When you look in the mirror are you happy with who you see? If you are like most people you will tend to see your own faults over your qualities. It’s amazing how critical and judgmental we can be with ourselves. It can suck the vitality and energy out of our life if we are constantly chipping away at who we are. It’s like trying to blow up a balloon with a pin hole in it. It takes constant effort. Our incessant internal criticism and judgment deflates our self-esteem faster than we can fill it.
A certain amount of self-analysis is good and healthy. If not, we would never make any improvements in our lives. We need to examine ourselves from time to time and determine the areas we need to improve on. However, this can be overdone to the point of being hyper-critical and counter-productive. You become your own judge, jury and jailer.
What are the causes of Self-Criticism?
1. Comparing ourselves with others. We are great at putting ourselves down because we know ourselves the best. We are intimately and painfully aware of each of our faults. The trouble is, when we look at others we tend to see the polished and refined exterior and are unaware of the flaws and internal conflicts that they battle with each day. We tend to compare the worst in ourselves with the best in others. We can never win that game.
2. Unrealistic expectations of ourselves. It’s good to set goals and strive to make improvements in our lives. We should strive for excellence. However, some of us mistake perfection for excellence. When the goals we set are so high and out of reach for the average human being then we set ourselves up for failure.
3. Not realizing life is a process. Journeys are accomplished one step at a time. Bodies are grown one cell at a time. Buildings are built one brick at a time. These are all processes that are accomplished in a gradual, procedural way.
Imagine driving by a building under construction. What do you see? Half-built walls, pallets of bricks, scaffolding, unpainted surfaces, weeds and debris – it’s not a pretty sight. Imagine criticizing the building because of these flaws. That would be unreasonable because we know it isn’t finished yet. It’s under construction. Yet we fail to consider that our lives are not finished yet either. We are still under construction. Of course everything isn’t in perfect order yet. We are still in the middle of this process called “Life.”
What are the consequences of Self-Criticism?
1. Incorrect vision of ourselves. When we continually focus on our flaws and imperfections we get to the point of identifying ourselves as our flaws and imperfections. That’s who we become in our mind. Instead of thinking “I have a weight problem” we instead think “I’m fat.” It becomes who we are.
2. The “Why Try?” attitude. Since we identify ourselves with our defects and believe that’s who we are, then we feel like “what’s the use” in trying to change since that’s “just the way I am.” If you see yourself as a zebra then why try to change your stripes. It’s simply who you are.
3. Saps energy. It takes energy and effort to be constantly judging ourselves. Experiencing discouragement and disappointment in ourselves is like dragging around a heavy weight. It wears on you and drains your energy.
How can we overcome Self-Criticism?
1. Pay attention to what’s going on in your head. Make an effort throughout the day to be aware of how you talk to yourself in your mind. What are you saying?
“I’m such a loser”
“I’m so ugly”
“I never have enough money”
“I’m so fat”
“I’m such an idiot”
Be aware of these negative jabs at yourself and rein them in. Take control of your thoughts and shut down the negative ones.
2. Lower your unrealistic expectations. Give yourself a break. It’s okay if you’re not perfect. You’re not done yet. You’re still under construction as a person. I’m not talking about lowering your personal convictions or your personal moral standards – just your unrealistic expectations of yourself.
3. Focus on your good points. Start noticing what you are doing right. Focus on the positive things you accomplish every day. Make a list of all the things you are doing well and give yourself a pat on the back. Notice even small steps of forward progress.
T.S. Eliot wrote:
What is this self inside us, this silent observer,
Severe and speechless critic, who can terrorize us
And urge us on to futile activity
And in the end, judge us still more severely
For the errors into which his own reproaches drove us?
When you truly overcome self-criticism you free your mind and energy to move forward in your life. You are not stuck in Paralysis by Analysis. You become at peace with who you are and where you are headed. Remember, there is only one person in the world that you are compelled to live with – and that is with yourself. It’s best you both get along!
Copyright © 2013 Gary N. Larson