Self-Blame: How to Break up With Your Inner Critic

How would you feel if someone were to start verbally bashing your dearest friend: “It’s your fault, you idiot!” You’re no good and you never will be.” “I knew you couldn’t do it.” “Who do you think you ARE anyway?”

You definitely wouldn’t stand for this, would you? No. And your attitude and actions would prove it. Yet, what level of harshness do you tolerate when you are speaking to yourself? Are you your own worst critic?

The inner critic is the negative voice in your head that “smears” you. It seeks to magnify your inadequacies (real or imagined)—zooming in and fixating on microscopic flaws and faults. Although most of us are somewhat conscious of our critic’s tactics, much of its activity takes place on a subconscious level. And obviously, the voice isn’t harmless. Unchecked, it is a malicious fire-breathing dragon that judges, accuses, casts flames of doubt and seeks to reduce us to a smoldering, shameful pile of ash.

Self-Blame Description & Insight

While research confirms that women are twice more prone to belittle themselves than men, we all self-criticize to some degree. And it’s not entirely or always bad. Healthy critique is a serious examination and judgment of something within one’s control to modify. This skill helps us get real! It can motivate responsible lifestyle changes or bring a dose of humility to inflated Self-Confidence.

The danger is when we blame ourselves for failures that lie beyond our control or powers to avoid. This inner critic is associated with the attribute of “Self-Blame” and is defined by PAIRIN’s science as follows:

Self-Blame: The drive to consider oneself inferior or at fault, and thus undeserving or inadequate in relationship or work. 

People highly inclined to Self-Blame are humble and unassuming. They are quick to belittle themselves—both internally and in the eyes of others. Their self-talk often includes: “I am at fault” (guilt) or “I am faulty” (shame). While quick to accept outside criticism, they try to preempt it by: 1) Apologizing in advance to lower expectations; or 2) Staying small to avoid attention. This attribute often inhibits expression and Creativity. It is a self-defeating drive that hinders our growth. So long as we engage in undue self-blame, we’re in a double bind—both the bully and the victim.

Additionally, high Self-Blame is correlated with high Self-Restraint. And this inhibits people from expressing thoughts and feelings that would be very valuable and important for others to hear. Thus, high Self-Blame is also a thief!

Sources of Self-Blame

If you are high in Self-Blame, here are some possible contributing factors:

  • Historical Models & Messages give substance to the critical inner voice. Perhaps:
    • You had a parent who was quick to take responsibility or accept blame in all circumstances. You may have adopted this modeled approach.
    • Significant voices in your life directed harmful (restrictive, rejecting) views or words toward you that ‘stuck.’ For example: “If you were more like your sister, I wouldn’t have to be so hard on you about your grades.” You may have internalized their demeaning messages.
  • Low Self-Concept (This is comprised of self-image, -worth, -esteem, -alignment).
    • Even with healthy models and affirming messages, you may feel undesirable or incapable—that you don’t measure up “as is.” A deep sense of unworthiness can be a dark cloud that covers your true identity. Our power to attain perfection and our ability to control every outcome is limited. Do you blame yourself for falling short of an impossible standard?
    • Or, do you suffer from self-condemnation because you are unable to find forgiveness for actual wrongs from your past that were within your control?: “I hate myself. I could and should have done X, Y or Z.”  
  • Distorted Empathy (This begins as a noble motivation for compassion and the prioritization of others).
    • You see someone suffering stressful circumstances, and you internalize their pain as if it is your own, and possibly even your fault. You may go to great lengths to rescue or lift this responsibility from them. However, your perceived control of the situation, and efforts to help, may be of an extreme nature that both deplete you and possibly enable the other individual.

All of these sources, either in isolation or in combination, fuel Self-Blame.

Letting Go of Self-Blame

There are no definitive, quick and easy cures for high Self-Blame. However, it is a very common struggle and you can take steps to train yourself to combat thoughts of Self-Blame! If there are historical issues that you have not worked through, they need to be addressed. No matter how you were raised and formed by your past, you can take responsibility for finding freedom in your future. Ask for help both from experts and friends/family that you trust.

A skilled professional coach can help you to reestablish your underlying foundation—Imperatives like Emotional Self-Awareness and Self-Confidence.

1. Start by recognizing when Self-Blame is at work. Become aware of what happens internally when something negative is said or happens.

  • Do you make it about you? In your relationships with your spouse, colleagues, boss, children, family, whoever, it’s usually a statement negating YOURSELF like: “I  am not ____” (adequate, smart, good, lovely).  Stop and notice.

    2. Be active in the process of Self-Assessment. Learn to distinguish where your personal ownership does and does not lie. To accept legitimate responsibility is not the same thing as automatically assuming the blame. 

Check-in and examine your thoughts regularly to avoid counterfactual thinking.

  • My boss corrected me in our one-on-one meeting because my report lacked some key items, but it felt like he was saying I was lacking. What are the facts of the situation? 
  • Was she showing disapproval and irritation toward me or did I assume this?  Could there be another reality?

    3. Realignment. A fruitful outcome of Self-Assessment is Self-Alignment. 
  • Accept that you are created and loved perfectly just the way you are AND  that your perfection is stunningly imperfect. This is human. Allow that glorious imperfection to become an opportunity rather than an obstacle. To re-align,  shift from blame to responsibility.
  • You can only be assigned fault if you had control over the outcome. Taking responsibility means acknowledging your part in what is wrong. You are not going to get it right every time. At times, through our actions or inactions, we fail. Enter into each situation, relationship and moment with that perspective to create an opportunity for learning, introspection and, ultimately, personal development. 

    4. Work on your Self-Confidence. Get curious, connected and communicate assertively. For example
  • You or someone else makes a snide remark and you communicate in the moment. “Hey, I don’t know if I’m on to something or not, it feels like you’ve had a rough day and that came out really snarky. Are you really upset about ____ or is there something else going on?” “I’m going to give you a little down time” and then come back to it and communicate. Wait until the other person has some time to calm down from intense emotions.


In Summary

Do you resonate with the experiences of a Self-Blamer? Are you hearing that inner critic right now saying “You have high Self-Blame, and it’s your fault.” It’s a sneaky gremlin, but not all-powerful. Again, the first step in defeating it is to recognize its voice and find your own.

Start this week by having someone close to you—someone you trust and who cares for you in a healthy way—write down what they value about you. Next, do the same thing for yourself and have your friend review and give input to your list. Finally, when that condemning inner critic starts to speak, go to those lists and recite and hear them as fact. These two voices will soon begin to sound quite different. Listen. The voice of acceptance, love and truth is THE voice that has defeated, and will always be the victor over Self-Blame.

Hopefully, these strategies will encourage you to lean into the battle, and confidently say “I’m high in Self-Blame but my time has come to replace the fault-finder with freedom.”