The Challenge: Self-criticism lowers self-esteem and diminishes success.
The Science: Women are more judgmental about their looks, mistakes, and relationships than men.
The Solution: Here’s how to get rid of “The Bitch” in your head.
After spending years researching my new book, The Bitch in Your Head: How to Finally Squash Your Inner Critic, I found out what every woman instinctively knows: women are more self-critical than men. For example, how many men do you know who say, “I feel so guilty spending all that time away from the kids, playing golf and tennis on weekends!” And can you imagine many men dismissing a compliment about their latest success by shrugging their shoulders, shaking their heads, and dismissively saying, “Oh, I was just lucky.”
Mirror Mirror On The Wall
Dr. Rita Freedman, psychologist and author of two books on body image, including Body Love, reports research showing that men and women look in the mirror in very different ways. Even beautiful women focus on what they don’t like. Maybe all they can see are crow’s feet or a bulge in their hips. Now imagine a man with a giant beer belly. What do you think he sees? Like most men, he will probably focus on what he likes. “My eyes still sparkle… I can still pop an arm muscle,” he will think, walking away from the mirror, feeling pretty good about himself.
Why does this huge difference exist, even in young women who have taken Women’s Studies and know how destructive and sexist it is? There is a huge beauty/fashion/media business that would collapse if we all decided we look fine, just as we are. So they present us with anorexic, professionally made-up, airbrushed role models. For example, the first over-sixty cover girl for Vanity Fair was an impossibly beautiful man, Caitlin Jenner!
Mistakes and Failure
When I was in graduate school, I read research that said that women blame themselves for mistakes and failures, while men tend to blame the situation or someone else. Many of the new books about business report that this difference is still alive and well. Fearing failure and self-blame, women tend to be more afraid to seek promotions and raises than men.
But that “Bitch” in their heads stirs up unfounded insecurities. The American Psychological Association published a huge five-year study (1) of twenty-five hundred managers in four hundred organizations in nineteen states that found women are perceived by both male and female co-workers as being better managers than men!
Tend and Befriend
Everyone has heard of the fight or flight syndrome: in the face of danger and stress, people either fight or run away from it. Ever since cavemen encountered saber tooth tigers, they have been programmed this way, and psychologists assumed women did the same – until they actually did the studies and found that females do the opposite. The American Psychological Association reports (2) that women “tend and befriend” – tend to the kids and make sure they are okay, and then gather friends for safety in numbers. While the men were fighting the saber tooth tiger or running away, women’s instincts told them to stay back in the cave, taking care of each other and the kids.
So, women have a deeply rooted need to care more about relationships because their instincts tell them there is safety in friendship and numbers. The good news is that it makes us better managers. The bad news is that it makes us more insecure and afraid to do anything to jeopardize our relationships.
So Should Women Become More Like Men?
No, they should just stop being so self-critical and get rid of “The Bitch” in their heads.
- Act Like Your Own Best Friend.
Make a pact with yourself: that you will never say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to your child or your friend. Somehow, we know that insulting and criticizing someone we love would be demoralizing and depressing. So why would we do that to ourselves? Constructive criticism finds positive ways to solve problems and encourages follow-through. Destructive, “Bitchy” criticism keeps us wallowing in self-doubt and misery. So, vow to become your own best friend, positive coach, and encouraging parent.
- Absorb the truth: The Saber Tooth Tiger Won’t Eat You Even If You Don’t Please Everyone.
Mistakes, crow’s feet, bulges, and failures are normal. Adopt a positive attitude that lets you acknowledge your mistakes while trying to learn from them and make amends. No more wallowing in fear or shame. Everyone isn’t going to like you, and you won’t like everything about yourself, but it’s important to adopt a positive attitude that lets you enjoy and appreciate who you are while working to improve.
- Go on a Bitch Hunt.
Become aware of the ways you insult yourself. For example, I am trying to learn about social media, and it does NOT come easily. When I hear myself saying, “You are so stupid!” I changed it to, “I am untrained and in the process of learning.” The acid test is that you should only offer criticism to yourself in the positive terms you would use to motivate your child or a friend. And speaking of friends, it is often easier to recognize The Bitch in someone else’s head than your own. So Bitch hunt with your buddies – it can be fun and life-changing.