Criticizing and Reassuring Oneself

An Exploration of Forms, Styles and Reasons in Female Students

Published in: British Journal of Clinical Psychology, v. 43, no. 1, Mar. 2004, p. 31-50

by Paul Gilbert, M. Clarke, Susanne Hempel, Jeremy N. V. Miles, Chris Irons

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OBJECTIVES: Self-critical people, compared with those who self-reassure, are at increased risk of psychopathology. However, there has been little work on the different forms and functions of these self-experiences. This study developed two self-report scales to measure forms and functions of self-criticism and self-reassurance and explore their relationship to depression. METHODS: A self-report scale measuring forms of self-criticism and self-reassuring, and a scale measuring possible functions of self-criticism, together with a measure of depression and another self-criticism scale (LOSC), were given to 246 female students. RESULTS: Self-criticizing vs. self-reassuring separated into two components. Forms of self-criticizing separated into two components related to: being self-critical, dwelling on mistakes and sense of inadequacy; and a second component of wanting to hurt the self and feeling self-disgust/hate. The reasons/functions for self-criticism separated into two components. One was related to desires to try to self-improve (called self-improving/correction), and the other to take revenge on, harm or hurt the self for failures (called self-harming/persecuting). Mediation analysis suggested that wanting to harm the self may be particularly pathogenic and is positively mediated by the effects of hating the self and negatively mediated by being able to self-reassure and focus on one's positives. CONCLUSIONS: Self-criticism is not a single process but has different forms, functions, and underpinning emotions. This indicates a need for more detailed research into the variations of self-criticism and the mechanisms for developing self-reassurance.

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