Self-Criticism and You: Unhealthy Expectations

Self reflection is a good thing. Introspection can yield important personal revelations, and can lead to great personal growth. But what happens if internal criticism goes too far?

According to a new book by Professor Golan Shahar (Erosion: The Psychopathology of Self-Criticism) too much self-criticism may set you up for failure. To quote the author, “Self-criticism is a personality trait characterized as the tendency to set unrealistically high standards for one’s self and an expression of hostility and derogation when these high standards are, inevitably, not met.” Which is to say, assuming that one should seek to achieve an impossible standard can lead to harmful self-punishment when the standard simply cannot be met.

This sort of mental enforcement happens frequently in modern society. From body-image issues to one’s self-imposed societal expectations, our world is full of messaging telling us that certain standards are expected of us when they’re simply based on an impossible set of criteria. Not only this, but there are many scenarios in which we are expected to self-enforce; to begin to criticize ourselves in order to achieve some nebulous state of idealized criteria.

While the idea of setting standards for oneself can be healthy and self-fulfilling, fixating on unattainable goals can lead to depression and anxiety. The dissonance between our current states and the idealized states we’ve internalized often cannot be reconciled, leading us to see fault in ourselves. This perception of fault can feed on itself, causing us to fall further and further into harmful patterns.

None of this is to say that we should not create standards for ourselves. Being able to set goals and work towards achieving them can be rewarding and provide stability and satisfaction. However, there must be a delineation between the goals you set for yourself and goals you believe you should pursue based on outside influence. Often times, what society expects from us is not–frankly speaking–in our best interests.

If you have any questions about reconciling your goals and expectations with the expectations placed on you by society, contact South Denver Psychotherapy today. For more information on Professor Shahar’s book, take a look at this article or check out the book on