The psychological reason why some people are so hard on themselves isn’t necessarily a matter of low self-esteem. It’s more likely a product of the need for affect, which is the intensity at which people want to feel anything. Positive disintegration is often correlated with a higher degree of over-excitability, which is another way to say that people who develop themselves thoroughly often feel they are in a state of crisis, whereas other people would not perceive those circumstances to be as dire, or in need of a similar response.
In his book on the psychology of superstition, Dr. Stuart Vyse explains that people who are high in their need for affect “differ in the amount of desire for feeling emotions,” and that they “find the expression of emotion, even if its sadness, to be a pleasant experience.” Such people are more likely to feel anxiety over everyday occurrences, or find horror movies cathartic. Most of all, they are often pushed to relentlessly better themselves… which, one could argue, is really a gift.
Though it may feel counterintuitive, the best way to take advantage of this is to actually lean into it. The Cut reported that when it comes to responding to stress and other heightened states of emotion, things like excitement and fear can look a lot alike. Alison Wood Brooks calls this “anxiety reappraisal,” and argues that given how easily these experiences can easily translate into positively or negatively, it’s all about what meaning we assign to them.