Viewing entries tagged

Romantic Relationships: What’s self-esteem got to do with it?

Romantic Relationships: What’s self-esteem got to do with it?

blog pic 1.jpg

When seeking a romantic relationship, we are often encouraged to focus on what we’re looking for in a partner. Do they need to be funny? Kind? Tall? Smart? Are we hoping they’re going to be older, younger, of similar or different backgrounds? Do they have similar life aspirations? Of course, it is helpful to use our values to guide whether we may connect well with a potential partner; however, this mindset often shines the light on the partner’s qualities or values, and shines the light away from what we bring into a relationship. We each not only bring our own special quirks, we also bring in more significant characteristics like our core beliefs (see Maeve’s blog), attachment styles (see Simcha’s blog), and self-esteem. All of these can relate to how we perceive and experience our relationships, and thus it is crucial that we better understand how these impact our view of our partner and relationship in order to make choices that best serve our well-being.

Self-esteem has been shown to relate to relationship satisfaction in both the short- and long-term (Sciangula & Morry, 2009; Orth et al., 2012; Enrol & Orth, 2013). Essentially, what this means is that how we feel about ourselves impacts how we feel about our partners and our relationships. This dynamic can play out in a number of ways, so let’s consider a few examples:

Example 1:

Max, who has high self-esteem, begins dating another individual. Max soon begins to feel that his new partner does not prioritize his needs or make efforts to connect with him, so he may choose to not continue in the relationship because he recognizes his own self-worth and understand that this new partner is not valuing him appropriately.

Example 2:

Olivia, who has lower self-esteem, begins dating someone who does not make time for her or consider her thoughts and feelings. Olivia, however, assumes that she is the problem, that she is not ‘good enough’ and that it makes sense that her new partner is not valuing her as a result. Olivia then chooses to stay in the relationship even though her partner is not behaving in a way that indicates a healthy long term relationship.

Example 3:

Olivia, who has lower self-esteem, begins a relationship with someone who treats her well. At first, she finds this experience positive and enjoyable. However, as time goes on, she begins to grow concerned that there must be something wrong with her partner if they are interested in her. She doubts that she would interest someone who is kind and respectful. So, she begins to look for flaws in her partner and their relationship in order to make sense of the situation. This tendency puts strain on the relationship, creating distance and disconnection in an otherwise healthy and respectful relationship. 

Example 4: Max, with high self-esteem, finds himself in a positive and caring relationship. He trusts that this makes sense and is in line with what he deserves, and thus he is able to allow himself to enjoy the relationship and be vulnerable with his new partner.

As you can see, our self-esteem can serve as the lens through which we view our partner. When we struggle with low self-esteem, we may be more likely to seek relationships that do not promote mutual respect and care. We may also be likely to reject relationships that are in fact healthy (Murray et al., 2001)! So, what can we do about this dynamic?

Step 1: Notice the lens!

In order to make a change, we must first notice that we are projecting our own self-worth onto how we see the relationship. Once we do that, we can then begin to figure out what we can do differently to take care of our needs rather than settle in or change the relationship.

Step 2: Work to improve self-esteem.

Aim to increase self-esteem in order to address the underlying cause. Self-esteem can be modified in a number of ways, including:

  • Recognizing the ‘inner critic’ (see Lisa’s blog) and learning to notice and challenge or let go of these unhelpful thoughts
  • Treat yourself as you would a good friend, imagine speaking to yourself gently and with respect and care (see Andrea’s blog on self-compassion)
  • Work toward personal goals that align with your values
    • By taking actions to help us move towards the things that we care about, we can begin to feel good about the choices we’re making and the impact it’s having 
  • Challenge your beliefs about your self-worth (see Maeve’s blog)
  • Explore a book (Schiraldi, 2016) that provides step by step exercises to work directly on self-esteem
Blog pic 2.jpg

Tobey Mandel is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.


Sciangula, A. & Morry, M. M. (2009). Self-esteem and perceived regard: How I see myself affects my relationship satisfaction. The Journal of Social Psychology, 149, 143-159.

Erol, Y. & Orth, U. (2013). Actor and partner effects of self-esteem on relationship satisfaction and the mediating role of secure attachment between the partners. Journal of Research in Personality, 47, 26-35.

Orth, U., Robins, R. W., & Widaman, K. F. (2012). Life-span development of selfesteem and its effects on important life outcomes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 1271–1288.

Murray, S. L, Holmes, J. G., Griffin, D. W., …, Rose, P. (2001). The mismeasure of love: How self-doubt contaminates relationship beliefs. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 423-436.

Schiraldi, G. R. (2016). The Self-Esteem Workbook: 2nd Edition. New Harbinger Publications.

Bye-Bye Self-Critical Voice; Hello Caring and Helpful Voice! PART 2

Bye-Bye Self-Critical Voice; Hello Caring and Helpful Voice! PART 2

Hello again! This is Part 2 of my post on the self-critical voice. You can find Part 1 here, where you’ll find tips 1 – 3. In these posts I talk about why our self-critic is not helpful, and the difficult challenge of conquering our self-critical voice. My hope is that you’ll have many tools for your toolbox to assist you in overcoming that stubborn self-critic. Check out my tips below!

4. Develop a guiding voice that is effective and that will actually help you reach your goals.

I’m not recommending that conquer your self-critical voice just because I want you to be nicer to yourself, but I also want to help you be more effective in reaching your goals. We know that harsh criticism is not effective. How would you ideally talk to someone you’re genuinely trying to help, like a child in your care, someone you’re tutoring, or someone you’re coaching? We probably wouldn’t want to talk to them like we talk to ourselves (“You’re such a idiot”, etc.), and moreover we know that shaming doesn’t work. For example, a survey demonstrated that anti-obesity campaigns with “blaming” messages are perceived as less motivating than ones with more neutral messages or ones that don’t mention obesity or weight at all (1). 

Additionally, there is plenty of research that shows that we are more likely to achieve goals that are based on internal vs. external motivations (2, 3).  We are externally motivated when we do something to satisfy an external demand or obtain a reward, like when we do a job we dislike but we do it anyways because it pays well. Internal motivation is when we are motivated to do things because they are in line with our personal values, or simply because they’re inherently enjoyable. For example, we volunteer to pick up garbage in a local park because we care about the environment, or we spend an evening watching our favourite TV show because it’s pleasurable. When we do things based on our self-critical voice, on the other hand, it’s often to reduce guilt, anxiety, or fear, and to boost our self-esteem. So although it is internal to us, it is experienced as controlling, and not as autonomous as when we’re doing something because it’s in line with our values or because we enjoy it. As my colleague Jodie says in her blog post about weight loss, to succeed at your goals, find your internal motivation: Ten Things I Tell My Clients about Weight Loss with Compassion and Hope. For more on motivation, check out my colleague Michelle’s blog post: You Can't Save The Damsel If She Loves Her Distress: Understanding Self-Motivation.


5. Develop an accurate assessment of yourself.

The workbook called, The Self-Esteem Companion: Simple Exercises to Help You Challenge Your Inner Critic and Celebrate Your Personal Strengths (4) has some excellent exercises for developing an accurate assessment of ourselves. In one exercise, the authors suggest that you list as many positive qualities about yourself as you can and 3 concrete examples for each of those positive qualities. This allows for what the authors refer to as “active integration” – transforming positive qualities from a bunch of words into specific memories. For example, let’s say you listed “a good friend” as one of your positive qualities. Three concrete examples might be: 1) That time I helped my friend Kate move when the people she hired bailed on her, 2) That time I stayed up until 3am talking with my friend on the phone after he got fired from his job, and 3) That time I organized a surprise birthday party for my friend Simone.

The authors also have a section on “Getting Rid of the Kickers”; in other words, getting rid of those extreme and harsh judgments such as, “You’re such a loser” and “You’re so lazy.” After you identify your kickers, try challenging these thoughts and coming up with a more balanced and accurate self-assessment. Ask yourself, what is my evidence that this thought is true? What would it take for me to call someone else a loser? What qualities would they need to have and do I have those qualities? Am I overly focusing on the negative? Am I generalizing from one negative trait to my whole self, or from one negative experience to my whole life? An excellent outline and guide for identifying our unhelpful thoughts can be found here: Unhelpful Thinking Styles, and for challenging our thoughts can be found here: Realistic Thinking.

6. Develop Self-Compassion

When we practice self-compassion, we take on an attitude of kindness and nonjudgmental understanding towards ourselves and our perceived flaws and failures, similar to the sort of attitude we might have towards a close friend or family member who is experiencing difficulties (5). Additionally, self-compassion promotes feelings of interconnectedness through the recognition that suffering is a common human experience (5). It’s also important to note that although self-esteem and self-compassion overlap, self-esteem constitutes evaluation of the self (How good am I?) and comparisons to others (Am I better than them?), whereas self-compassion is non-evaluative and promotes interconnectedness (5). In this way, self-compassion is a more sustainable and healthy form of self-worth than self-esteem, which tends to be based on being better than others. For some great tips on dealing with that unhelpful tendency we have to compare ourselves to others, check out my colleague Simcha’s blog post, It’s All Relative: What Are Social Comparisons And How Do They Affect Us?

Many of us have trouble with the idea of self-compassion because it feels like self-pity. However, an important part of self-compassion is mindfully observing our thoughts and feelings without judgment, seeing them for what they are – experiences that aren’t necessarily rooted in truth and that we don’t necessarily have to act on (6). In this way, self-compassion prevents us from indulging negative thoughts and feelings that are not helpful and perhaps not based in facts.

So how can we increase self-compassion? By reducing our self-critical voice and countering it with a more kind, helpful voice, we’ll be on our way to increasing self-compassion. Mindfulness is another important aspect of self-compassion. As I mentioned above, mindfulness let’s us hold our thoughts and feeling with non-judgemental awareness, allowing us to see them for what they are. For more on mindfulness, check out my colleague Natsumi’s post, Mindfulness: An Introductory Guide

Self-compassion meditations are also a great way to practice self-compassion, as they help us foster the emotional experience of self-compassion. You can give one a try here. For more on self-compassion, Kristen Neff, a psychology professor and researcher, and leading expert in self-compassion, has a ton of resources on her website, and my colleague Andrea wrote a touching and helpful blog post called “Why Self-Compassion”.

7. Mindset about Mistakes

Self-criticism often comes about from mistakes or perceived failures. For example, we get a question wrong on a test or arrive late for a meeting, and deep shame may set in along with some harsh diatribe like, “What is wrong with you? You should know better.” The thing is, mistakes are a part of life and learning and growing. We ALL make mistakes, and we will continue to make mistakes. Instead of going down that deep shame spiral, explore your mistakes with curiosity, be mindful of your thoughts and feelings, and learn from the mistakes. We know that people who tend to succeed, who do well in school or at their jobs, aren’t those with the highest IQ, but those with grit and perseverance (7), and those with a “growth” mindset (8). People with a growth mindset see intelligence as something that can be developed through their effort, dedication, and learning. On the other hand, people with a “fixed” mindset believe that they can’t really change their intelligence, so a mistake feels very threatening, and they are more concerned with proving they’re smart or hiding that they’re not. For more on grit and growth mindset check out these awesome TED talks, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, and The Power of Believing that You Can Improve; and my colleague Andrea’s blog post, Helping Versus Hovering Part 2: How Can We Avoid Over Parenting?


I hope reading this post and trying out some of these tips has given you some ideas on how to conquer your self-critic. If it seems impossible, don’t fret! Like most things, it takes a lot of practice. And in any case, trying to conquer your self-critic and having difficulty doing so is a good opportunity to be understanding and patient with yourselves. Or, perhaps remind yourself of this quote from Tracee Ellis Ross, “I am learning every day to allow the space between where I am and where I want to be to inspire me and not terrify me.”

Thanks for checking out this post, and if you liked it you can check out more here.

Lisa Linardatos is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


1) Puhl, R., Peterson, J. L., & Luedicke, J. (2013). Fighting obesity or obese persons? Public perceptions of obesity-related health messages. International Journal of Obesity, 37(6), 774-782.

2) Koestner, R. (2008). Reaching One’s Personal Goals: A Motivational Perspective Focused on Autonomy. Canadian Psychology, 49(1), 60-67. 

3) Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary educational psychology, 25(1), 54-67.

4) McKay, M., Fanning, P., Honeychurch, C., & Sutker, C. (2005). The Self-Esteem Companion: Simple Exercises to Help You Challenge Your Inner Critic and Celebrate Your Personal Strengths. New Harbinger Publications.

5) Neff, K. D. (2003a).  Development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self and Identity, 2, 223-250.

6) Neff, K. (2011). Self-compassion. HarperCollins.

7) Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of personality and social psychology, 92(6), 1087.

8) Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S. (1998). Praise for intelligence can undermine children's motivation and performance. Journal of personality and social psychology, 75(1), 33.

Bye-Bye Self-Critical Voice; Hello Caring and Helpful Voice!

Bye-Bye Self-Critical Voice; Hello Caring and Helpful Voice!

I notice self-criticism the most when it comes from people close to me. A friend or colleague may off-handedly say, “I suck” or “I look terrible today”. When I hear this I have the impression that there’s an invisible bully beside them saying mean things to them, and all I want is to punch that bully in the face, and say “Don’t be mean to my friend!” Yet, I know I am often doing the same thing to myself. But it’s different when it comes to ourselves, right? This criticism is somehow justified when directed at our own self, because we believe we deserve it and it’s the right thing to do. In this blog post, I want to explore why that may not be true, and how to replace our self-critical voice with the voice of a helpful, caring friend, with the hopes that this “friend” will be with you for the rest of your life!

First, a bit about where our self-critic comes from. Maybe we learned it from people around us while we were growing up. Maybe mom often looked in the mirror and said things like, “Boy, do I ever look fat today!”, and without even realizing it we developed similar habits, assuming that this is a normal way to talk to ourselves. Or, maybe a parent, sibling, caregiver, or coach often spoke down to us or criticized us: “Maybe you’d get better grades if you weren’t so lazy.”, “There are only winners or losers.”, “Maybe you’d have an easier time at school if you lost a few pounds.” Although sometimes well intentioned, these messages can imply that there’s something wrong with us, that we’re fundamentally bad, that our worth is conditional on achieving things, etc. Unfortunately, we often end up internalizing these messages, making them our own and assuming them to be true.

It’s also very possible that we learned talk to ourselves in an overly critical way via messages we got from various societal, cultural, or spiritual norms and traditions. In a podcast episode on the Lively Show, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about how in many traditions, suffering is a badge of honour and how “self-hatred is the only socially acceptable way that you’re allowed to think about yourself all the time.” Similarly, Maria Popova of Brainpickings talks about “our culture’s epidemic of self-criticism” in her blog post, The Difficult Art of Self-Compassion. We can all probably think of cultural and religious traditions that have encouraged us to evaluate of our worth and ourselves harshly. Our self-critical voice likely arose from a combination of these sources – family, friends, societal messages, etc. So what can we do about it? Check out my tips below! In this post I will discuss getting to know your self-critical voice and why it exists, and in Part 2 I’ll talk more about how to conquer that critic and develop a healthy alternative.

1. Get to know your self-critical voice.

First, knowledge is power. You may think you know your self-critical voice, but I would bet you probably aren’t fully aware of how often it’s popping up in your mind, and the effect it’s having on your goals and self-worth. Your self-critical voice may come in short phrases (“Stupid!”), long rants, or even mental images. Challenge yourself to spend one day writing down all your self-critical thoughts or images. Take a mindful approach and notice and describe these thoughts without judgment. This will be difficult, as your self-critical voice is very compelling and often seems to be reciting obvious facts. You must therefore be the best detective you can be. You might even put a little reminder/alarm in your phone so it beeps or buzzes every few hours, reminding you to check in and take note of your self-critical voice.

Make sure to write down your self-critical thoughts. Writing them down helps you clarify them, helps you really get in touch with how illogical they are, and holds you accountable to them. SO GET OUT THAT NOTEBOOK!

Once you’ve collected some data, pour yourself a soothing beverage, and perhaps with the support of a good friend (or a psychologist!), do some digging and analyzing. What subjects, themes, and patterns do you notice? Does your self-critical voice have some favourite topics? Maybe it’s body image, your abilities as a parent, how you compare to your friends, or your skills at work or school? Knowing the themes will allow you to know your triggers and most effectively target the areas needed.

2. Get to know why your critic is hanging around.

Chances are, your self-critic is trying to help you and protect you. By understanding its function, you’ll be able to develop another voice or tool that also serves that function, but in a more healthy way.

Some possible motivations for your self-critic, taken directly from, The Self-Esteem Companion: Simple Exercises to Help You Challenge Your Inner Critic and Celebrate Your Personal Strengths (McKay, Fanning, Honeychurch, & Sutker, 2005, p. 34) include:

  • My critic tries to enforce the rules I grew up with because that’s all it knows.
  • My critic compares me to others because – once in a great while – I get to feel superior to somebody.
  • My critic is believable because it sounds like my parents, and I always believed them.
  • My critic expects perfection because if I could just do everything right, I might feel okay about myself.
  • My critic says I’m incompetent to keep me from trying – that way I won’t have to feel bad about failing.
  • My critic tells me people won’t like me so I won’t be so surprised and hurt when they reject me.
  • My critic predicts the worst so I’ll be prepared for it.
  • My critic tortures me so I can atone for my past mistakes.

And one that I added:

  • My critic wants me to be perfect so people won’t have any reason to dislike me and I won’t be alone.

3. Identify how it’s getting in the way.

Although as I mentioned above, your self-critic may be trying to help or protect you, I can almost guarantee it’s not actually conducive to the good life you want to live. Here are some ways your self-critical voice may be preventing you from being your best self (1):

  • My self-critical voice prevents me from achieving what is important to me.
  • My self-critical voice makes me overly defensive.
  • My self-critical voice makes me critical of others because I’m desperate to boost my self-esteem.
  • My self-critical voice puts me in a bad mood.
  • My self-critical voice causes me to feel really bad and I often turn to friends to make myself feel better, which puts a strain on our relationship.
  • My self-critical voice makes it difficult for me to be vulnerable, and so I avoid close relationships.
  • My self-critical voice makes me feel deep shame when I make even small mistakes, and as a result I spend more time beating myself up for the mistakes than actually learning from them.

By identifying how your self-critical voice is getting in the way for you, how it’s conflicting with your values and who you want to be, you’ll build up strength in your fight against it. It’s one thing for a friend or psychologist to tell you to stop being so hard on yourself, but it’s another thing to really get in touch with how it’s not working for you. Check out this inspiring article for more on this topic: How a Triathlon Helped America Ferrera Defy Her Inner Critic. As described in this article, Emmy award winner America Ferrera wasn’t able to get rid of her self-critical voice until she realized it was getting in the way of something she really wanted to do – running a triathlon.

Also, it’s helpful to remind ourselves that we’re not doing anyone, including ourselves, any favours by being overly self-critical. You may have been taught that it’s the honourable thing to do, but it’s ineffective (more about its ineffectiveness in Part 2 of this blog post!) and you would likely be a nicer person in general if you were nicer to yourself. As clinical psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach eloquently stated, “Once we have held ourselves with kindness, we can touch others in a vital and healing way.” 

I hope you’ve learned a bit about your self-critical voice by reading this post! Stay tuned for Part 2 of this journey for more tools and techniques on conquering your critic!

Lisa Linardatos is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


1) McKay, M., Fanning, P., Honeychurch, C., & Sutker, C. (2005). The Self-Esteem Companion: Simple Exercises to Help You Challenge Your Inner Critic and Celebrate Your Personal Strengths. New Harbinger Publications.