Why Self-Criticism Can Cripple Us And How To Deal With It

DigitalIntelligence

Most of us suffer from the effects of self-criticism. Our childhood traumas are believed to be the main culprit. Genetic predispositions are also possibilities. Those who are perfectionists look for flaws in themselves at all times.

Who hasn't experienced the inner critic embedded in our brain? The inner critic is real. It haunts us at all times and rears its ugly head in our weakest moments.

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Self-criticism can be so powerful and effective that it can sabotage and ruin our lives. It can be a definite joy killer. It holds us, delays our progress, and prevents us from achieving our goals and creating success.

Throughout history, humans have experienced this syndrome. Many scientists in the mental health discipline, psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists have developed ideas and implemented viable solutions.

Fortunately, the body of knowledge has proven methods to deal with self-criticism.

Without going into scientific details, I want to provide an overview of this challenging human condition and offer practical tips to deal with self-criticism based on my experience.

Established therapeutic attempts working on self-criticism start with recognition, understanding, and acceptance of it. In other words, we must be mindful and aware of our self-criticism. Awareness of our inner critic allows us to deal with it effectively.

The starting point is carefully listening to our inner criticising voice and try to find out what it is telling us now. Listening to this subtle voice without judging is critical to understand the hidden, obscure, and entangled messages.

This mysterious voice usually can make a dramatic appearance in the weakest times. If we don't listen to this voice carefully, it may sound like meaningless noise. It sends alarming signals to the brain to take comforting or defending actions.

This ambiguous voice can be powerful and can blind and confuse us.

The voice can reflect the culmination of entangled voices stemming from our past traumas and sufferings coded in suppressed memories. It can include reminisces from the early childhood years.

These unknown memories can amplify the voice and turn into destructive thoughts, emotions, feelings, and behaviour. The inner critic is a biological and psychological human condition. None of us is immune to its effects.

The brain's specific part that aims to protect us creates this voice manifesting as anxiety, worry, regret, grief, and many other destructive emotions. Most of the time, we are unaware of the reasons for our concerns and worries. Even if we try, we cannot point to the apparent reasons.

The inner critic has the power of hijacking our energy, mental and physical resources. It may manifest as child-like or adult-like concerns. The out of blue thoughts with childish concerns can mix up with our adult thoughts and confuse us. We usually don't know what we want and tend to criticize ourselves as inadequate.

Paradoxically the inner critic tries to protect us and offer safety. However, it unknowingly and unintentionally ruins our lives.

The external stimulus can trigger suppressed memories coded as discomfort, pain, or trauma. Some invisible power stops us from taking actions for reasonably safe requirements.

Another paradoxical aspect of a negative inner voice is that it fears and hates criticism from others, but it keeps criticizing the self relentlessly.

As the inner critic resides in the survival part of the brain, it depicts a negativity bias. The survival part of the brain attempts to influence the brain's cognitive function strongly, confuses it with ambiguous sensations, and forces triggering negative alerts.

The brain's thinking part cannot cope with such dramatic noise as it does not make sense to it. We try to give meaning to those alerts in sensation forms and fail to understand the meaning. This dilemma creates enormous mental stress, exhausts the thinking brain, and we give up.

This mental stress puts us in a vulnerable state. This vulnerability exposes us to many life risks.

So what can we do?

Knowing the inner voice causing self-criticism is as natural for our survival is a good start.

Human power resides in the thinking brain.

Using our thinking brain, we can gently challenge the inner critic kindly, with empathy and compassion.

The inner critic would tell us to stop trying an activity or task because we are not capable of achieving it. Rather than wasting time on the necessary task, it makes us compelled to do a comforting activity like watching TV, eating sugary food, smoking, or drinking alcohol.

As soon as we experience the sensation of self-criticism, we can challenge it by asking questions like:

  • What do you mean I am not capable?
  • What capability do I lack?
  • Where is the evidence that I cannot do this task?

The inner critic may create some sensations showing the task is exhaustive and unreachable. The protective part of the brain wants us to save energy because saving energy is a survival mechanism.

By using our thinking brain, we can make a quick assessment of the magnitude of the task. We can compare and contrast it with our prior experience.

Creating cognitive self-talk and making positive statements can create some space. For example:

"I have done this task many times before. It is doable. Why are you exaggerating? I can do it in small chunks. This part can take 5 minutes, that part can take 10 minutes, and other parts can take 45 minutes. So I can finish it within an hour. I can afford an hour to complete this important task. It will be good for me. I will feel great after completing this task."

As soon as we make these objective statements, the inner critic may get shocked and stop talking.

This silence can be a blessing for us. It offers us an opportune time to start an important task. Without delaying, if we start the activity promptly, we trigger the momentum.

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While we are undertaking the task, the inner critic may attempt to interrupt.

When we have an interrupting sensation, the secret is not to stop; instead, acknowledge the sensation and continue the task. It will shut down eventually.

Rejecting and suppressing this voice manifesting as the sensation can be counterproductive.

If we remind ourselves that everyone has an inner critic and it is not exclusive to us, our confidence can start flourishing. Awareness and acceptance of sensations give us space to operate.

By tackling each piece of critiquing sensation logically, gently, and kindly, we manage silencing the inner voice more frequently.

Whenever we hear this destructive voice, we always start with statements like: “here we go, my inner critic is talking to me. It is creating this unpleasant sensation. I am grateful it is trying to protect me, but I need to complete this task and enjoy the outcome.”

The most effective way is to turn this challenge into a daily habit.

Each time self-criticizing thoughts and sensations come to our consciousness, we catch them. We listen carefully, make sense of the messages, and challenge them gently and kindly.

After gaining this habit, dealing with the inner critic can be straight forward and comfortable.

Many successful people, despite a strong inner critic, thrive. They don't reject or suppress the criticizing voice. Instead, they listen carefully, understand, and challenge it.

With many successful repetitions, the frequency and intensity of the critiquing sensations reduce and diminish. When frequency and intensity are reduced, the thinking space starts flourishing and bring serenity.

When we manage to silence the inner critic and reduce negative sensations, we start experiencing joy, optimism, and excitement.

When we experience joy, optimism, serenity, and excitement, tasks can get more comfortable, and problems look more straightforward. During these positive emotions, the inner critic starts falling asleep.

Dealing with self-criticism is a broad topic. There may be particular and individual reasons beyond a simple cognitive switch. Mental health is a comprehensive and complex discipline.

For healthy and fit people, these simple techniques can work. However, for severe and chronic conditions, consulting qualified professionals can help.

Thank you for reading my perspectives.

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I write about important and valuable life lessons. My ultimate goal is to delight my readers. My content aims to inform and engage my readers. Truth, diversity, collaboration, and inclusiveness are my core values. I am a pragmatic technologist, scientist, postdoctoral academic and industry researcher focusing on practical and important life matters for the last four decades.

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