It’s not low self-esteem, it’s high self-criticism: three simple ways women entrepreneurs can be kinder to themselves

We women entrepreneurs are high in ambition but low in self-kindness.

We work long and hard–or maybe we work smart and not so hard–but either way, holding ourselves to a standard and getting things done is how we got where we are today.

We think of these high standards and self-criticism as part of the mindset we need to succeed.

But we’re always moving the bar. Once we hit one standard, suddenly we discover we’re not satisfied, or there’s more to be done and we’re back on the path of hustling for the next high standard.

Sure we’re high-performing. We do things no one else thinks possible. People admire us and ask how we did it. We are legitimately proud of the things we’ve accomplished.

But there is a dark side to this: being hard on ourselves in this way, driven by a sense of not-enoughness and always reaching for the next high standard leads to second-guessing, lack of confidence and low self-esteem.

I invite you to take a moment to recall the way you talk to yourself around your high productivity standards. 

 When you’re struggling to get things done, or you hit snags in your business, what kinds of things do you say to yourself?  

 Do any of these sound familiar? 

  •         You better get this done or else… 
  •         Why can you never start what you finish? 
  •         How come everyone else can do this and you can’t? 
  •         That’s what you get for setting goals, you always let yourself down. 
  •         What is the matter with me? Why can’t I just get my shit together and get this done? 

 What if the problem is not low self-esteem but high self-criticism? 

low self-esteem

It’s not low self-esteem, it’s high self-criticism

We’ve learned that kicking our own butts is what gets us going.  

But these kinds of thoughts create distress. Negative emotions are sure to arise in these circumstances. 

People with a tendency to criticize themselves are more tuned in to their mistakes. Their “inner punisher” makes them feel bad and thus they are more likely shut down, both emotionally but also cognitively. This prevents them  from taking the steps forward that they need.

Getting stuck this way is a problem, especially when you’re the CEO of a small business where everything falls on you.

Did you know that research shows people who are kind to themselves perform better on all sorts of measures? 

Recognizing and attending to your distress is the healthy mindset to apply to so-called negative thoughts and emotions.  

When negative emotions such as frustration, anger, confusion and anxiety arise—and women entrepreneurs will know these emotions well—it is important to be kind to yourself. 

Insert eye-roll here. “Easier said than done,” you say. 

 Not at all! It’s just that many women entrepreneurs don’t know how to do this. 

Three simple steps to self-kindness   

Self-kindness is an important part—in my experience, it’s the foundation—of a healthy entrepreneurial mindset.

Step one: The first step is the moment of awareness. Maybe you notice your so-called negative emotions. Or maybe you become aware of the kinds of self-critical thoughts like the ones above. This is the time to practice self-kindness by saying to yourself: “Oh. I see what’s happening. I’m having a hard time.”  

Step two: The second step is to validate yourself. You can take a mindful breath, and say gently to yourself something like, “Hey there. I see you’re having a hard time. And of course, you are. What’s going on right now is tough.” 

Step three: The third step is to offer yourself some comfort.

It might be as simple as placing a gentle hand on your heart, or it could be

  • a few minutes looking out the window at nature–even just the sky
  • making yourself a cup of tea
  • putting on a song you like and moving around in your chair a bit
  • texting a supportive friend or biz bestie

Choose whatever would feel comforting to you and is doable at the moment. 

Why does self-kindness work?


Self-kindness is more than just a nice idea or a nice thing to do for yourself. It’s actually fundamental to a healthy entrepreneurial mindset. 

When you are stressed out, you literally can’t think straight. Stress significantly reduces the ability of the prefrontal cortex to carry out its executive functions such as anticipation, judgment, planning, and decision-making, all key skills for women entrepreneurs. 

At the same time, stress signals to the brain to direct energy toward survival (aka fight or flight nervous system responses) and we experience a lot of emotion. And while emotions are a key element of decision-making, emotions alone are not sufficient information on which to base business decisions.  

Being kind to yourself reduces distress. When distress is lower, the brain can direct energy away from survival and toward engaging your entrepreneurial superpowers to address the issue at hand. 

And while we’re on the topic of self-kindness, it’s important to note that it also decreases depression and anxiety and reduces the harmful effects of stress, making it a primary skill for women entrepreneurs to use to support their mental health. 

In-the-moment de-stress tools are also part of a healthy mindset toolbox. Sign up below for immediate access to a free stress relief exercise, and a mini-course in stress relief by email. 

About the author 

Shulamit Berlevtov  -  Shulamit (she/her) is the Entrepreneurs' Therapist. She is working passionately to mitigate the entrepreneurial mental health crisis through keynote speaking and educational workshops and by supporting women entrepreneurs 1:1 to care for their mental and emotional wellbeing and their money psychology in an era of relentless stressors that can make you want to lose your crap on the daily.

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