If I had a magic therapy wand I would wave it around and magically make one very loud killer disappear from each person: Self Criticism!
Self criticism: aka self judgment, aka the critical voice, aka beating yourself up. Each of these is deadly and has no place in your life.
Being critical of yourself is hurting you. It is making you hate yourself more. It keeps you playing small in the world and in your life. It keeps you scared. It is not your friend!
Sadly, there is a belief in our society that if you just beat yourself up enough for something you will want to change that thing. I think people are afraid not to be hard on themselves for fear they will never change that behavior or that dislikable thing about themselves. Is this something you believe?
Do you criticize yourself and make yourself bad and wrong for every little thing you do just hoping that you will find the motivation, once and for all, to change that behavior?
What about dieting? Do you hate yourself for wanting chocolate, eat it anyway, hate yourself for eating it, swear you will never eat it again because after all it is so bad for you and why would you want to do things that are bad for you. You punish yourself for eating it and punish your body and beat yourself up. Does this keep you from eating the chocolate again? No! Why?
Think about it this way. A child is afraid of the dark. She believes there are monsters under the bed and in the closet. She won’t go to sleep with the lights out and the door closed because she is terrified that the monsters will come out and get her. What do you do?
Imagine yelling at her, “get over it! There are no monsters here! Monsters are not real and you are fine! Now turn off your light and go to sleep!” Will the little girl say “okay, sorry I was so scared. I’ll just get over it and go to sleep. Thanks for yelling at me. That helped me see how silly I was acting.”
Not likely. More likely she will only become more afraid and more upset.
What about this approach. “Honey, sorry you’re scared. Monsters are pretty scary. Let me look for them. (Looking under the bed) nope, no monsters here! (Looking in the closet) nope, no monsters here either. The monsters must have gone away. But just in case, let’s leave a night light on and leave the door open a bit. I want you to feel safe and I will stay with you until you fall asleep if you want me to.”
How might that child feel? She is likely to feel safe and therefore calm. You have communicated that you believe her and that her feelings are okay. She doesn’t need to fight you as well as the monsters and her fear.
Okay, fine, you might be thinking. But I’m not a child.
Oh, but you are! You have fears and hurts and anger, just like the child. If you yell at yourself for those feelings and for your actions about those feelings, you will only, just like the child, feel more upset and more hurt. If you validated your feelings and took care of yourself instead, just like the child, you would probably feel calmer and more able to let it go.
Try it right now. Think of something you ate or did recently that you wish you hadn’t. For a couple of seconds, beat yourself up for it. Go for it. Tell yourself all the rotten things you usually say to yourself. This is the easy part. You know how to do this; you are probably a pro. Go ahead, I give you permission, beat yourself up big time for a few seconds!
Now check in. How do you feel? Better? Worse? My guess is you are feeling pretty bad about yourself.
Now try the other way. Nurturing. Think of that same thing you did that you don’t like and instead, for the same amount of time, be nurturing toward yourself. Tell yourself that it was understandable that you did that. Validate what you feel. If this seems difficult to do, try imaging that a small child did it. What would you say to her? Or image the most nurturing person you know. What would she say to you? Now say those things to yourself. Go ahead. Be as kind and gentle and understanding as you can.
Now check in. How do you feel? Better? Worse? My guess is that you feel better, calmer, and gentler. It really is okay to make mistakes and/or to feel bad feelings. You are not a bad person for that; you are just a person.
Okay. If I have done my job to convince you of how destructive self criticism is, then let the magic wand start to swirl. You can get rid of that critical voice that keeps you small! The first step is to recognize how often it plays out in your head. After all, you can’t change something that you don’t know you do and my guess is that you have no idea how often this voice is yelling at you. So the first step to changing this is to keep track of how often you hear it. Write it down. Listen for it. Acknowledge it. And feel what you feel after it yells. Make it your mission to catch yourself in the critical act as often as you can.
In other words, let yourself feel the pain of the critical voice. This is very different than being critical toward yourself. In fact, criticism gets in the way of change. Pain leads to change. What is the difference you might ask? Well, I will happily explain it. Next time. For now, keep track of how often you hear your critical voice. In the next newsletter, I’ll talk about how change really happens.