Why It’s Easier to Believe Criticism About Ourselves Than Compliments

The more we care what others think of us, the harder it is to know ourselves. But self-compassion can help.

Rainesford Stauffer
Forge
Published in
6 min readMay 25, 2021

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Photo by Alex Ivashenko on Unsplash

Depending on who you listen to, I’m a “try-hard,” an imposter, no fun at parties, and could be improving at, well, just about everything, from the way I dress, to the job I do, to wrangling my eyebrows.

All of these are things that have been said about me or to me, but that isn’t the part that sent off alarm bells in my head. What struck me is how often my brain repeats these things back to itself, like it’s studying flashcards for an exam we’re likely to fail. I’m swifter to internalize the bad stuff than the good stuff; quicker to understand the negatives about me than acknowledge any positives.

I started hearing other people’s versions of this, in conversations with friends and interviews with people for my book. Why are the bad things about ourselves so much easier to believe than the good ones?

In a study published in Self and Identity, researchers wrote: “Following failure, humiliation, rejection, and other negative experiences, people often compound the negative emotions produced by the initial event by chastising and denigrating themselves, and imagining the worst…

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Rainesford Stauffer
Forge
Writer for

Author of An Ordinary Age, out 5/4/2021. Freelance writer. Kentuckian.