Are You Your Own Worst Enemy? Part 2
How to Defeat Self-Criticism
Posted October 30, 2017
In my previous article, Are You Your Own Worst Enemy? Part 1: How to defeat self-criticism, I described seven techniques that you can use to defeat your self-critical voice. You may be going around with a negative voice in your head that sounds like this:
- I should succeed at everything I try.
- If I don’t succeed then I am a failure.
- Nothing I do works out.
- It’s terrible to fail at something.
- I am useless, unlovable, a failure, a bore, etc.
- The only way I can accept myself is if I do the best.
- It’s all my fault.
- No one else screws up like I do.
- I need to evaluate myself all the time. This is the only way to keep myself from being lazy.
OK. If any of these thoughts—or thoughts like this—seem familiar to you, then you are doing a terrific job of making yourself miserable. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can defeat this self-critical voice. You don’t have to be your own worst enemy. Let’s look at how you can answer these thoughts and put self-criticism in its place.
- Do you have a self-critical rule-book?
A lot of us have rules about how we should think and how we should be. These might include the following: “I need to be perfect. I need to be interesting all the time. I need to succeed at anything I try. I need to be the most attractive person”. These are your “should” and you may be “shoulding” on yourself on a daily basis. But ask yourself if these shoulds are reasonable, if you would apply them to your best friend, if they are really helping you. What would your life be like if you replaced the shoulds with “It’s OK to make a mistake, to fail at things, to be boring at times”?
- How is your thinking distorted?
A lot of our negative thinking is extreme, unreasonable, distorted and not based on facts. Are you labeling or overgeneralizing? Are you labeling your entire existence as a failure because one thing didn’t work out? Are you discounting your positive qualities? Are you thinking that it is catastrophic to make a mistake? How could you counter those automatic thoughts? Aren’t there things that you do succeed at? So what if you failed at something? Can’t you pursue other behaviors, other possibilities?
- What is your core belief about yourself?
Perhaps your central belief is that you are a loser, failure, boring. Is this reasonable or is this an exaggeration? Do people see you more positively than you see yourself? Imagine it is different. How would your thinking change? Imagine that you thought that you are human and that it is OK to make mistakes and fail at times? Imagine if you thought of yourself as someone struggling to deal with difficulties—someone who deserves support, love and compassion? How would you feel?
- Look at yourself along a continuum.
Imagine if we looked at you along a continuum--- draw a line from left to right and label “0” as the person with no positive qualities and “100” as the perfect person who never existed. Where would people who love you place you on this continuum? Why? You don’t have to be perfect to be good enough.
- Don’t take yourself too personally.
Most things don’t depend entirely on you. If a relationship doesn’t work out, keep in mind that it takes two to make something work. If someone doesn’t like what you say or do, maybe it also has something to do with them. If your work is not going well, perhaps it isn’t the right job for you or your boss hasn’t given you the training you need. We often feel worse when we think that it is all our fault—but if we look at it more rationally, we realize there are a lot of factors and players involved.
- Humanize your errors.
Are you being more severe with yourself than you would be with other people? Every one of us makes mistakes, including you. Think about people you admire or love or respect and ask yourself—of ask them—about the mistakes that they have made. Why is it OK for them, but not for you?
- Use a learning curve.
What if you thought of your mistakes as experiments, opportunities to learn, a chance to grow, a step toward gaining a skill? If you are going to learn how to play tennis you will hit the ball into the net. Should you then hit yourself over the head with the racquet? Or should you correct your swing. Learn from mistakes rather than criticize yourself. See mistakes as information and opportunities.
For more information on my clinical work, visit my website here.