engaging in self-enhancement (Kurman, Yoshihara-Tanaka & Elkoshi, 2003). Furthermore, constructive self-criticism can provide one with the ability to learn from their mistakes, to improve their creativity and hone their skills (Silvia & O'Brien, 2004), and to eradicate unfavourable and unhealthy habits. On the contrary, destructive self-criticism is associated with the participation in such destructive habits and behaviours (Silvia & O'Brien, 2004). It is important to note the different types of self-criticism and the distinctiveness of them as they can differ in their effects on emotional wellbeing. The following types of self-criticism and their respective differences are discussed in more detail below with a short summary of their characteristics provided in Table 1.
A Characteristic Summary of Constructive vs. Destructive Self-Criticism
|Constructive self-criticism||Destructive self-criticism|
|A constructive criticism which provides a detailed suggestion on how to improve||A destructive criticism which lacks detail and consists of unhelpful feedback|
|Can lead to learning from one's mistakes and has positive effects on growth||Can stunt human learning and have adverse effects on emotional wellbeing|
Constructive self-criticism[edit | edit source]
|“||Self-criticism enables creative products by identifying the good ideas and weeding out the bad ideas.||”|
|— Silvia & O'Brien (2004)|
As mentioned above, there are indeed times self-criticism can be positive and constructive. Ossorio (1990, as cited in Kurman, Yoshihara-Tanaka & Elkoshi, 2003) suggests four stages which possibly appertain to a constructive self-criticism process and are as follows: "(1) evaluating ongoing behaviors, (2) spotting behaviors that are problematic or could be improved, (3) understanding specific elements that should be improved, and (4) finding various alternatives for the ongoing behavior, choosing the best ones, and implementing them". Based on these stages proposed by Ossorio, it is viable that constructive self-criticism excludes critique that may be too general in nature and that lacks the realistic guidance aspect that is needed to improve oneself and eliminate unfavourable behaviours.
Destructive self-criticism[edit | edit source]
On the other hand, destructive self-criticism consists of a type of self-judgment which negatively impacts human growth, the improvement of skills, and which can be destructive to emotional wellbeing (Whelton & Greenberg, 2005). Thompson and Zuroff (2004) also propose two types of self-criticism which consist of such a destructive nature: Comparative self-criticism and internalised self-criticism, the details of which are described below.
Comparative self-criticism[edit | edit source]
Comparative self-criticism (CSC) is outlined by Thompson and Zuroff (2004) as a form of self-criticism which consists of one having a negative outlook on the self when compared to others. It is emphasised that this is not just a general comparison of oneself with the surrounding population, but rather a belief that one is inferior to their comparisons and as a result these comparison subjects are viewed as superior, hostile and critical. Furthermore, it is outlined that one may feel discomfort when comparisons are made as they generally consist of negative views which consequently produce adverse outcomes and effects on emotions.
Internalised self-criticism[edit | edit source]
As this type of self-criticism suggests, internalised self-criticism (ISC) consists of internalised ideals (Thompson & Zuroff, 2004). To provide more detail, someone that internalises their self-criticism will compare themselves to their own personal standards and expectations rather than comparing themselves with other people. Generally, these standards are quite high and unrealistic and can contain elements of perfectionism (Stoeber, Hutchfield & Wood, 2008); this may produce negative consequences such as believing that they are incapable beings when something has not been completed to a level of such unfair standards. More often than not, this can lead to feelings of failure due to the constantly receding nature of these internalised standards.
Self-criticism and its effects on human emotion[edit | edit source]
Although some research has shown that self-criticism can have positive effects when practiced in moderation (Silvia & O'Brien, 2004), it is evident in the majority of research to date on the matter that self-criticism has negative effects on emotional and mental wellbeing (Whelton & Greenberg, 2005). Some of the negative emotions associated with self-criticism include sadness, shame, disgust, and guilt, among others (Whelton & Greenberg, 2005).
Self-criticism and emotional disorders[edit | edit source]
The main focus of the research on the topic thus far is on self-criticism and it's correlation with the psychopathological aspect of emotional wellbeing (Werner, Tibubos, Rohrmann & Reiss, 2019). This includes cases of low emotional wellbeing in the form of emotional disorders and the symptoms associated with these disorders. The associative disorders found in these studies include depression (Luyten et al., 2006; Whelton & Greenberg, 2005) and social anxiety disorder (Iancu, Bodner & Ben-Zion, 2015), and are discussed in more detail below.
Major depressive disorder[edit | edit source]
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is one of the most commonly known psychological disorders that are associated with emotional disturbance (Cullinan & Sabornie, 2004), and is additionally one of the most referred to disorders in the research on the topic of self-criticism. An abundance of studies have found correlations between self-criticism and depression or depressive symptoms (Luyton et al., 2006; Whelton & Greenberg, 2005). In particular, a study conducted in 2005 used the Depressive Experiences Questionnaire (DEQ) to measure whether a sample of university students scored high or low in self-criticism (Whelton & Greenberg, 2005). The main aim of this particular study was to examine the effects of self-criticism on the self and the impacts on the participants' self-resiliency. It was found that elements that are commonly associated with depression were present, such as feelings of worthlessness and disgust towards the self (see Figure 3). This is a significant finding, as it highlights the negative effect that self-criticism has on emotion and the unfavourable correlations with disorders that cause emotional disturbance in human beings.
Another study which found that self-criticism behaviours can leave one vulnerable to depression is a longitudinal study that was conducted by Luyten et al., (2006); the researchers aimed to examine the relationship among personality, life stress, and depression. Similar to the study above, they used the DEQ to measure levels of self-criticism in participants of the following categories: Inpatients at a psychiatric centre in Belgium which met the criteria for DSM-IV MDD (n = 93), mixed psychiatric patients (n = 43), undergraduate students in Belgium (n = 501), and members of the community (n = 253). After Luyten et al., (2006) measured self-criticism levels in all participants, it was found that the inpatients who had depression or mixed psychiatrical backgrounds generally scored higher on the DEQ, rendering them more self-critical than the university students and the members of the public. The researchers further commented in their discussion of their results that self-criticism was associated with severity of depression. This is a momentous result as it reveals that self-criticism can have a negative impact on emotional wellbeing; particularly, negative outcomes such as an emotional disorder like depression can occur in someone with high levels of self-criticism.
The Depressive Experiences Questionnaire, or DEQ, is a questionnaire developed by Blatt, D'Afflitti and Quinlan (1976) that consists of 66 items and measure two dimensions of depression-prone personality: dependency and self-criticism (Yao, Fang, Zhu & Zuroff, 2008). It is commonly used by researchers today to measure levels of self-criticism and has been found to have good reliability and validity (Blatt, 2004). Importantly, it has been included in numerous research studies concerning the effects of self-criticism on emotion (Luyton et al., 2006; Whelton & Greenberg, 2005).
Social anxiety disorder[edit | edit source]
Similar to depression, social anxiety disorder (SAD) is associated with negative emotional outcomes; this is because of the characteristic aspect that is fear, or even overwhelming anxiety (Iancu, Bodner & Ben-Zion, 2015), which exists in the realm of unfavourable human emotions. To explain further, internalised and externalised displays of fear and avoidance can occur in social situations where one believes that they may be scrutinised by others (Iancu, Bodner & Ben-Zion, 2015). Thus, in order to better understand the relationship between social anxiety disorder and self-criticism, a study conducted by Iancu, Bodner and Ben-Zion (2015) aimed to examine the relationship between the different self-criticism levels and social anxiety disorder using measurement scales such as the DEQ and the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale (LSAS). The results found that high levels of self-criticism are prominently evident in patients that suffer from social anxiety disorder and that social anxiety levels correlated positively with self-criticism levels. Based on these findings, it can be deducted that severe cases of social anxiety disorder may include characteristics consistent with higher levels of self-criticism.
To provide another investigation of the relationship between self-criticism and social anxiety disorder, a study conducted by Shahar, Doron and Szepsenwol (2014) aimed to analyse the relationship between childhood maltreatment, shame, social anxiety symptoms, and self-criticism. A distinguishable characteristic of this study when compared to the study above is the researchers' hypothesis that self-criticism plays a protective role on one who has suffered childhood maltreatment of various forms. It is further described in this study that self-criticism is a safety strategy which can alleviate feelings of overwhelming and emotionally destructive feelings of shame. The researchers investigated a possible sequential mediational model by using the following measurement scales: The Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ-Short form; Bernstein et al., 2013), the shame subscale of the short version of the Test of Self‐Conscious Affect‐3 (TOSCA‐3; Tangney, Dearing, Wagner, & Gramzow, 2000), the Inadequate Self (IS) Subscale from the Forms of Self‐Criticizing/Self‐Reassuring Scale (FSCRS; Gilbert et al., 2004), and the Social Interaction Anxiety Scale (SIAS; Mattick & Clarke, 1998). Their hypothesis was confirmed in their results, and it was found that emotional abuse predicted higher levels of shame, which in turn predicted self-criticism, which subsequently predicted symptoms of social anxiety (Shahar, Doron and Szepsenwol, 2014). The researchers concluded that this highlights the role that self-criticism has on the development and maintenance of social anxiety disorder; thus, confirming the negative outcome of an anxiety inducing disorder in one who experiences high levels of self-criticism.
Conclusive summary: How does self-criticism affect emotion?[edit | edit source]
Although only a few studies were mentioned in this section of the chapter, there are numerous additional studies that have found either or both of the following two notions: Self-criticism can lead to symptoms associated with emotional disorders such as depression and social anxiety disorder, and higher levels of self-criticism positively correlate with these disorders' respective symptoms (Whelton & Greenberg, 2005; see also Blatt, Quinlan, Chevron, Mcdonald & Zuroff, 1982; Boersma, Hakanson, Salomonsson & Johansson, 2015; Gilbert, Baldwin, Irons, Baccus & Palmer, 2006). The above studies only show a small fraction of the effects that self-criticism can have on a human being and their emotions. It is evident by the research above and many studies that were not discussed however that self-criticism has negative outcomes for emotional wellbeing and is highly associated with disorders that have negative emotional characteristics, such as fear, sadness, shame, guilt, and disgust, to name a few. Thus, it is palpable that self-criticism can sway emotions in a direction that results in overwhelming and destructive emotional outcomes.
Theoretical applications[edit | edit source]
Just as research is imperative for the process of understanding the effects of self-criticism on emotion, it is equally important to note the origins of self-criticism; this includes any theories and their applications that have been founded by psychologists investigating the role that self-criticism plays on human emotion. There are a number of theories that can allow one to understand these effects, including Blatt's two-configurations model of personality, Gilbert's model for self-criticism, and Shahar's Axis of Criticism Model. Their details and subsequent applications are discussed below.
Blatt's two-configurations model of personality[edit | edit source]
Blatt has contributed an abundance of research and theory on the matter of self-criticism and emotion and began forming his theories using a psychodynamic approach. This is most evident in his theory that suggests that two dysfunctional configurations of personality exist, both of which most psychopathological cases can be accounted for and has been cited multiple times in works concerning self-criticism and emotion (Singer. 1995). Furthermore, both are referred to as two distinct types of vulnerability to depression (Whelton & Greenberg, 2005). The first is a dependent personality configuration which characteristically consists of a fear of abandonment by significant others, whilst the second is a self-criticism configuration which emanates the need for self-resilience and is accompanied by feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness, inferiority, and self-doubt (Blatt & Homann, 1992; Blatt & Zuroff, 1992). These emotions are central to understanding the application of Blatt's theory on self-criticism and emotion, as they provide a framework for the investigation of the impacts of self-criticism on emotional disorders. This is particularly evident in the studies mentioned in the above section, because if Blatt's assumption is that self-critical beings are vulnerable to depressive disorders, then the level of causation and impact on emotional wellbeing can be explored in research, as has been done. Thus, Blatt's two-configurations model of personality is the perfect application to the research conducted by Whelton and Greenberg (2005) and Luyten et al., (2006), which is discussed in the above section on major depressive disorder.
Greenberg's experiential model of depression[edit | edit source]
An experiential perspective on self-criticism was proposed by Greenberg in his works and research on depression (Greenberg, Elliott & Foerster, 1990, as cited in Whelton & Greenberg, 2005; Greenberg, Watson & Liataer, 1998, as cited in Whelton & Greenberg, 2005). This model is based on the assumption that the disempowered self is a vulnerable self, particularly where depression is concerned. Thus, in this light, self-criticism's harsh and negative effects can disempower one's self and lead to the negative emotions that are associated with depression. Furthermore, Greenberg suggests that depressive helplessness accompanies practices of self-criticism. Using Whelton and Greenberg's research and Lyten's et al., study as examples, the participants are more vulnerable to depression because of their self-critical tendencies.
The Axis of Criticism Model[edit | edit source]
This model of self-criticism exists within the realm of the psychodynamic and the psychoanalytic perspectives and was presented by Shahar (2015). The model has two assumptions on the origins of self-criticism: "(1) in parental criticism through their critical expressed emotions (CEE) towards the child and (2) in the failing attempt of the child (and later the adolescent and adult) to develop its true self through authenticity (A) and self-knowledge (SK)". In this respect, if parents do not display critical expressed emotions in front of their children or a child fails to reach a desired level of self-knowledge and authenticity, then higher levels of self-criticism can ensue. Furthermore, the development of destructive levels of self-criticism can be prevented in childhood and can subsequently become high as a result of childhood maltreatment (Shahar, Doron & Szepsenwol, 2015; Werner, Tibubos, Rohrmann & Reiss). Thus, this model highlights the importance of early prevention in childhood and further stresses that a lack of self-resiliency may lead to self-critical adults. An example of a case presented below may help one to better understand this model.
Mary Anne suffers from social anxiety disorder and also has self-critical tendencies. She experienced maltreatment in her childhood which lead to these outcomes. Therefore, in order to avoid feeling overwhelming levels of shame, she will protect herself from this shame by criticising herself and her behaviours before a potential attack from a powerful dominant.
Treating self-criticism[edit | edit source]
Among the research conducted on self-criticism and its effects on emotion, treatment methods have also surfaced (see Figure 4). These exist in a variety of forms and include therapeutic practices, counselling techniques, and other strategies concerning self-compassion and increasing emotional intelligence.
Emotion-Focused Training for Emotion Coaching (EFT-EC)[edit | edit source]
This therapy was developed by Halamova and Kanovsky (2019) and is based around the components of emotion-focused therapy. Its aim was to improve the emotional intelligence and wellbeing of human beings that are destructively critical of themselves, among other uses and applications. The coaching consists of a 12-week program conducted on a group of 128 students, and incorporated the following activities: Identification of the different emotions and the different types, the process of giving compliments and making complaints, giving and receiving feedback, apologising, and reflection. The program had an extremely positive outcome on self-criticism levels in students as was evident in the post-measurement scales of self-criticism when compared to the pre-measurement scales. Based on these findings, it can be deduced that in treatment methods that do not treat self-criticism directly, human beings can still decrease self-critical tendencies by improving their emotional intelligence; thus, the importance of emotional intelligence is evident when it comes to treating self-criticism.
Compassion-Focused Therapy (CFT) & chair-work[edit | edit source]
Where self-criticism is concerned, it is theorised that self-compassion has a counteractive effect and is therefore an effective treatment for such tendencies (Bell, Montague, Elander & Gilbert, 2019). Bell et al., (2019) utilised a potential effective treatment method, commonly known as chair-work, that consisted of enacting and embodying situating aspects of the self by sitting in different chairs and expressing various emotions. To provide one example, one will sit in a chair facing another and present a self-compassionate enactment in order to decrease self-critical tendencies. This method has shown promising results, as the researchers have found a significant decrease post-treatment. Hence, practicing self-compassion in therapeutic settings can have positive outcomes for self-criticism and its consequent effects on emotion.
Conclusion[edit | edit source]
Self-criticism presents itself in two distinctive forms: constructive and destructive versions. With self-criticism practices that are destructive, one may compare themselves to others or otherwise comparisons are made to their own personal standards, which are generally quite high and unrealistic; both of these types instil feelings of failure. Furthermore, effects on emotional wellbeing become detrimental when self-criticism levels consist of a destructive nature, and are either of the following: associated with emotional disorders such as depression and social anxiety disorder, or positively correlated with these disorders' associated symptoms and emotions such as sadness, shame and guilt. Thus, as a take-home message, it is imperative that human beings maintain and assess whether their self-critical tendencies are negatively affecting their emotional wellbeing and to seek treatment methods that incorporate self-compassion and emotion coaching. This is because the treatment of self-criticism strives to improve emotional intelligence and focuses on the importance of emotional expression and self-compassion, and has shown significant and positive outcomes for both self-criticism levels and emotional wellbeing.
See also[edit | edit source]
- Emotional self-efficacy (Book chapter, 2020)
- Guilt and shame (Book chapter, 2018)
- Reward system, motivation, and emotion (Book chapter, 2020)
- Self-actualisation and motivation (Book chapter, 2020)
References[edit | edit source]
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