If I put a bubble on top of your head so everyone could read the thoughts you have about yourself, what would we see? If you are like most women, your inner critic probably says things like:
- You really have everyone fooled, don’t you
- Here you go again, not following through with what you said you were going to do
- Honestly, when are you ever going to figure this out
- No wonder he/she behaves that way towards you
Like most women you probably compare yourself to others and beat yourself up with self-judgment. It just doesn’t seem like anything you do is good enough or once you have achieved some goal you are on to the next thing that is lacking and needs improvement.
Wanting to improve your life is a wonderful thing; I’m all about self-growth, setting goals and wanting to become a better version of yourself. The issue is when you believe that you need to beat yourself up in order to feel motivated to take action.
This week I’m going to discuss why you beat yourself up and how to stop.
Why you beat yourself up
If you have ever seen a military training movie like “Full Metal Jacket” you might be familiar with how a drill sergeant trains the people in his platoon. The yelling, insults and breaking down of the person’s will is believed to be necessary to mold them into soldiers.
While the military has their ways of training people to serve the country, your inner critic can often sound as harsh and insulting as one of these drill sergeants. If you are in the habit of beating yourself up, you were probably taught to believe that it was necessary in order to create the things you want in your life.
Somewhere along the way you may have been taught that self-compassion will make you lazy or possibly selfish. If you have been in the habit of beating yourself up, you may believe the best option is being hard on yourself or else you will be complacent.
Research shows that individuals who grow up with highly critical parents are much more likely to be critical toward themselves when they become adults. It doesn’t even have to be a parent who was critical; it could be any significant figure in your life that had some form of influence.
This is a common issue for successful women because you tend to believe that beating yourself up in order to excel personally and professionally is how you get ahead, especially in a male-dominated profession like accounting and finance. The truth is that it may work for awhile but at what cost? It’s not sustainable and completely draining.
If you are in the habit of beating yourself up it’s important to get a handle on your beliefs about yourself because those beliefs are going to dictate how you experience your life. Your brain’s filtering system will always look for proof of what you believe about yourself.
This is why we say that your beliefs are a “self-fulfilling prophecy” because what you believe is what you will see and what you will experience. For example, if you believe you aren’t capable of making manager at your firm, your brain is going to filter everything through that belief and show you all the reasons why your belief is true that you aren’t capable of advancing to manager.
The irony is that when you are aware that you are self-critical you often wind up judging yourself for being judgmental of yourself. In essence, it can create a cycle where you beat yourself up in the hope that it will make you stop beating yourself up.
The reason that being self-critical is so common is because your survival instincts create the need to be accepted and often to be dominant within a group. With this need, your brain interprets rejection similar to death therefore it’s always comparing you to others and pointing out your flaws and shortcomings.
Your inner critic offers thoughts like “She is better at that than you” or “You’re not as good as him” as a way of keeping you safe from being rejected from the tribe. This is also why you may tend to be self-deprecating where you say something negative about yourself to others before they say something negative first.
Unfortunately self-criticism hurts you emotionally as well as physically because it triggers the brain’s natural fight or flight response, increasing your blood pressure and releasing adrenaline and cortisol into your system in order for you to have the strength and energy needed to confront a threat. Over time increased cortisol levels lead to stress, depression, a decrease in the brain’s ability to function properly and can affect your memory.
Since your brain doesn’t know the difference between a physical attack or an emotional attack, the fight or flight response is triggered either way. Whether someone tries to push you out of the way on a city street or you say something negative about yourself, your brain reacts the same way.
It’s all a vicious cycle of negativity and reaction for the purpose of protection. However, your primitive brain doesn’t understand that there is a better way to get the results you want that doesn’t involve beating yourself up.
That better way is held within the higher, more evolved part of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex. This part of the brain holds the key to the ability to stop beating yourself up.
How to stop beating yourself up
Do you still believe that being “soft” on yourself will not inspire you to do anything or to get the results you want? It’s totally normal to believe this because you’ve probably never been taught otherwise.
Intellectually you know you should stop beating yourself up and that it’s not helpful but you just can’t stop. The reason you can’t stop is because you have normalized this behavior and probably don’t think it’s such a big deal.
If you get anything out of this blog, I want you to really get this – it IS a big deal and it’s bigger than you realize. Whether it’s a small comment like “What an idiot” when you forget your coffee mug at home or it’s a big comment like “You really are a horrible mom” when you forget to send in the signed permission slip, you are growing and watering negative beliefs about yourself in the garden of your fertile mind.
If you are ready to stop beating yourself up then this three step process is how:
As a human you have the amazing ability to think about what you think about by being the observer of your thoughts. When you become aware of the things your inner critic is saying, you can decide whether you want that thought to grow in your garden or remove it like a weed.
In order to be aware of the thoughts your inner critic offer, you need to be gentle. You cannot just play “whack a mole” with your self-critical thoughts and miraculously they never return.
You may believe they are “hidden” but that’s not the case. Your unconscious thoughts are as natural as breathing but unless you get still and pay attention, like when you take a conscious breath in a meditation or a yoga class, you don’t even realize the second by second process of breathing.
Your primitive brain has over 60,000 thoughts a day. Just like breathing happens automatically, most of those 60,000 thoughts happen without your awareness until you consciously pay attention.
To bring your awareness to the thoughts your inner critic unconsciously offers, start with the types of things you typically judge and criticize yourself for. Maybe it’s your appearance, your status in your career, your marriage or your parenting.
Begin to pay attention to the areas where you are the most critical and the thoughts that would be in that bubble above your head. For example, if you tend to beat yourself up about your status in your career, become conscious of when your boss has some review notes and corrections on the file you worked on and the self-critical thoughts you have.
Once you are clear, you need to write those thoughts down because they are creating your life experience. You cannot observe your thoughts by using the mind that created them so it’s important that you take a few minutes to write them down.
Now that you have an awareness of the areas where your inner critic loves to judge you and you have written down some of the thoughts your inner critic says, it’s time to get clear on how those judgments are affecting your life. You may not even realize how beating yourself up is affecting how you feel and directly affecting what you do or don’t do.
The first step is to take a look at how you feel when you think each of the thoughts you wrote down. Take one thought and ask yourself to describe how it makes you feel in one word.
For example if your thought is “I’m not good at that”, your feeling might be frustration, guilt or embarrassment. Every thought you think creates a feeling so it’s important to become aware of the connection between how you feel and the thought creating that feeling.
Since your self-critical thoughts affect your behavior the next step is to understand what actions, inactions or reactions you have. Everything you do or don’t do is fueled by an emotion so it’s important to understand the effect your thoughts are having on your behavior.
For example, if your thought is “I’m not good at that” and your feeling is frustration, you most likely won’t take the action necessary to figure out how to get good at that thing. The feeling of frustration will most likely make you spin in other negative thoughts, looking for all the other times you weren’t good at something because your brain is looking for proof of your belief.
Now that you have become aware of the unconscious self-critical thoughts and you can see their effect on how you feel and how you behave, it’s time to take charge and be the gardener of your mind.
Since beating yourself up isn’t getting you what you want then it’s time to make a plan for those moments when your inner critic shows up. This is important because the more you beat yourself up, the more you will look to escape your negative emotions by buffering with food, alcohol, shopping or social media to just name a few.
The drill sergeant in your mind believes that harshness is effective but since that hasn’t gotten you the results you want it’s time to do something different. Be aware that if you have a lack of self-confidence it is directly related to how harsh your inner critic has been and the weeds it’s been scattering all over your garden.
There are two ways to create a plan depending on how long you’ve been beating yourself up. If you haven’t been too harsh for too long then the key is self-kindness but if it’s a habit you’ve had for a long time then the key is curiosity.
For the plan of self-kindness you would make a decision to stop the constant self-judgment and instead imagine how you would treat someone you really cared about that did the things you were so self-critical about. You would most likely help them by gently asking them what they think went wrong and how they think they can fix or improve it.
With someone you cared about you wouldn’t make what they did or didn’t do define who they are; you would be patient and encouraging. With this plan you would now apply that same caring and kindness to yourself by choosing thoughts to say to you that you would have said to them.
Instead of saying “What an idiot” when you forgot your coffee mug at home, you could imagine what you would say to your child if they left something like a pencil at home. You could choose to say “It’s ok, we all forget things sometimes” which may lead to putting a reminder by the back door from now on to help remember things rather than beating yourself up for forgetting.
If however you’ve had a long habit of believing negative things about yourself then loving yourself no matter what by practicing self-kindness might be too far of a stretch for you. If that’s the case then the plan is to be in a place of curiosity.
If, for example, you took a certain action like overeating, the plan would be to be curious about the feelings that triggered that desire. In this plan you are going to try to understand what happened instead of judging what happened.
Instead of saying “You never stick to anything you say you’re going to do” when you go off your eating protocol and have dessert, you could instead be curious about what you were feeling before you gave into the urge to overeat. Were you overwhelmed, frustrated or sad and what were you thinking that created those feelings?
With a little more awareness of your self-critical thoughts in the bubble above your head, a better understanding of their effects and a plan to change the habit of beating yourself up, you can begin to plant a beautiful garden where your inner critic will no longer enjoy visiting.
- Wanting to improve your life is a wonderful thing; the issue is when you believe that you need to beat yourself up in order to feel motivated to take action.
- The reason you can’t stop is because you have normalized this behavior and probably don’t think it’s such a big deal, but it IS!
- Begin to pay attention to the areas where you are the most critical and the thoughts that would be in that bubble above your head.
- You may not even realize how beating yourself up is affecting how you feel and directly affecting what you do or don’t do.
- Since beating yourself up isn’t getting you what you want then it’s time to make a plan for those moments when your inner critic shows up.
If you’d like some help to stop beating yourself up, please feel free to schedule a free mini session or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can get to work together.