“I decry the injustice of my wounds, only to look down and see that I am holding a smoking gun in one hand and a fistful of ammunition in the other.”
What’s in This Article and What’s Not
“How stupid of me.” Have you ever said that to yourself?
Most of us, regardless of our personality type, are hard on ourselves at least occasionally. As with most things in human behavior, it’s all about intervals and intensity. Some people are always hard on themselves, and some people, just sometimes. Other people may be so hard on themselves that their self-regard might border on masochistic cruelty, while others only lightly poke at themselves when they’re dissatisfied with their behavior.
And there’s a difference between assessing one’s actions critically but objectively and being hard on oneself. We all need to be self-corrective, and we can’t improve ourselves if we are unwilling to criticize something we do or have done. But this can be done with self-compassion. Nobody is perfect. But that’s often the measure that people who are hard on themselves use to evaluate their lives and actions – perfection.
So, we’re not talking about constructive and compassionate self-criticism here. That’s normal and necessary for growth. We’re talking about the negative self-talk that isn’t helpful and promotes pessimism and a poor self-image.
But we are also not talking about the negative self-talk that is so frequent and intense that it leads to depression or anxiety. Anyone who is habitually and aggressively hard on themselves may want to talk to their doctor, a counselor, a psychotherapist, or a clergyman of their choice. You’re not alone. But any insights or advice given here is the lightest of first aid. We don’t intend this article to be a substitute for any form of professional help.
“Don’t be a victim of your thoughts.”
Being overly critical of oneself is a complex behavior that can have its roots in many human experiences. Usually, it’s not just one thing that makes a person negatively self-critical. Usually, it involves a constellation of influences in life. Since there is no simple reason for it, there is not going to be a simple explanation of its cause or simple answer for its management.
In this article, we have a narrow focus. We want to explore how personality type might influence people when they are hard on themselves. Perhaps digging into our personality traits can help us discover a piece of the puzzle that reveals something to us about negative self-criticism.
For our purposes, we’re also approaching this subject by using the four Roles, the four groups that the types are divided into, rather than the 16 individual types. As you’ll see, it’s impossible to offer a single, definitive way a person might be hard on themselves – just general suggestions of places where they might be vulnerable according to their core traits. Roles seem more useful for such a sweeping treatment of the subject.
Analyst (NT) Personality Types and Being Negatively Self-Critical
Analyst personality types: Architects (INTJ), Logicians (INTP), Commanders (ENTJ), and Debaters (ENTP)
The underlying assumption of Analysts is that they can figure out everything. If taken too seriously, that’s a tall order. These personalities have great faith in logic and rationality and take pride in valuing these as standards.
Should all the pieces to life’s puzzles not come together as they should, there is a potential for some Analysts to see that as a failure. In their thinking, it (name any problem) can be figured out, and yet they cannot do so. Their faith in rationality can keep them at arm’s distance from a sense of success and even hurl them into a valley of negative self-regard if it’s overblown.
Analysts are more likely than any other Role to say they push themselves to the limits of their abilities on a regular basis.
In a related but slightly different perspective, there is a characteristic that might have even more impact on Analysts’ self-regard. Analysts lean toward being demanding, and they are no less exacting with what they expect from themselves. Should they miss their hard-to-hit targets too often, they may see it as collecting evidence that demonstrates a severe flaw in themselves.
Analysts also tend to be continual self-improvers, especially in the areas of knowledge and understanding. The need to improve naturally implies an imperfection or an incompleteness that requires growth. Depending on other factors, some (emphasis on “some”) Analysts may take their sense of imperfection to heart and inflate it until their sense of incompleteness becomes something painful rather than a reality all humans face.
Finally, Analysts are unusual people, being only a small part of the population and often having an approach to life uniquely their own. Also, there are times when they don’t connect well with social skills or empathy. They may feel out of step with others. Many Analysts will not care that they are unique members of society slightly outside of the mainstream. However, some may wish to be more like other people and wonder what is wrong with them because they aren’t.
When Analysts Are Hard on Themselves
When Analysts are hard on themselves, they likely need to lower the temperature by way of approving of themselves, but self-blaming Analysts are likely to take criticism to a new level. No other Role purposely puts themselves under stress quite as much as Analysts do.
A common technique for gaining perspective in such cases is to ask yourself, “Would I treat my best friend this way? Would I ask as much of them?” Some exacting Analysts might answer, “Yes.” Still, among most of them, the answer is likely, “No.”
While treating their friends considerately might be an act of compassion for many Analysts, it’s probably just as possible that they do so because it would be unreasonable in practical terms to put too much burden on others. It wouldn’t make sense. And, by the same reasoning, it may not make sense to inflict such standards on oneself.
Many Analysts may naturally find it easy not to compare themselves to others. That said, since many factors besides personality traits affect our self-regard, some may find themselves playing the comparison game. If this is you, remind yourself that you offer the world something different. Appreciating yourself can make the whole business of comparative thinking moot. Making a list of your attributes can help you answer the question, “What is wrong with me?” The answer is likely, “Nothing.”
“Oh my gosh! I was a hamster on the conditioned wheel of self-improvement.”
Last, try the adventure of accepting yourself just as you are. Consider that you may have value beyond your thoughts and accomplishments. The temptation for Analysts will be to get philosophical about the nature of man at this point. Don’t. This suggestion is about you, here and now – not some philosophical treatise out there. Ask your natural skepticism to step aside and suspend your disbelief for a moment. Take it on faith, look in the mirror (literally or metaphorically), and say, “I’m all right just the way I am.”
(We might even suggest you say, “I’m beautiful just the way I am.” But…you know…Analysts. Sometimes, it’s best not to push too hard.)
Diplomat (NF) Personality Types and Being Negatively Self-Critical
Diplomat personality types: Advocates (INFJ), Mediators (INFP), Protagonists (ENFJ), and Campaigners (ENFP)
Diplomats come in lowest on our ego scale. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are overly self-critical. However, if the brand of ego this group minimalizes is the healthy sort of ego, they may be more susceptible to talking down to themselves. A healthy ego usually includes a sense of self-love and self-worth, allowing one to go out into the world from a position of strength and openness. If Diplomats only see ego as something that represents arrogance and self-centeredness, they may find that they suppress their healthy ego.
Diplomats are the most likely Role to say they often feel overwhelmed by other people’s problems.
Personality types within this Role place great value on how society treats others. They tend toward empathy or, at least, have great respect for it. Should they believe that they treated someone harshly and caused damage on some level – even emotionally – Diplomats may condemn themselves for it. It doesn’t matter if what they did was on purpose or not. If it was on purpose, then any self-criticism could be constructive, acting as a signal to modify their behavior. If it was just imagined, then self-criticism serves no purpose but to cause Diplomats to be hard on themselves.
To further complicate things, Diplomats are often deliverers of righteous indignation. As empathic as they can be, they can also be ruthless in standing up to those who they believe harm others. But Diplomats might see the disconnect between caring about others and not always including in that caring those who they see as unjust. The conditionality of their caring can sometimes make them feel somewhat hypocritical, which can be especially tricky for Diplomats who generally value authenticity.
Diplomats often deal in the ideal. If the ideal is perfect, then they shoot for perfect. Perfectionism can be one of the quickest routes to being hard on oneself, since humans rarely attain perfection. Any flaw in their ideological pursuits, no matter how minor or inconsequential, might seem like failure to Diplomats. Negative self-talk is usually not far behind.
When Diplomats Are Hard on Themselves
As with Analysts, Diplomats who find themselves overly self-critical might want to lower their standards to something more realistic. However, reducing standards means something different to Diplomats. Often, their standards relate to what they expect they can do for others or how they bring society one step closer to better. Their moral standards are sometimes so rigid that even they have trouble upholding them. They may hope to do things they cannot reasonably accomplish. There will always be mistakes along the way, and people in their lives will get hurt. That’s just what happens in life.
“Some men so needfully require complication, they find themselves defending their enemies.”
Letting go of moral perfectionism will likely help relieve some Diplomats’ self-criticism. Letting go of believing that you should accomplish impossible goals should also help. German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote, “Compassion is the basis of morality.” But this can (or perhaps must) include self-compassion. Forgiving yourself for your humanity, with all of its beautiful flaws, might be the start of a more practical moral path.
But first, catalog the things you can do and the things you can’t. Or, catalog the things you can change and the things you can’t. Maybe you can even make a list dividing intentions and aspirations into different columns that reflect how realistic they are.
Since Diplomats are too often fueled by their ideals and their imagination, learning to apply concrete, achievable goals can also help. (If this is something you’d like to work on, check out our Premium materials for resources on goal-setting and personal growth.) Setting realistic goals using a step-by-step format can help rein in thinking that may sometimes be too lofty. More manageable goals are likely to bring more success, which in turn may decrease negative self-talk.
Diplomats are more likely to accept the inherent worth of other people without question, but seeing it in themselves – maybe not always so much. Perhaps recognizing your fundamental value would help you create more self-compassion. Maybe some self-talk like, “I am a beautiful and worthy person,” or, “My flaws do not define me – but they do highlight my humanity. And that’s a good thing,” can help. Use your potent imagination to give yourself the right words and offer yourself the appreciation you’re likely to offer to others.
Sentinel (SJ) Personality Types and Being Negatively Self-Critical
Sentinel personality types: Logisticians (ISTJ), Defenders (ISFJ), Executives (ESTJ), and Consuls (ESFJ)
Sentinels value duty, loyalty, and hard work. These generally no-nonsense individuals fall lowest on our laziness scale. Such qualities almost give away the sort of things that might make Sentinels come down hard on themselves.
Sentinels are the Role most likely to say they try to avoid activities that make them feel lazy, like taking naps or binge-watching television.
Should Sentinel personality types feel they’ve failed in any one of their missions in life, they may see themselves in critical terms. They are practical people and may look for constructive things to do about their failures, making some self-criticism positive.
But, if other factors from Sentinels’ backgrounds come into play, they can quickly go to a darker place when it comes to how they see themselves. On top of all that, they are probably the Role that most resists caring for themselves when they feel stressed. Excessive stress alone can put a person in a bad mood when they look in the mirror.
Sentinels are significantly more likely than other Roles to say they rarely fail to finish what they start.
An example might be something like the fallout from an economic downturn. Sentinels typically feel strongly about contributing to their families and communities. If they cannot satisfy their sense of responsibility because of a lack of cash, they may assign blame to themselves, whether it’s their fault or not. Not doing what they think they should – and not doing their part to maintain stability – might cause Sentinels to become highly self-critical.
When Sentinels Are Hard on Themselves
Sentinels may need a reminder that they need to take care of themselves in the ways that they tend to take care of others. Too much stress can add a gray, negative tinge to everything, including how one looks at oneself. Slowing down, finding some relaxation and recreation, reading a trashy novel, and maybe even taking a hot bath and a long nap can be beneficial for those Sentinels who are feeling stress or burnout. Feeling better in a general way may help you see yourself in a better light.
“What kills us isn’t one big thing, but thousands of tiny obligations we can’t turn down for fear of disappointing others.”
Also, the blame game is usually a waste of time, particularly if the blame is inwardly directed. There’s a difference between assigning blame to oneself and talking about responsibility. The overtones that accompany blame are guilt, condemnation, and perhaps even punishment. Taking responsibility, on the other hand, speaks to a learning experience and suggests the potential for repairing a situation and then moving forward. Sentinels who find themselves being too hard on themselves may want to think about this difference.
But even a step beyond that, some Sentinels may need to change their mind-set. You may have a sense that everything is on your shoulders and that you are accountable for dealing with all the concerns that other people encounter. You may sometimes have an unrealistic sense that only you can hold everything together. Should things fall apart, that leaves only you holding the bag. Negative self-criticism is almost a natural result.
Freeing yourself from the yoke of an exaggerated sense of obligation can make negative self-reflection less likely. Remind yourself that your value does not depend on how responsible, loyal, or hardworking you are. Consider those things to be a few items on the vast menu of the value you possess and offer the world. You can be proud of what you do and yet not be entirely defined by it. Let others shoulder some of the burdens once in a while.
Explorer (SP) Personality Types and Being Negatively Self-Critical
Explorer personality types: Virtuosos (ISTP), Adventurers (ISFP), Entrepreneurs (ESTP), and Entertainers (ESFP)
Do live-in-the-moment Explorers talk down to themselves? To other personality types, they can seem so carefree and unencumbered by an overblown sense of responsibility – so what bad things could they possibly say about themselves? Explorers are the most likely personality types to describe themselves as cool and the least likely to feel anxious about the future – suggesting a feeling of being together and on top of things.
But Explorers can also be quite sensitive, especially the Feeling types among them, and they often take pride in their crafts or the work they do. Should things they feel good about fall apart, there is undoubtedly room for self-blame.
Explorers might find that they sometimes put themselves in a no-win position. On the one hand, they may embrace a kind of “you be you” philosophy. But on the other hand, they may feel bad that they are out of step with others. Some Explorers, as children, may have been frequently out of sync in school systems that were not tailored to their needs or learning style. As adults, some may continue to feel like outsiders. For those who haven’t resolved this feeling, there can be some self-blame for this continuing life experience that leads to negative self-talk: “What’s wrong with me?”
In multiple studies that address the subject of quitting, Explorers are more likely than other Roles to say they give up easily.
Explorers likely know that they may not persist as long as they should if they lose interest in an endeavor, or if it becomes too challenging. Just because they sometimes seem to change course on a dime and without much worry doesn’t mean that they don’t collect a list of how many things they fail to complete, should that be the case.
It’s likely that some Explorers see themselves as serial quitters, which often translates to “loser.” They may also note any negative reactions of people who are affected by their lack of persistence and feel some guilt. So, there may be plenty of possible things for Explorers to be hard on themselves over.
When Explorers Are Hard on Themselves
Some Explorers may need to consider how much responsibility they should take for the things that they do. But your flexible approach also has many benefits. Your think-on-your-feet style may throw people at times. You may even want to be a bit more sensitive to that.
But at the same time, this Explorer style often reveals a practical kind of genius that you should not lose because of the reactions of others. It’s all about balancing concern for others against an appreciation for your unique ways. Finding more positives to spin about your unique style can help alleviate negative, critical thoughts about yourself.
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
The American poet E.E. Cummings wrote, “To be nobody but yourself – in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” In other words, as an Explorer in all your uniqueness, you might want to commit to the Role rather than feel bad about it – if you also try to maintain some balance.
It’s probably best if, “That’s just me,” is never used as an excuse to neglect a duty or to let someone down. But, if you look at the advantages your personality brings with it, “This is who I am,” can be a compelling reason for how you approach the world and may help you put everything else in perspective. With that perspective, you are likely to maintain a more positive self-image.
And as far as being a “serial quitter” goes, make a list of the things you have accomplished in life and that you do well. Against that list, your list of unfinished projects and goals may seem a lot less important. For some people, finding a passion or a success means weeding out that which doesn’t matter in the big picture first. Label each unfinished task as an experiment that proved the task was not valuable enough to you to complete. Each time that happens, you discover more about yourself.
A Word about Assertive and Turbulent Identities
As those who are familiar with our theory know, Assertive and Turbulent Identities will align with people being hard on themselves to differing degrees. Being negatively self-critical is almost the definition of what it means to be Turbulent. Those who are Turbulent put themselves down much more than the relaxed, Assertive individuals who sometimes seem practically immune to regret.
However, that isn’t to say that Assertive people are never hard on themselves. Personality traits alone rarely have much to do with that. Upbringing and life events can very easily sway an Assertive person toward a more negative self-reflection. But as a rule, and all things being equal, the tendency will be for people with the Assertive Identity to feel better about themselves than people with the Turbulent Identity. And this reality affects all that we have discussed before this.
“You’re already stuck with yourself for a lifetime. Why not improve this relationship?”
Learning about your personality type can be treated as something fun, life enhancing, or intellectually stimulating. Any way you choose to use this information is fine. But it can also ease you into understanding yourself more deeply. Hopefully, with that deep dive into yourself comes an appreciation that with all of your strengths and all of your weaknesses, there is worth to be celebrated. We are chronically hard on ourselves when we lose sight of that worth.
We are all unique. Some, all, or none of the descriptions above may fit you exactly right. Regardless, take some time today to check in and see if you’re too tough on yourself. Then take a moment and consider all the beautiful things you bring to the world.
But, most of all, don’t beat yourself up.
What’s Next?: The Struggle of Constant Improvement
Successfully Failing and Personality Types
Why People Are Grateful for You, Based on Your Personality Type
Closing the Can of Worms: Which Personality Types Have Trouble Controlling Negative Thoughts?