If you were to hear an audio recording of what is said in my house on an average day, you’d hear a lot of this:
Me to my baby boy: Awwww you are so SWEET! You are so special. I love you SO much!
Me to my 2-year old daughter: You are so special! Oh I love you so much!
And on and on. (Sometimes I worry that I gush on my kids too much, but thankfully, research says you can’t tell your kids that you love them TOO much. You just can’t. Whew!)
Anyway, if you were to hear an audio recording of the thoughts in my own head on an average day, you’d also hear this:
Me to myself: Why couldn’t I just wake up on time like I planned? Why do I fail over and over again? I would be so much happier if I just did what I know I should. I have no self-discipline. I never get better.
Why did I eat so many peices of cornbread? I wasn’t even hungry. Ugh. I have no self-control.
Why can’t I just think more positively? My personality is so negative and also blah and boring. I’m hopeless.
Man, I’m judging again! Why am I so judgemental?
Who doesn’t think a baby is perfect, precious, special? Even babies themselves seem to be comfortable with that knowledge. And then, at some point, those babies grow up and start to think they are not good enough, fat, dumb or a failure at life. Heartbreaking. Their inherent value never changed! And yours never changed either!
Self-criticism is an unhealthy habit we all need to quit. Just like unhealthy food, it doesn’t bring joy or progress. It doesn’t help with anything! Just like junk food, it might feel good in the moment to abuse ourselves, but only adds to the problem and creates misery in the long-term.
Self-Criticism is motivating though, right?
Self-criticism feels like it should be healthy. It seems that such harsh thoughts would whip us into who we want to be, and then we’d be happier. We think, “But if I stop beating myself up, I’ll get complacent and lazy, and then I’ll never improve!”
As Emily Nagoski writes, “Self-criticism is so entrenched in our culture, it sounds……almost rational.”
That’s just wrong.
Self-criticism leads to stress. We subconsciously react to our own criticisms the way we’d react to a lion chasing us, a sense of “I’m not safe.” And aren’t we all our worst selves when we’re stressed? We do and say things we would never do when we feel safe and loved.
And then, in that state of stress and weakness, we do things we don’t like, and have more material with which to bash ourselves. The cycle repeats.
Self-criticism is a lot like shame. Shame causes depression, lack of vulnerability and social connection. It make us miserable, not more of who we want to be.
Nagoski goes on, “Think about it: What would really happen if you stopped running from yourself or beating yourself up? What would happen if you put down the whip you’ve been flogging yourself with for decades?
When you stop beating yourself up–when you stop reinjuring yourself–what happens is….you start to heal.
Self-criticism is an invasive weed in the garden, but too many of us have been taught to treat it like a treasured flower…Far from motivating us to get better, self-criticism makes us sicker.”
What to do?
Adopt a curious and benevolent attitude towards yourself.
If you struggle with self-criticism about your body, make a list of everything you like and appreciate about your body. Remind yourself that the day you were born, your body was a cause for celebration, for love without condition, and that’s just as true today as it was then.
Let those self-crtical thoughts go, let the judgements go, and start noticing more the things you like.
Remind yourself of these truths:
- Like any human being, I have strengths and weaknesses, and that’s ok.
- I allow myself to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.
- I forgive myself and allow myself to feel inner peace.
- “This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. May I be kind to myself in this moment. May I give myself the compassion I need.” (Kristen Neff, the worlds leading researcher on compassion and author of Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself)
Remarkably, these thoughts don’t act as an excuse. True self-compassion actually inspires more motivation and self-control.
For example, this morning I realized I haven’t been exercising almost at all for an entire month. Instead of beating myself up about it, I thought “I have been up every night several times with a crying baby. I can give myself grace. But I know I’ll be happier if I exercise, so I’m going to make an exercise plan.”
Simply criticizing myself might have just led to a spiral of depressing thoughts and feeling too wounded to even try or take action.
You are just as worthy of compassion as anyone else.
As Jeffrey R. Holland says, “As children of God, we should not demean or vilify ourselves, as if beating up on ourselves is somehow going to make us the person God wants us to become. No! With a willingness to repent and a desire for increased righteousness always in our hearts, I would hope we could pursue personal improvement in a way that doesn’t include getting ulcers or anorexia, feeling depressed or demolishing our self-esteem. That is not what the Lord wants.”
If everyone is equally deserving of respect and compassion (which I believe they are), then you are no different than anyone else! Let’s remember to be like a child who is told they are precious no matter what, and they believe it, and they are happy.
As a parting thought, one easy way to remember this concept is by telling ourselves this:
“Never say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to your best friend or your daughter.”
For more help on quitting the unhealthy habit of self-criticism, see these sites and books. Includes some affilate links.
Self-Compassion.Org by Kristen Neff has articles, an excellent TED Talk, and free guided meditations.
Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristen Neff
I Like Me Anyway: Embracing Imperfection, Connection and Christ by Brooke Romney
Emotional Resilience Course. Free workbook with videos and exercises. Incredible resource.