I’m an observer. I observe my own thoughts and actions and, on a larger scale the human spirit. I observe nature. I observe the interactions between the two. I share what I observe through these writings, not because they provide any earth-shattering epiphanies. They are a remembering for me, a journal of sorts, because putting these observations in writing reminds me why mindfulness is such an important part of creating peace in my life. My hope is, they are a remembering for you, too.
A recurring topic for me lately is the idea of reframing thoughts. This is an area I have worked on personally for quite some time. It might be something as simple as the weather (oh, what a beautiful spring we’ll have thanks to these cold, dark, rainy days) or paying bills (how blessed I am to be able to pay this $700 propane bill), or as complex as my own self-criticism, even where my writing is concerned. And the latter is what I want to focus on today.
Most self-criticism can be separated into two categories: comparative and internalized criticism. Comparative self-criticism is when you compare yourself to others – he’s a better writer than me, they don’t like my writing. Internalized self-criticism is when you feel like you can’t live up to your own standards – this writing is no good, I’m not good enough to do this.
There are a myriad of reasons we fall into self-criticism, and since I’m not a licensed therapist, that’s not what I’m going to focus on today. If you feel your self-criticism is deep-seated and consumes your thoughts, affecting your everyday life, I encourage you to seek a therapist who specializes in such matters. However, if you catch yourself in self-criticism occasionally and could use some tools to help pull you back, keep reading.
Now, remember that I teach and practice mindfulness, so observation is the key here. The practice of observing your self-criticism is especially well suited to silent meditation, quieting your mind, followed by journaling. It just helps to get those observations out onto paper. Some journal prompts for you might be:
- Why do I feel like I’m not enough just as I am?
- What are the roots of this belief?
- Why is it so difficult for me to accept praise?
Bringing these thoughts to the surface may bring up some complicated family dynamics, or some traumatic events that happened in your life. If it becomes too difficult, stop this practice. Remember, no judgment here, just observation. Notice what you notice. Take some time to heal the past and that is best through counseling. Noticing that is the first step.
Comparative Self-Criticism: The “Everyone is better than me” mindset
Thinking that everyone is better than you is a common struggle, shared by many others. Most people experience it at one point or another, and it is always unrealistic.
In reality it would be impossible for you to be the best at everything. There will always be others who seem to be more talented, successful, or educated in their own fields. You have your own unique talents and special skills that you excel at.
Comparing yourself to others can lead to increased anxiety and depression, poor decision making, negative thoughts and rumination. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Take this to heart and be joyful. Use these strategies to help you with Comparative Criticism:
Reduce your time on social media – Study after study has shown that people feel worse about themselves after spending time on social media. And all that negativity is taking its toll on our mental health (and our bank accounts). Social media posts often only show one side of the truth. Better yet, take a social media fast.
Practice gratitude – This important practice helps you to know that you are enough. Keep a gratitude journal, listen to guided meditations on gratitude, notice those things in your day that you are thankful for.
Focus on your uniqueness – What are your strengths? Are you good at following through with commitment? Connecting people? Organizing? This is another one that is well suited to journaling.
Cheer for your friends – When you friend succeeds at something, celebrate that success! Send them a text, take them out to lunch, take part in their enthusiasm. It’s about them – you’re not losing, they’re winning.
Look how far you’ve come – Our own success never really happens as fast as we want. Consistency is key. Look back at where you were at this time last year or five years ago.
Internalized Self-Criticism: The “I can’t do anything right” mindset
Internalized self-criticism can often be much more difficult to overcome. It is often rooted in how we were treated as children and can go a long way back in your personal history. Low self-esteem is a key component of this type of criticism. Again, I cannot emphasize the importance of a licensed, experienced therapist if this is a particularly difficult emotion for you. Until you’re ready, however, I offer these suggestions for overcoming internalized self-criticism:
Practice physical self-care – Physical self-care can include daily exercise (walking, yoga, weight lifting, etc.) and personal hygiene (brushing and bathing regularly, regular doctor and dentist visits, massages, etc.). Caring for yourself, and seeing the results lets you know that you are worthy.
Practice emotional self-care – This includes mindfulness practices like journaling, meditation (especially self compassion), spending time in nature everyday and creating healthy boundaries. These practices help you to become more aware of your thoughts and appropriate responses.
Journal regularly – Writing in a journal gives you a healthy outlet to express your thoughts in a safe environment that no one else needs to see. You become more self-aware of your thoughts and emotions.
Practice self-praise – You deserve recognition, and by being kind to yourself, you remind yourself that you are worthy, helping shed those negative self-thoughts.
Accept praise from others – Many of us don’t know how to do this, because we think we don’t deserve it, and that was certainly the case for me. Now, if someone offers me praise, I believe that it’s is coming from their heart. They are offering a gift to me, I am worthy of this gift, and I gift them back with my gratitude. Imagine if you were to give someone a gift and they don’t accept it or acknowledge it. How does that make you feel?
When doing the hard work that comes with your inner world, the first thing to consider is always whether it’s best to work on our own or through a licensed therapist. If you’re ready to try it on your own, begin with noticing your own thoughts, without judgment, through meditation. Pay attention to any negative thinking, just noticing them and then try some of the coping strategies outlined above. And above all else, always be kind to yourself.