Imagine this: someone is picking on your best friend. Your best friend is kind,supportive, smart, and funny, but it’s not enough for this other person. This bully is never satisfied, never impressed. They always point out what was wrong or could have been better. They tell your best friend not to bother trying or not to get too invested.How would you feel? You would recognize that this bully is wrong, right? And you would stick up for your friend, no questions asked. You would tell your best friend that they/she/he can do the impossible!
So why is it so hard to feel that way about yourself?
If you tend to let your inner critic talk you down,don’t beat yourself up about it – you’re not alone. But just because lots of people struggle with this same problem doesn’t mean we can just ignore it or allow ourselves to tolerate it. You might feel like being critical of yourself is all you know or like it’s safer to be pessimistic. You might have had to go it alone for most (if not all) of your life, and your self-bullying has been your tactic to keep yourself motivated.
1) You can’t let go of the past failures:
Becoming mentally caught up in the past is a surefire way to keep yourself down and destabilize your ability to build healthier thought patterns and positive behaviors. Your perceived shortcoming scan take a toll on your confidence, and it can be hard to make a change when you feel insecure. You may not know how to begin building or rebuilding confidence in yourself, leaving you trapped in self-doubt and self-defeat. This leads to you replaying obstacles,mistakes, and mishaps from your past as affirmation that you deserve to feel this way. When you hold on to mistakes made in your past,that becomes the story you tell yourself about your life, achievements,and potential.
2) You dismiss any positive accomplishments:
It may seem counter-intuitive, but our self-criticism can work hand in hand with placing a high value on ourselves. When we put pressure on ourselves to achieve greatness, anything wesucceed at along the way doesn’t stand out to us. Why? Because we have convinced ourselves that our excellence is an expectation. When winning,achieving, succeeding, etc., are our “bare minimum,” anything positive we accomplish becomes conventional. It is then our mishaps,setbacks, and failures that stand out in our minds.Incidents that didn’t match the narrative we decided for ourselves. Mishaps that caused us to doubt ourselves or our potential. Those become our focus, and all the great things we are doing and achieving fade away.We also tend to dismiss our positive accomplishments when we have low self-esteem, viewing them as a stroke of luck or having had a lot of help from someone else. When we don’t think highly of ourselves, we can also make the mistake of undervaluing them: “If I could do it, it must not be that impressive.”
3) You have difficulty asking for help:
If you’ve got it in your head that you “should”be able to do everything on your own, then your only teammate is your inner voice. We all have negative thoughts and doubts from time to time; a person outside yourself, like a friend or family member, is great for providing a different perspective that can snap you out ofa negative thought pattern. Without that person, your inner critic can run rampant;eventually, it begins to tell you that you don’t deserve any outside help. You think tha tasking for help is a sign of your weakness or incompetence. You fear being a burden to others if you were to ask them for help. If you do allow someone to do you a favor, you have to return it right away so that you don’t “owe” anyone anything.
You might recognize this behavior and have trouble identifying when it began. Maybe you can’t remember a time in your life without it! No matter the reason you’re hard on yourself, it is helpful to begin to identify the times when your inner critic is speaking and be mindful of them at the moment. Be gentle with yourself as you take note of what you’re saying, or when, or why. You can’t criticize yourself for not criticizing yourself!Reassure yourself that making minor improvements in how you talk to yourself is better for you than not trying at all. There’s no point in being exasperated with yourself, thinking, “I’m my own worst enemy!” Or, “Everyone else loves themselves, but I’m my own worst critic!” You just need to know how to combat self-defeating thoughts and practice as often as you can.
1) Practice daily positive affirmation:I know this has been said a million times, but it is true. If you want to stop being your worst critic, you have to start acting and sounding like your loudest cheerleader. The fact is you have to talk to yourself like you talk to the people you love.Whether you engage in positive self-talk in the morning, afternoon,or evening,you have to set time aside to practice positive affirmations.One of my favorite ways to practice is part of meditation or journalism. The Five-Minute Journal includes positive affirmations, which can be helpful if you’re out of ideas, drawing a blank, or you’re tired of the affirmation you’ve been using.
Choose an affirmation that is the opposite of one of your persistent negative thoughts. If you are hard on yourself about your achievements at work, you might say, “I am a dependable employee,” or “I do my best at work.” If you feel disconnected from your neighborhood or like you don’t fit in, you can say to yourself, “Woodland ills is my home.” This is not about lying to yourself; it is about telling the truth in a positive way, or at the very least, in a neutral way to begin with.
Keep it simple so that it’s easy to remember and repeat.Remember that affirmations are “I” or“My” statements, set in the present tense. For example,“I am healthy”; “My relationships are nourished”; “I love myself”; “I am more than enough”;“My life has a purpose.”
2) Make peace with the past:You can’t keep recycling old mistakes and then expect that you will magically wake up and approve of yourself one morning. You need to forgive and leave the past in the past. Repeat after me: Mistakes don’t define me. I am not my mistakes
These are not just some kind words you can use anytime you intentionally make a mistake. You still have to try hard to live up to your values.But at the end of the day, you have to learn from your past mistakes and then let them go instead of dragging them around with you as excess baggage.
It is also important to mention that you will keep making mistakes, no matter how many past mistakes you let go of. Yes, they are waiting for you at this very moment, just around the corner.So when you let go of your past mistakes, please do not promise yourself that you will never make another one because that will just set you up for future self-loathing.
Some of the past mistakes you have to make peace with may not be your own. You may still carry around baggage from mistreatment that made you feel like you didn’t deserve love,respect, appreciation, safety, consistency, support,etc. It can be challenging to move on from apologies we never got, but it is important to try.If these incidents from your past fostered a low opinion of yourself, then those events need to be worked through and made peace with, even if you have to do it on your own. You deserve to comprehend your true self-worth; you deserve to know how valuable you are.
3) Celebrate any accomplishment:It’s really easy to feel like your “failures” out weigh your accomplishments if you minimize your accomplishments.It’s also a lot less fun to only celebrate the huge milestones. Celebrating the smaller steps along the way allows you to have fun and positively reinforce your healthy behaviors.Think of the smallest thing you would feel good or happy about. Then think of something a little bigger, and bigger, and so on. Celebrate all of them.
These can be things like not hitting ‘snooze’ on your alarm in the morning or doing the dishes every evening before bed.They can be folding and putting the laundry away right away or eating more vegetables with your meals. They can even be things like resting and unwinding; celebrate providing yourself with care! You deserve a relaxation. You deserve time to reflect. You deserve to celebrate yourself by going to your favorite bakery and getting your favorite cinnamon bun or taking yourself to the movies for the first time in over a year! You deserve to take a moment, take a deep breath, smile,and say, “I did it!”Enjoy planning how you’ll celebrate! Make notes about it, write out your plan in a bubble font,and color it in. Add stickers. Do whatever it takes to be conscious of your goal to celebrate yourself.
4) Move out of your comfort zone:Staying in the same patterns and routines creates a perfect environment for feeling limited. It also makes a change, learning and growing seem scarier than they have to be. Take chances!They don’t have to be huge; you can take small steps at first or choose a bunch of smaller goals to accomplish to break the ice. Or you can dive in!Go after your dreams, whether they are to run for 5K without stopping, starting your business,or participating in online dating.
Be aware that moving out of your comfort zone doesn’t mean putting yourself through punishing activities; this is not an opportunity for your inner critic to watch you suffer and bask in it. Everyone has a different limit as far as physical ability, mental space, emotional bandwidth. Pushing yourself to take chances and open yourself up to new experiences is meant to build confidence, not re-enforce your inner critic and/or make you feel bad about yourself.
Do new things simply because they are new. Do them because you might (you probably) will be bad at them when you begin, and be okay with that.Take on something that looks fun with the intention of being terrible at it. Take a friend with you and enjoy how terrible both of your clay bowls turned out. Release your perfectionist tendencies as much as you can.
5) Ask for help:You can probably tell that all the steps to over coming self-defeating thoughts equate to doing the opposite of the things that fed into your negative self-talk in the first place. Well, that’s not coincidental.Sometimes, we can achieve our goals simply by doing the opposite of what contributed to the problem. If we isolate our selves when we are feeling extra low, the task is to reach out to friends,family, a therapist,anyone we might trust for help. If we avoid trying new things because our inner monologue tells us we’ll be bad at them;our task is to try new things.
Actions speak louder than words. While it is important and necessary to challenge any false narrative you have around asked for help,ultimately, you need to talk the talk and walk the walk. Be open to seeking support and simply ask for help. Don’t just tell yourself you’ll work on it quietly and secretly until you’ve “got it down”; that’s a recipe for feeding your inner critic. You are worthy of having a support network.
At the end of the day, we all have an inner voice that guides us. Sometimes, if we make a silly mistake or try something and aren’t good at it, we will feel bad about ourselves.That is normal. The difference is that when your inner critic isn’t running the show, you get to move on from mistakes.You get to learn from them and grow from them, but not carry them around like an albatross around your neck. There is a difference between identifying what you could do better and working to improve and telling yourself that everything you do is wrong. Your inner critic wants you to do the latter,but your mental health requires that you do the former as much as possible. Show yourself care by challenging old narratives,forgiving past mistakes, celebrating your achievements, and working toward the future you want for yourself!
Here at Embracing You Therapy Group, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.
At our mental health practice in Woodland Hills, CA, we offer individual therapy and couple’s therapy. Both Dr. Menije and Cindy Sayani, AMFT offer virtual therapy to treat mental health concerns include Anxiety, panic attacks, OCD, phobias, and stress; Mood disorders including depression; Relationship issues, both in couples therapy and with individual clients; Perinatal mental health issues such as postpartum depression or anxiety, and Addiction.
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress, and then let’s find the tools-your unique tools-that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Client Care Coordinator.
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