Have you ever been told that you are too hard on yourself? I recognize the irony in that statement as it is also a criticism. Unbeneficial self-criticism is a difficult issue to overcome because it is so helpful in many ways. Unfortunately, it can also lead to depression and general negativity. Here are a few ways to change around your self-criticism.
Today’s psychology focuses a lot about mindfulness. There is mindfulness eating, mindfulness walking, mindfulness exercise, mindfulness thinking, and I get sick of its prevalence right now. But I must give credit to it at its simplest level: just noticing what is happening. Many times, I talk with clients who are severely distressed about their thoughts because they have forgotten that thoughts are just thoughts.
Just because I think a thought, does not make it true or even worthwhile. We have all sorts of thoughts that do not pertain to anything relevant to our situation. As I type this blog, I could think of all sorts of thoughts about my typing speed or my blogging skills but none of those assist me in writing the blog. Noticing allows me to recognize when these thoughts happen, and, instead of having an emotional reaction to those thoughts, allows me to guide my attention back to my writing.
Using noticing (or mindfulness) allows us to recognize critical thoughts for what they are. I like noticing because it prevents criticism of critical thoughts. For example, if I told clients to stop having critical thoughts, they might think, “oh no, I just had a critical thought, I shouldn’t do that.” Yet that is just another critical thought. The only way to steer away from critical thoughts is to notice them without judging them. By doing so, we can lower the brains inherent reactivity to distressing thoughts and, ultimately, change how often they occur. When we learn to notice thoughts in this way, we allow our critical thoughts to drown out into the blur of all the other thoughts that we have during the day.
Encouraging yourself works far better than criticizing yourself. Encouragement works like a good coach. Good coaches say that you can if you do these things to get better. A good basketball coach says “if you tuck that elbow in, you can shoot even better. There, how does that feel? Well done.” Giving yourself coaching allows you to feel good without compromising your desire to improve.
You can practice this by talking to yourself as if you are your friend. If a good friend of yours had the same issue, would you say to that friend any of the critical or demeaning thoughts? Probably not. More likely, you would encourage your friend. Talk to yourself like a friend.
Andrew Huber is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist #103733.