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The Tale of the Overwhelmed Sapling: Rethinking Self-Criticism

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In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to retrain ourselves on how to overcome self-criticism, how to love ourselves and how to live authentically, but this world isn’t meant for perfection…

Do you often find yourself bogged down by self-criticism, feeling like no matter how hard you work, it’s never quite enough?

If you’re constantly measuring your progress against others and beating yourself up for not being further along, you’re not alone…

This harsh inner dialogue can lead to stress, burnout, and a sense of never being satisfied with your achievements, trapping you in a cycle of negativity that blocks both personal and professional growth.

If you’ve ever felt the consequences of self-criticism, then here's a story that might help you see things from a different perspective…

I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent. They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line. Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be. -Kristen Neff

Dangerous Territory

Once upon a time in a lush, vibrant forest, there was a young sapling…

Surrounded by towering, majestic trees, the sapling admired their grandeur and dreamed of the day it would stand as tall and proud as its elders.


Fueled by the desire to match the older trees, the sapling began to criticize itself whenever it noticed its branches weren't as wide or its leaves not as lush.

This self-criticism became the sapling's constant companion, whispering that it wasn't growing fast enough or well enough.

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment. -Ralph Waldo Emerson


The sapling, driven by a harsh inner voice, pushed itself relentlessly…

It strained to stretch its branches higher and spread its roots deeper, all in an effort to accelerate its growth.

But instead of thriving, the sapling began to lose strength…

The stress from constant self-criticism made it vulnerable.

Its leaves turned brittle in the harsh wind, and its thin branches trembled under the weight of its aspirations.

Over time, the sapling's growth became stunted.

And in its quest to be like the other trees, it had ignored its own pace and nature, leading to exhaustion and stagnation.

Talk to yourself as you would someone you love. -Brene Brown

A New Perspective

This story of the sapling serves as a powerful metaphor for the dangers of self-criticism.

Like the sapling, many of us harshly judge ourselves against the success of others…

Pushing relentlessly to meet unrealistic expectations without regard to our well-being.

This is why you need to cultivate a healthier motivation strategy.

A strategy that doesn’t lead to stress, frustration, overwhelm, and fear of failure as it happens with self-criticism.

If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete. -Jack Kornfield

Here are a few tips for developing this healthier strategy:

1 - Acknowledge Your Unique Growth Path

  • Just as every tree in the forest grows at its own pace and style, understand that your path to success is yours alone. 
  • Appreciate your progress without comparing it to others.

2 - Nurture with Positive Reinforcement

  • Instead of driving yourself with criticism, encourage yourself with affirmations and celebrate every small achievement on your journey. 
  • This positive reinforcement encourages sustainable growth.

3 - Set Realistic Goals

  • Ensure your goals are challenging yet achievable. 
  • Setting incremental objectives that you can realistically meet helps build confidence and reduces the likelihood of stress.

4 - Learn to Rest, Not Quit

  • Understand the importance of rest and recovery in your growth process, much like a sapling needs periods of dormancy to thrive. 
  • Allowing yourself time to rejuvenate prevents burnout.

5 - Seek Constructive Feedback

  • Instead of isolating yourself in self-criticism, open yourself up to feedback from trusted mentors or peers. 
  • Constructive feedback can provide new perspectives and support that self-criticism cannot.

You’ve been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens. -Louise L. Hay

The tale of the overwhelmed sapling is a reminder that while self-criticism can sometimes spur short-term growth, it is a detrimental strategy for long-term success and well-being.

By replacing self-criticism with more supportive and nurturing motivation strategies, you stand a better chance of thriving and reaching your full potential in both life and entrepreneurship.

Remember, true growth is a journey that flourishes with encouragement and patience, not with harshness and haste.

Self-care is not selfish or self-indulgent. We cannot nurture others from a dry well. We need to take care of our own needs first, so that we can give from our surplus, our abundance. When we nurture others from a place of fullness, we feel renewed instead of taken advantage of. -Jennifer Louden

Conclusion: Give Yourself Permission to Thrive

We can only give others what we have.

So what’s in your cup?

Is it filled with criticism, guilt, and shame?

Or brimming with encouragement, empowerment, and self-approval?

Because those are the very things that you’ll be sharing with everyone around you.

And how you impact others will ultimately boomerang back to you.

Consider what kind of world you’d like to create for yourself as well as those you care for, and whether the example you’re setting is one you hope others will follow, remembering that you are the creator of your destiny.

We do what we know how to do and the longer we do it, the better we get at it.

So we’ll keep doing it for as long as it serves something within us.

But what if we choose to serve something unique in ourselves, something other than the conditioning we’ve experienced for most of our lives…

By placing the focus on self-appreciation rather than self-critique we open the floodgates for more of the same to enter our lives.

Be selective with your inner dialogue as you become what you think about, therefore start thinking about what supports you in achieving your desired outcomes.

This will require one simple action on your part… 

To change one thought habit at a time as soon as you feel your inner critic raising its voice, by acknowledging the idea, turning down the volume, and replacing that voice with your own supportive narrative.

Make Your Voice Heard

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Frequently Asked Questions About Self-Criticism

Has your Mind ever wondered…

Is self-criticism a coping mechanism?

There’s a major difference between critical thinking and being critical of yourself.

Where critical thinking can help you identify something you could be doing better and support you in avoiding unnecessary future mistakes, self-criticism can be destructive.

When it’s easier for you to criticize yourself than it is to praise yourself, you may have an unhealthy pattern that negatively impacts your mental health and thus, your relationships.

Replacing the habit of self-critique with the habit of acknowledging your unique path, nurturing yourself with positive reinforcement, setting reasonable goals, practicing self-care, and engaging for constructive feedack you’re essentially transforming that pattern for the better. 

What is the root cause of self-criticism?

At the core of being a self-critic is fear.

This fear could stem from the desire for approval or perfectionism.

Childhood trauma, emotional abuse, bullying, and prejudice of gender, age, and pretty much anything that makes someone stand out, are also factors that exacerbate the root cause of self-critical behavior.

In cases where self-criticism is a trauma response, someone may feel fundamentally flawed, unlovable, unworthy, and withdrawn due to the adverse core beliefs they hold about who they are.

Many people who are overly critical of themselves experience impostor syndrome, making life harder than it needs to be.

When you’re unable to accept your perceived imperfections, you can’t see yourself clearly and you tend to judge yourself harshly which, if prolonged, can result in states of depression and anxiety with a subsequent downward spiral into chronic unhappiness.

How to turn self-criticism into a strength?

You can start using what is already there by changing the language in your inner dialogue.

By taking ownership of your life and what you’re creating, you can choose the narrative that serves your desires.

Choose to replace self-criticism with self-compassion, and choose to live on purpose rather than by default knowing that you’re the one in the driver’s seat.

Rather than spend another moment within the limitations of what you fear may be unachievable, embrace self-acceptance because happiness is a choice, and one you don’t need anyone else’s approval, blessing, or permission for.

Readers' Reviews

Rated 4.8 out of 5
4.8 out of 5 stars (based on 13 reviews)
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Avatar for Antonio

Yo soy lo más importante [Translated from Spanish: I am the most important thing]

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Las cosas buenas llegarán, tomar las cosas con claridad

[Translated from Spanish: Good things will come, take things clearly]

Avatar for Jaden

Super helpful!

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I definitely needed to hear this. Very healing!

Avatar for Dinoraht

La autocrítica [Translated from Spanish: self-criticism]

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Yo, pocas veces me hago autocrítica, pero si me molesta que me critiquen cuando no son constructiva, Por considerar que uno da de su lo mejor a diario en mi caso, complazco a mi familia, pero en el momento que voy a decirme a mi, empieza el inconformismo y por ende la crítica y se olvida que existe la individualidad que se debe respetar

[Translated from Spanish: I rarely engage in self-criticism, but it does bother me when people criticize me when they are not constructive. Considering that one gives their best every day, in my case, I please my family, but when I am going to tell myself , nonconformism and therefore criticism begins and we forget that individuality exists that must be respected]

Avatar for Lekan

This is the best thing I will ever hear from anyone today I really needed this

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Excellent article I’m going to utilize this knowledge and share it with others in my circle that need it.

Avatar for Nguettia Kouassi
Nguettia Kouassi

Très très enrichissant cet article ! [Translated from French: This article is very, very enriching!]

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Les mots me manquent pour pouvoir exprimer combien de fois cet article est utile pour moi. Vous êtes une source d'inspiration et de connaissance. Merci beaucoup le partage !

[Translated from French: Words fail me to be able to express how many times this article is useful to me. You are a source of inspiration and knowledge. Thank you very much for sharing!]

Avatar for Miguel Antonio rustand
Miguel Antonio rustand

Me gustó mucho este artículo [Translated from Spanish: I really liked this article]

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En verdad es muy bueno y quiero sacarle provecho a esto me siento muy agradecido

[Translated from Spanish: It's really very good and I want to take advantage of this, I feel very grateful]

Avatar for Rosa Rodriguez
Rosa Rodriguez

It is very important to our lives

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Everyone grows in a different way and rhythm, the inner dialogue marks this progress, self criticism can be dangerous, be careful. Thank you for this lesson - it is very important.

Avatar for Margaret

Mul on julgust mitte olla nii enesekriitiline [Translated from Estonian: I have the courage not to be so self-critical]

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Artikkel oli huvitav selle poolest, et mul on osaliselt see läbitud 🙂 Sain sellega vaid kinnitust, et olen teinud siiani kõik õigesti.

Mulle meeldis ütlus: Me peame kõigepealt hoolitsema oma vajaduste eest, et saaksime anda oma ülejäägist, oma küllusest. Hakkasin sarnaselt mõtlema aastaid tagasi ja see muutis ka minu elu. Andis mulle rohkem enesekindlust, ka meelerahu ja stressivabadust. Ka minu pere ei võta minu tegemisi enam enesestmõistetavalt , vaid suhtub paljudesse asjadesse minu suhtes respektiga.

[Translated from Estonian: The article was interesting in that I have partially completed it 🙂 It just confirmed that I have done everything right so far.

I liked the saying: We must first take care of our needs so that we can give from our surplus, from our abundance. I started thinking like that years ago and it changed my life too. Gave me more confidence, also peace of mind and freedom from stress. My family also no longer takes my actions for granted, but treats many things with respect towards me.]

Avatar for Ivonne Baker
Ivonne Baker

Agradecida [Translated from Spanish: Grateful]

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Muchas gracias por compartirnos esta informacion valiosa, Sin a cambio de nada entienden que la inteligencia emocional es primordial para tener clientes exitosos y prosperos ???? Son muy inteligentes se agradece por la ayuda, Saludos desde Chile.

[Translated from Spanish: Thank you very much for sharing this valuable information with us. Without an exchange for anything, you understand that emotional intelligence is essential to have successful and prosperous clients. They are very intelligent, thank you for the help. Greetings from Chile.]

Avatar for Vir

Ser tú mismo en un mundo que constantemente intenta convertirte en otra cosa es el mayor logro [Translated from Spansh: Being yourself in a world that constantly tries to turn you into something else is the greatest achievement]

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La importancia de cambiar el diálogo interno cuando es negativo por uno positivo. La importancia de aceptar nuestras imperfecciones y enfocarnosen lo importante.. Que importante es ser tu mismo/a sin depender de la aprobación de fuera. Es cierto que parece sencillo pero para ello hay que hacer un trabajo interno cada día. Muchas gracias por estas aportaciones de tanto valor, tenéis unos contenidos realmente valiosos. Un saludo.

[Translated from Spanish: The importance of changing internal dialogue when it is negative for a positive one. The importance of accepting our imperfections and focusing on what is important... How important it is to be yourself without depending on outside approval. It is true that it seems simple but to do this you have to do internal work every day. Thank you very much for these valuable contributions, you have some really valuable content. All the best.]

Avatar for Kelly R Zertuche
Kelly R Zertuche

Excellent article - knowledge we all need

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Excellent article I’m going to utilize this knowledge and share it with others in my circle that need it.

Avatar for Paola

Una verdad [Translated from Spanish: A truth]

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Exactamente por eso estoy pasando, y Leo este texto y ha sido de gran ayuda. Gracias

[Translated from Spanish: That's exactly what I'm going through, and I read this text and it has been a great help. Thank you]

Avatar for Carmallita Weir
Carmallita Weir

A Real Eyeopener!!

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I must say this is the most amazing article I’ve ever read! Short but powerful. It’s all what I needed to read and something to read again and again to remind myself. Self-help books are too long and have too many things to remember.

I now understand self-critical is so dangerous that it certainly prevents me from having a happy life! I love the story of the sapling. True it’s sad, but it’s a real eye opener for me because it helps me truly realize how much self-criticism I’ve done on myself for years has destroyed me. It’s time for self-appreciation!! And I shall start today, right now!

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