Last week I talked about criticism. This week I want to talk about self-criticism. I have spent as much of my life criticizing myself as I have been criticized by others. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “we are our own worst critic,” well it’s true. I am most definitely my own worst critic. But where did I learn how to be so critical?
My family of origin and elementary school. I wholeheartedly believe that our upbringing shapes how self-critical we are. Do I have a scientific study to back this up, nope. This is what I believe and it may be scientifically wrong or you may disagree, but this is my opinion.
Why do I feel so strongly this way? Because I have lived it and I have watched it in others. My parents were very critical of other people and my mother was extremely critical about certain things toward herself, especially her weight. I have seen others who have grown up with parents who were completely different than mine but were critical in their own way. We are taught how to be critical by those around us during our most formative years.
How would I learn that my weight is a “problem”? How would I learn that my boobs were too small or my butt too big? How would I learn that wearing glasses was something I should be ashamed of? How would I learn that achieving success in my career or financial stability would be such a negative thing? I learned it all from my parents or from other kids around me. Where did they learn it? From their family and those they were around the most when they were young.
My self-criticism has historically been very derogatory or meant to shame myself. I would say things to myself about how stupid I was for cutting a paper crooked or how fat I was, even when I was at my skinniest, or how fucking dumb I am because whatever I just messed up in some way. The berating I would do to myself was almost non-stop for many years. It’s all I knew. I was told from a young age how dumb I was, that I was a whore, that I was stuck-up like specific family members, and so much more. My developing brain soaked that in and just kept repeating it in either the same exact words or in different iterations.
Self-criticism is extremely damaging. The more we berate ourselves, the more we believe what we are saying. The more we believe it, the less we are likely to continue doing something or the less we are likely to pursue some goal.
If babies held the same tendency toward self-criticism as adults, they might never learn to walk or talk. Can you imagine infants stomping, ‘Aarggh! Screwed up again!’ Fortunately, babies are free of self-criticism. They just keep practicing.Dan Millman
Could you imagine having never learned to walk because you criticized yourself so much that you just gave up? You can’t? Me either!
Then why do we keep criticizing ourselves for everything else in our lives?! WHY?!
Because we don’t pay attention that we are doing it and once we realize it, we don’t learn how to change it. I learned from life coach and speaker Andrea Owen a trick to reframe how I would typically criticize myself. Usually, it would come after I hurt myself (um, I clumsy) or after I did something that was incorrect or wrong. I used to tell myself how stupid I was, how much I was a fucking idiot. I would go on and on. Then I learned her trick and I started trying to implement it. It felt awkward at first and I didn’t always remember to do it, but once I started remembering more and then started using it more, I started to feel relief.
Her trick is to change what we say to ourselves. So if I was doing something and I broke something, instead of telling myself that I’m so fucking useless and I can’t do anything right because I’m so fucking dumb, I would say “well, that just happened.” It’s as simple as that. And as difficult as that. Sometimes I would say “well, that just happened,” feel good for a few seconds, and then start down the path of berating myself. Sometimes I would have to catch myself and say it multiple times until I could redirect my thoughts, anxiety, and anger.
Here is another way to look at it. When your friend tells you that he or she is an idiot for whatever they just did, what do you tell them? You tell them no they are not and you tell them why they aren’t. We are able to help a friend overcome their self-criticism while still criticizing ourselves on the regular.
We all have the tendency to believe self-doubt and self-criticism, but listening to this voice never gets us closer to our goals. Instead, try on the point of view of a mentor or good friend who believes in you, wants the best for you, and will encourage you when you feel discouraged.Kelly McGonigal
I have been combining telling myself “well, that just happened” with treating myself like I would a dear friend. I am not completely free of self-criticism, but I am closer than I used to be. I still catch myself berating myself for whatever I just did. But I am overcoming it piece-by-piece. I can say that I’m so much better at not criticizing my weight because of using these two tricks. When I mess up at work, I berate myself a whole hell of a lot less than I used to. I’m making progress and I’m being kinder to myself.
Next time you criticize yourself, ask yourself where is it coming from? Then tell yourself “well, that just happened” or talk to yourself like you would a friend who started going off on herself like you just did. Use one or use both, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you find a way to overcome the majority of unhelpful self-criticism. Give it a shot, try giving yourself a pass, and giving yourself a pep talk. Yes, it may feel awkward as fuck, but it is worth it.