woman being too hard on herself

Can You Be Too Hard on Yourself?

Many of us have been raised to believe being hard on yourself is a good thing. But there is a point where we can become too hard on ourselves — and what starts out as an attempt at self-motivation becomes a systematic erosion of well-being. 


In pursuing excellence, our internal experience is often negative, taking the form of self-imposed pressure, harsh self-criticism, and a constant striving for perfection


Supposedly, this harsh self-talk helps us become the best, most valuable versions of ourselves. But the truth is, there is a point when our self-criticism and self-pressure begin to wear out our emotional, mental, and physical health.


What does it mean to be hard on yourself?


Being hard on yourself is a common experience, but it’s not a healthy or normal state of being. When you are hard on yourself, you place unrealistic expectations on your performance, constantly scrutinise your mistakes, engage in negative self-talk, and put negative labels on yourself, which over time become a part of your identity. This self-imposed pressure can lead to a cycle of disappointment, dissatisfaction, and reduced self-esteem, making us feel like we can’t stop being hard on ourselves.


So, why are you harsh with yourself?


The roots of self-pressure and self-criticism can be traced back to various factors. External influences, such as societal standards around gender and family roles, family expectations, school environments, and other past experiences can contribute to an individual internalising the need to be perfect. 

Additionally, how much we criticise ourselves and focus on our mistakes and flaws is linked to our individual personalities. Traits like perfectionism, fear of failure, sensitivity to rejection, and a desire to prove ourselves to family or society can drive a tendency to put too much pressure on yourself.


How self-criticism can affect daily life


Self-criticism tends to manifest in areas of life that are most important to us, such as school, work, and family. In our youth, as school children, we may learn to set impossibly high standards for marks and performance – and be harsh with ourselves when we don’t meet those standards.


As we grow and enter the workplace, the pressure we put on ourselves often intensifies as we begin earning to provide for ourselves and our families – and our tendency to be hard on ourselves may manifest as a constant need for validation, excessive self-doubt, and an unhealthy work-life balance. 


At home, we may put pressure on ourselves to meet perceived expectations of being the “perfect” partner, parent, or child. Societal norms around what it means to be a good spouse, father or mother, son or daughter, as well as the ‘duty’ we’ve internalised around these roles, can come into conflict, making us feel as if we’re failing at multiple fronts – and, as a result, we can’t stop being hard on ourselves.


The emotional, mental, and physical toll of self-criticism


When we are so hard on ourselves, whether at school, work, home or another context, we often become emotionally distressed; it’s difficult to live with constant negative feedback and judgement around our biggest insecurities and mistakes.

We may start worrying about possible mistakes or setbacks and feeling anxious at the prospect of harshness from our inner critic. We may start dwelling on things we’ve done wrong and how we should have acted instead. 

Being hard on ourselves actually puts both brain and body in a state of chronic stress, leading to struggles with anxious feelings. And our constant self-criticism erodes self-esteem, deepens feelings of shame, worthlessness, and contributes to depressive symptoms

Physically, chronic self-pressure and self-criticism triggers the release of stress hormones like cortisol, leading to increased heart rate, heightened blood pressure, and disrupted sleep patterns. These physical manifestations further exacerbate feelings of anxiety, fatigue, and a sense of being overwhelmed.


How to stop being hard on yourself


Practising self-compassion is the best, most effective, and scientifically proven way to counter a harsh inner voice, and break free from the cycle of self-criticism. Self-compassion means treating ourselves with kindness, understanding, and acceptance when we struggle, make mistakes, or experience setbacks – just as we would treat a close friend or loved one. 

Self-compassion is like giving ourselves a warm hug when we’re upset – the action is fleeting, but the effect sustains us. We may still have a tendency to be hard on ourselves, and we may never be able to silence our critical inner voice completely, but with practice, self-compassion can help us separate our identity from our self-criticism, protect our sense of value and self-esteem, and ultimately change how we relate to ourselves. 


We can practise self-compassion by:

  • Challenging negative self-talk: Pay attention to your inner dialogue and when you notice self-critical thoughts, challenge them – we are never ‘always’ one way or another, and there aren’t things we ‘should’ do, merely things we could but choose not to. Then ask yourself: How does thinking like this help me? How does it hurt me?
  • Practising mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques can bring your awareness to the present moment without looking back at past events and mistakes. This helps you cultivate a more objective and self-compassionate perspective and prepares you to take action going forward.
  • Embracing imperfection: Accept that making mistakes and experiencing setbacks are natural parts of life; everyone is flawed, and our fallibility is one thing that connects all humans to each other. We can learn to choose to look at them as opportunities for growth and learning instead of failures or flaws.
  • Prioritising self-care: Engage in activities that promote self-care and nourish your well-being. These may include hobbies, spending time in nature, or enjoying the company of loved ones.
  • Seeking support if we can’t do it on our own: Reach out to friends, family, or a therapist who can provide a supportive and non-judgmental space as you talk about your struggles. 

When to seek therapy for being too hard on yourself


While self-compassion practices can be transformative, there may be instances when professional help is necessary. If self-criticism persists despite efforts to cultivate self-compassion, and anxious or low feelings become overwhelming, seeking therapy can provide valuable guidance and support. Therapy, both conventional and digital, can be particularly helpful for individuals who find their self-pressure, self-criticism, and resulting feelings too much to bear alone.


Being hard on yourself is a burden that can contribute to emotional distress, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and even physical health problems. Our harsh inner critic often feels like it’s just a part of who we are – and we’re trapped with it. But we’re not. By cultivating self-compassion, challenging self-critical thoughts, and seeking appropriate support, we can foster a kinder, more nurturing relationship with ourselves.

For further reading related to being to hard on yourself:

Vidula V Sawant (M.A., M.Phil., CRR No. A80980) is a clinical psychologist with  4+ years of experience and a passion for understanding the complexities of our minds and behaviors.

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