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Unhelpful Thinking Patterns 2/11 - Critical Self

Updated: May 9

Woman Pointing Finger in Stern Disapproval - Depicting an Inner Self-Critic Conveying Disapproval and Critiquing Actions

This is the second part of a series looking at common unhelpful thinking habits.

These are patterns of thinking that our minds can slip into as a way of coping with challenging situations.

You can read more about this in my earlier post here.

Unmasking the Critical Self

The Critical Self thinking pattern is an incredibly common one, and it can be a tricky one to shake off because deep down we can believe that it's helping us.

"How will I be motivated to improve if I don't remind myself of all the improvements that can be made?"

The Dangers of Constant Self-Berating: Detrimental Effects on Well-being

The trouble is that constantly berating and having a lack of compassion towards ourselves can be very detrimental to our well-being.

The part of our brain where our threat response lives doesn't understand that it's ourselves giving us a hard time, all it knows is that we're under threat and so it keeps us in a state of high alert to make sure we're ready to respond to the next attack; this can contribute to feelings of stress and overwhelm.

Learn more about our how our threat system operates in this post about understanding and managing feelings.

Listening to Your Inner Voice: 'Tuning In' to Combat Self-Criticism

The first thing to do when tackling this thinking habit is to try tuning in to your inner voice and listening to how it speaks to you - some people find it helpful to write down the thoughts.

Most people are surprised at what they can catch their inner critic telling them.

A Friendlier Approach: Developing Self-Compassion

Think what it would be like to say those same things to a friend or loved it something you would say?

If not, why not?

Most people I work with tell me that they wouldn't dream of talking to a friend or loved one in the way that they speak to themselves. Ask yourself:

If I wouldn't speak to a friend or loved one in that way, why is it acceptable to speak to myself that way?

The Impact of an Over-Active Self-Critic

Now think about what it would be like to receive those thoughts as comments from another person...someone who was following you around 24/7 pointing out all your mistakes and failings - it wouldn't be a very happy life would it?

Likely you'd end up feeling stressed, overwhelmed and perhaps even anxious or depressed.

You'd probably also start to feel frustrated and angry towards that other person because they won't leave you alone.

It's no wonder then that when we have an over-active self-critic it can really impact on our well-being and mental health, as it's just the same thing happening...except it's us following us around all day constantly critiquing our actions.

Changing the Narrative: Relating to Yourself with Kindness

Once you start to notice the things your self-critic is telling you, then you can start to develop a willingness to relate to yourself in a kinder way.

Be a friend to yourself...think what you would say to a friend if they were in your situation and repeat that to yourself, instead of the harsh things that originally sprung to mind.

Acknowledging Your Self-Critic: A Step Towards Positive Change

And don't forget to show kindness towards your self-critic, thanking them for trying to help but acknowledging that you're going to try something a bit different this time.

Conclusion: Embracing Change and Kindness

The key take-away point here is that kindness to ourselves matters.

It is easy to overlook the impact of constant self-criticism, especially if we harbour beliefs that it is helping us; but the reality is that the negative impact on our well-being is substantial, feeding into our stress and anxiety, and even into depression.

By listening to our inner voice and challenging the acceptability of talking to ourselves in the way we would never dream of speaking to others, we are opening the door to self-compassion and enabling ourselves to offer encouragement and support to ourselves rather than an relentless critique.

Be the friend to yourselves that you strive to be for others.

As I mentioned above, this post is part of a series about the unhelpful thinking habits that we can fall into. You can find the other posts here:

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