6 Signs You Are WAY Too Self-Critical


As life would have it, as I'm starting this piece, Kelis' music video for "Bossy" is playing on the tube. Something that I've always liked about Kelis, as an artist, is she's gonna do whatever she wants to do. We don't have to get it, so long as she does. If we like it, that's merely a bonus. Yeah, Kelis would be the opposite of the kinds of folks we're gonna talk about today. She appears to be very anti-self-critical. And that's beautiful.

I recently read two articles about why so many of us are so critical of ourselves (if you want to check them out, go here and then here). The therapists who were interviewed touched on things like us fearing complacency and also us choosing to engage in tons of negative self-talk. I think that another reason has to do with our childhood. Boy, if there's ever a time when my blood boils, it's when a parent is snatching up a young child and/or worse, cussing at them. Children's minds, hearts and souls are so fragile; they must be handled with extreme care. If that doesn't happen, if the very individuals who should be nurturing their spirits are constantly breaking them, a self-critical individual is exactly what they will turn out to be.

Some of us once were those children and, unfortunately, we are so used to treating ourselves with a lack of patience, forgiveness and self-compassion, that we don't even realize how self-critical we actually are. If you're wondering if this is something that you struggle with, perhaps more than you think, here are six blaring signs that should not be ignored.

You Find a Way to Tear Down Every Compliment


There's someone I used to be close to who was pretty difficult to be around. A part of the reason was because I could never tell if her responses to compliments were a passive-aggressive way to get more or if she was a bona fide Olympian when it came to tearing affirmations down. I mean, no matter what I said to her, she found a way to knock it. For every time I said, "You look pretty today", she would respond with, "Maybe if I lost some weight." I'd give you some other examples, but I'm already worn out, just by reminiscing over all of that toxicity.

I get that sometimes it can be challenging to receive compliments or praise because you are so focused on improving the being that you already are. But if you don't know how to simply say "thank you" when someone commends you, or there is a part of you that doesn't believe them, something is very imbalanced when it comes to your self-esteem. Yes, there is something to be said for growth, but there is also something to be said for being proud of the person you are and appreciating when other people recognize the goodness that is already in/on you.

You Are Sorry for Things That You Shouldn’t Be


I've got a girlfriend who is mad humble. But, as a wise person once said, even the excess of a virtue can be a vice, at times. In her case, she has a tendency to apologize for things that she didn't do wrong or aren't her fault. If I call her, she's busy and has to call me back, she'll say, "I'm sorry. I was doing such-and-such." Is that something to be sorry for? Or when her husband completely shows his tail (if you've got a friend with a difficult spouse, I wrote about how I handle it here), she apologizes on his behalf (I get that married folks are "one" and all but he needs to take ownership for his own actions).

She apologizes so much that I finally brought it to her attention by saying, "Do you know that you say 'I'm sorry' for things that you don't even do wrong?" After responding with yep and, you guessed it, "I'm sorry" (LOL), she then said that she thinks it's because she struggles with people-pleasing a lot. Whenever someone is unhappy or even inconvenienced, she somehow believes that she has something to do with it. When I encouraged her to go deeper into where that stems from, she said that she had a babysitter from hell who used to berate and beat her and the other kids that she watched. My friend never told her parents; she just internalized it. She said "I'm sorry" a lot then to keep the peace and she does it a lot now for the same reason (self-awareness is a miracle cure, for real, for real!).

This example is a kinda cryptic form of being self-critical, but it is one nonetheless. It's also a reminder that we must handle all children with extreme care because they grow up to be adults; sometimes with the same wounds that they had from their childhood. Including being way too hard on themselves.

You Hold Yourself to Unrealistic Standards


Along the same lines of what we just discussed, another indication that you are too self-critical is the standards that you have for yourself are super unrealistic. You are a perfectionist. You don't forgive yourself when you make mistakes. You set way too many goals in a short frame of time. You see where I'm going with this, right? The problem with this is, because we all are flawed, we all sometimes make poor decisions and we all have moments of feeling totally overwhelmed, if you don't accept this fact about your own humanity, you're constantly going to feel like you are a disappointment, if not a flat-out failure.

Cut yourself some slack on the front end by aiming to do your best, but also predetermining that when you do mess up, you can let yourself off of the hook. Doing so is not letting yourself slide. It's actually an act of self-love.

You Don’t Ask for Help


Anyone who thinks that they don't need help is someone who not only has an ego problem (whether they realize it, like it or not), they also are setting themselves up for failure. If God wanted us to live without the assistance and support of others, we wouldn't have family members and friends. We wouldn't co-exist around other human beings on a daily basis either.

How does not asking for help equate to being too self-critical? Because a lot of people are this way because don't want to come off as appearing weak or needy. Or, they want to show others that they don't need anyone but themselves.

Being this type of person is typically a sign of also having some pretty serious trust issues. But here's the thing—if you constantly attempt things that would be easier for you to do if you had some back-up, then they may take a lot longer or not turn out as well as they could have. As a result, you become even more self-critical. Ugh. Doubly so.

You Are Never Ever Satisfied. Especially with Yourself.


Not too long ago, I was checking out the IG page for this site. Under a post that featured, well, go here and you can see it yourself, I appreciated what a male commenter said—"The Education us Men get following this page. I'm here for it." I took a sec to check out what the poster, @prewilliams has going on and he had a post that was so appropriate for this article—"You're over here doubting yourself while so many people are intimidated by your potential."

There's nothing wrong with being driven and ambitious. There's nothing wrong with wanting to become better on a daily basis. There's nothing wrong with going above and beyond what seems attainable. But a part of what comes with being a healthy and balanced individual is also being at peace with what you've already accomplished and just how far you've already come.

Stress, anxiety and frustration oftentimes arise out of not knowing how to be satisfied with oneself and/or how to stay in the moment. Life is too short to not know how to just be sometimes.

You’re Way Too Quiet


Some of y'all might remember the episode of A Different World when Tisha Campbell played a student who had HIV. Her professor was played by Whoopi Goldberg and the assignment that she gave the class to write their own obituary (a clip of the episode is right here). Something that Whoopi's character said, more than once, that has remained with me all this time is, "You are a voice in this world."

It's one thing to use timing and tact in delivering a message. It's another matter entirely when you have a desire to speak, but you don't, because you're worried about how people will react or respond. Your insight, your perspectives and your experiences are just as valid as anyone else's. Don't let your critical nature try and convince you otherwise.

A very wise person once said, "It's better to speak your mind and tell the truth, than to stay quiet and lie to yourself." If after reading this, you know that you are way too self-critical, start making some changes today by speaking up more, always remembering, that yes—YOU ARE A VOICE IN THIS WORLD. A voice that deserves to be heard, received and respected. With as little criticism from you as possible.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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