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The Self-Critic

Lately, I've heard so many self-critical statements from clients. This critical voice can be so crippling. I've heard clients quote phrases like, "You're stupid," "You should have checked twice," "Now you've done it. They will hate you," "No one cares about you," "It wont be long before everyone figures out how much of a fake you are," "You didn't get that raise because you aren't worth it." It's little wonder you can feel good about yourself when thoughts like this crush upon you. It certainly doesn't help when others instruct you to "just be positive."


So how do you combat such a negative internal experience?


First, all you have to do is simply notice these thoughts. Taming Your Gremlin by Rick Carson is an excellent guide to simply noticing your negative thought patterns. You can't change what you don't notice and the Self-Critic can be very automatic. Work on simply noticing all the thoughts that emerge as you engage in this practice. It's common for the Self-Critic to chastise you, "You should have noticed this before." Denial of problems is a natural protective measure to prevent you from becoming psychologically overwhelmed. Simply notice and write some of these comments down.


Second, you may notice the absolute statements this Self-Critic makes. Absolute statements come in the form of "always," "no one," "never" and many more. In addition, there are a lot of "shoulds." These are called defense mechanisms and/or cognitive distortions. A cognitive distortion is a thought that is not correct, off base, or unrealistic. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) will help in re-framing these thoughts. For example, change "No one cares about you" to "Some people don't care about you." Clearly this is still not an ideal thought, but it is true and grounded in reality. There are likely some people in your life that don't care what you are experiencing. But to say that "no one" cares is an absolute statement and is fundamentally false.


Third, treat these thoughts as separate from you. Who you are at the core is often a person who wants to be loved, happy, healthy, and positive. Think of a child - kids are very innocent and lovable. When you are overloaded with negative self-talk from the Critic, it can be near impossible to see and hear your true self. So you may have to take my word for it that you are a worthy human being and you deserve to be cared for, respected, and loved. Once you are able to move these negative thoughts away from the person you want to be, it becomes easier to see those positive traits about yourself. Rick Carson does an excellent job of providing techniques to help you move these thoughts away from your core personality.


If you're an artist, try drawing the Self-Critic. Give it a name. Rick Carson refers to these as gremlins. I call them a self-critic. Sometimes the Critic sounds like a person from your past, typically an authority figure such as a parent, teacher, or guardian. As you begin to notice that these thoughts are not you and gain some distance between who you want to be and these negative thoughts, the thoughts become easier to manage.


Fourth, final and probably the hardest, begin a dialog with your Self-Critic. No, this does not mean you are schizophrenic or that you have multiple personalities. It's completely okay to talk to yourself. You are going to become the best advocate for your healthy self and you can't do this without encouraging and competing thoughts. It's not worth arguing with him or her. The Critic can be brutal and cruel. Disarm the Self-Critic by thanking the him or her for being a part of you. This part is the hardest thing to do! Mostly because you have lost your advocate and the person you want to be.


Try looking at it this way: You are a worthy person because this Self-Critic exists. You are most likely not a narcissist or a sociopath because this Self-Critic keeps you honest and true. He or she keeps you from becoming too over inflated, self-centered, and cruel to others. This part of you is a counter balance and is crucial to your ability to have empathy for others. So thank the Self-Critic for being there and helping you to consider your actions, motives, and thoughts. But kindly ask her back the frak up so you can breathe and consider what he or she is saying.


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