The Mirror of Critical Reflection

Sometimes, when we criticise others, we’re really attacking a flaw or weakness that we perceive ourselves to possess. Here’s how you can identify when that is happening.


  • Type: Written
  • Time needed: 20+ Minutes
  • Frequency: One off

Short version

Think about the criticisms you have of other people, and reflect on whether you’re actually criticising yourself for these things.


  • Self-awareness
  • Helps you let go of negative thoughts


Have you ever had someone criticise you for something, and you thought to yourself, “How can they criticise anyone about that? They are the worst person in the world when it comes to that!”

Well, it’s possible that they were projecting their own insecurities about themselves onto you. What we choose to focus on in others can sometimes tell us more about ourselves than it can about them.

This is actually hand to know, because it’s very hard for human beings to take an honest look at ourselves. We tend to have a bias towards seeing ourselves in a positive light. Ego and pride get in the way of admitting mistakes we make, weaknesses we possess, or flaws we exemplify. There’s tonnes of studies showing that most people think they are above average in intelligence, attractiveness, morals, and so on. Of course, we can’t all be right – that’s not how averages work!

This type of thinking can spare our feelings and keep our self esteem up, but this cat-and-mouse game of hide-the-flaw comes with a price – it prevents us from moving past our flaws. You can’t jump over a hurdle if you don’t know it’s there.

But, our aforementioned tendency to project our insecurities and fears onto others is one trick we have up our sleeves. If we reflect our critical opinions of other people back onto ourselves, we can sometimes learn something.

How to do it

Make a list

To do this exercise, you need to identify some criticisms you make of other people. Here’s one way to do this:

  1. Make a list of people you interact with on a regular basis, say at least once a month.
  2. Think of the main criticisms you have on that person (if any). What really grinds your gears about them.
  3. Write them down! You can use a text file and just close it without saving if you don’t feel comfortable creating a paper trail of pet peeves.

And here’s another:

  1. Pay attention to your thoughts and words over the next week or two.
  2. Try to catch yourself in the act whenever you mentally or verbally criticise another person.
  3. Then write it down somewhere.

Check it twice

When you’ve got some criticisms, go through them one-by-one. Ask yourself, if you’re critical about them for this, because you are – or believe yourself to be – like this yourself?

So you think Bruce is too focused on his work, doesn’t really pay attention to you or care about you. Are there any people who you’re not paying enough attention or showing enough care towards?

So you think Dick is too rash and hot-headed, doesn’t prepare well enough, and hasn’t reached his potential yet. Maybe that’s because you are worried you will never reach your own potential?

That sort of thing. Try to be honest. If you’re instantly dismissive of any critical possibility about yourself, then just pretend. Pretend the mirror is right, and this criticism could fairly be levelled at you. Try it on for a few days, and see if it fits. Maybe it won’t, and that’s fine. But maybe it does, and that’s why you’re resistant to the idea. If you let it simmer for a few days, you might accept it.


This is a one-off exercise, do it whenever you feel the need.

Where to go from here

Compassion meditation is a good exercise to use should you feel critical of other people, including yourself. It helps you to see that we’re all human and none of us are perfect, and usually you’ll get along better with people and be happier yourself if you don’t carry criticisms and grudges around with you.