According to The Happiness Trap by Dr. Russ Harris, roughly 80% of our thoughts are negative, making it very difficult to control our critical feelings and become more accepting of who we are and where we are at a point in time. That means that most of us are mentally beating ourselves up internally. Consider for a moment how all that internal negativity impacts us, our moods, thoughts, feelings and sensations. Consider how this self-critical inner world impacts how we speak and relate to others, how hopeful we are, how optimistic and positive we are about life and living. This is not to say we don’t live in a pretty messed up world but sometimes there is so much in the news that focuses on the negative, it can seem like that is all there is.
For more positive news, check out Steve Hartman’s feel-good segments on CBS Sunday Morning. It’s important to appreciate there are so many wonderful, positive things happening every day in almost every community.
There are many interesting articles on the web about self-criticism. Here are some highlights from one of them entitled 20 Signs You Are Too Self-Critical from Psychology Today written by Loretta G. Breuning, PhD. I invite you to notice if any of these resonate with you.
- You blame yourself for every negative situation. You feel you are personally responsible when bad things happen, too quick to take all the blame while ignoring legitimate outside factors.
- You’re down on yourself as a whole person, as opposed to specific mistakes you may make. Instead of saying, “This was the wrong way to do that, next time I might try…” you tend to diminish yourself with, “I am a failure.”
- You often avoid taking risks. You tell yourself you are going to fail, because it happens almost every time.
- You often avoid expressing your own opinion. You worry that you might say something stupid, that others will disapprove.
- You often compare yourself to someone else – and typically come up short.
- You are never satisfied with achievements. With whatever, you see flaws and mistakes.
- You have impossibly high standards.
- You constantly worry, creating ‘what if’ scenarios.
- You have body image criticism. You never look good enough in your own eyes.
- You never ask for help. You don’t want to appear weak or inept.
- You do not assert your needs and desires. You fear possible rejection.
- You have thoughts of self-harm. This can be because various forms of self-harm can serve as a release of emotional pain.
- You had chronically criticizing parents or caregivers. The messages they imposed on you can create negative core beliefs about your value and abilities.
- You persist in analyzing mistakes, punishing and blaming yourself for what went wrong.
- You don’t forgive yourself or others easily.
- You don’t give yourself compliments. You are too much in the habit of being self-critical.
- You get defensive in the face of feedback. It can be too painful to hear other people’s justified or constructive criticism.
- You can’t accept compliments. Internally you think about all the reasons the compliments are misguided.
- You think within a system of black and white values. The rigidity of absolute ideals does not allow you to see and give yourself credit for smaller accomplishments.
- Your achievements in life have chronically fallen beneath your capabilities. You can feel disappointed in not reaching your potential because you have been so busy being self-critical.
It seems like living with an internal self-critic who constantly puts you down, nags you about failing to achieve things or do things well can promote a downward spiral of despair and depression.
The Internet also offers many articles on ways to address and conquer that inner self critic. Here are some ideas from the website Choosing Therapy. Here are fifteen ways to cope with being a self-critic from this website:
- Mindfulness: this can be formal and informal. Informal involves pausing, relaxing your body and breathing deeply and slowly through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Identify Your Strengths: name at least one or two things you do well. It doesn’t have to be amazing but rather anything at all that contributes in some way to your life or the lives of others.
- Notice When You Have Self-Critical Thoughts: pay attention to any thoughts that unfairly put you down.
- Challenge Your Thoughts: change those thoughts to something that is fairer and more accurate without being critical.
- Embrace the Power of “Yet”: Try adding “yet” to the end of your self-critical thoughts to transform them into a goal that you’re working toward vs. a statement of self-doubt. So, for example: “I haven’t been able to succeed at this yet.”
- Practice Kindness: Learn to love yourself, even in moments of imperfection. Repeating mantras such as, “I can’t do this yet, but I’m trying my best” can be helpful reminders to accept your humanness.
- Practice Acceptance: Accepting imperfections as part of the human experience can go a long way in increasing compassion toward yourself. Rather than avoiding your shortcomings, it can be helpful to look them full on and accept that you are, after all, only human.
- Ask yourself: What Would You Tell a Friend In Your Situation? Be fair and don’t hold yourself to higher standards than you would hold friends, family members and colleagues.
- Engage In Pleasant Experiences: Practice self-care and take some time to do something you enjoy.
- Ground Yourself: Take your thoughts away from worry or criticism. For example: look around the room and name everything you see that’s blue.
- Write It Down: jot down your thoughts so you can unload your brain and be more rational about how those thoughts are unfairly impacting you.
- Consider When You’ve Done Something Well:remind yourself of something you did well and that you are a person capable of doing that again.
- Be Realistic: consider how fair your standards are and which of them are unrealistic.
- Examine Different Parts of Your Life: notice the different roles you play in life and the things you do well in each of these parts. Give yourself credit for that.
- Make a Self-care Plan: decide on ways you can emotionally, mentally, physically, and financially care for yourself.
For some of us who have very strong internal critics, it can be challenging to address those inner messages and do something to correct them. I hope you take a few minutes to read through the lists in this blog and appreciate that no one, including you, deserves to be internally beaten up. I remember as a teen with self-esteem issues hanging a little banner on the inside of my bedroom door: “I’m okay. God doesn’t make junk.” Somehow that message gave me comfort because I believe I am a child of God, as I hope you do, and God made each of us perfect in His sight.
Invitation for Reflection
- To what extent did the information in this blog resonate with you? Specifically did some things jump out at you as ways you are sometimes, almost always or even always self-critical?
- What would it take to motivate yourself to do some of the work described in this blog? This could also include checking the web to do some of your own research.
- Congratulate yourself on whatever steps you can take to address your own internal self-critic and at least turn down the volume on any of those destructive internal messages thrown at you.