Hypercriticism differs from self-criticism in two dimensions: its intensity and the discomfort caused. A routine of excessive criticism in which the target is the self negatively affects key psychological vectors, such as self-efficacy.
If you’re hypercritical, you may feel or think that everything should happen in a different way, that things aren’t right, or that you should’ve done better. However, going through your life with such exacting standards can take a heavy emotional toll on you. That’s because these standards are often made up of unattainable goals.
The prestigious author of schema therapy, Jeffrey Young gives this kind of behavior a name. He calls it the schema of unrelenting standards and hypercriticalness. Before talking about this schema, we’ll outline schema therapy and explain what a schema is.
“People who are hypercritical believe they have to push themselves to meet high internal standards, which leads to feelings of pressure or difficulty slowing down.”
-Carlos Yamil Osorio-
A schema is a structured and clever package of information. It contains information related to your thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and sensations related to your body. It works automatically. In other words, it makes you act in a relatively predetermined way to save energy.
For example, imagine the effort you’d require and the degree of awareness and attention you’d need to consciously calibrate the position of your teeth, the movements of your tongue, and the moment at which you must swallow each time you take a bite of food. It’d be inefficient, and you’d lose a lot of time.
Fortunately, your mind performs many actions automatically. Moreover, it’s capable of doing this really well. That’s because it tries to maximize results with the lowest possible cost.
While there are schemas that are adaptive and guide your behavior in a healthy way, there are others that can act as handbrakes and cause you a lot of suffering. We call the latter early maladaptive schemas (EMS).
Early maladaptive schemas (EMS)
According to an investigation conducted by a psychologist, Victoria Pereira, early maladaptive schemas have their origins in childhood. More specifically, in experiences and situations of an aversive and even harmful nature. Jeffrey Young, the author of schema therapy, defines them as “counterproductive emotional and cognitive patterns that start at the beginning of our development and are repeated throughout life”.
“The hypercritical schema can present itself in the form of perfectionism, rigid rules, and the idea that more should be done or had.”
-Marco Antonio Santana-Campas-
Why do they occur?
Early maladaptive schemas occur because, in childhood, they play a role and protect the child (they’re reinforced). Let’s give an example. Say a 29-year-old adult had a childhood in which their primary figures (father, mother, or another caregiver) demanded they obtain honors in every subject at school. Therefore, if instead of honors, they got a score of nine out of ten, it was seen as wrong.
Today, for this adult, the only acceptable thing is to perform at an optimal level at all times on a daily basis. If this doesn’t happen, they view it as wrong. However, in reality, it’s impossible to give 100 percent all the time. We all make mistakes. But, faced with such errors, this particular adult is hypercritical. This schema is closely related to the construct of perfectionism.
Hypercriticism is defined as the use of severe assessments and judgments about certain behaviors, thoughts, and emotions.
The hypercritical schema
Intense hypercriticism takes three forms:
Perfectionism involves repeatedly and powerfully directing your attentional focus to detail. However, you’ll always be able to find mistakes because, as all humans, you’re beautifully imperfect. But, when you find them and severely assess them as inadequate, you end up underestimating your own performance.
These types of rules take the following form: “I should do…”, or “I have to…”. You put them into practice in a multitude of areas of your life: from your moral or ethical values to the field of your interpersonal relationships. They tend to be really restrictive. In fact, they prevent you from performing effectively. That’s because they excessively limit your field of action and compel you to behave in an excessively severe manner.
Concern related to hypercriticism can take forms such as: “I don’t have time” or “I haven’t done it well enough”. It’s related to time, but also to efficiency. If you’re hypercritical, you’ll ruminate a great deal. Rumination is defined as chains of successive thoughts, in a loop, for which there’s no apparent solution.
One way to lower the level of hypercriticism is self-compassion. It’s a capacity that you can develop. It consists of knowing how to identify your own discomfort. Based on this, you self-promote your ability to generate and experience positive emotions.
“Self-compassion is a technique with scientific evidence for people with chronic mental health problems associated with shame and self-criticism.”
-Nova Lucero Cortés-Hernández-