It is one thing being caught in a loop with someone making you feel very small, with very hurtful words.
It is another thing entirely when that person is stuck in your head.
Further, we may not even know this dialogue is there, yet, it produces strong negative emotional states, and, keeps them steady.
(I myself had a script like this playing everyday, throughout the day, for at-least 20 years, and never realized it until that 20th year.)
In addition, words that had been sent my way from the outside world (people, TV, social media) only added to the mess.
They linked with the words present, and, essentially, validated the demented things I was already saying to myself.
Self-criticism, in essence, is a poor evaluation of who we are as a person.
Not to be confused with self-esteem, which is an evaluation of our own worth.
Self-criticism is more of a generalized evaluation of our self.
Here are a few excerpts to my own internal dialogue:
“You’re a loser. Get a life.”
“You are so ugly.”
“You are a failure.”
“You are a bum. You have no life.”
And a bunch of other good stuff.
For those that may be candidates for being self-critical, if they took a test, the results of their internal dialogue would be similar to those they would have with someone that they did not like, or even hate.
Similar to other paradoxes in depression, the presence of self-criticism is or can be considered as a disruption of the self-identity.
Although this could seem like a bad attitude towards ourselves, it is actually considered a personality trait.
That is, it is apart of the group of things like: courage, patience, loyalty, compassion, etc.
Whereas, an attitude, is more of our opinion or belief towards someone or something.
Being a personality trait, it is something that can stay with us all of our lives, and perhaps become more of a dominant trait in our brain to those that were once above, which take the mental backseat.
To get a better grip on what may be going on in our minds in this state, understanding the self-concept can be helpful.
According to Carl Rogers, the self is made up if 3 components:
– ideal self
Our self-image is how we see ourselves.
A mental illustration of what we as well as others (social media, teachers, friends, acquaintances) say about us.
Self-image can result in a few different ways:
-how individuals see oneself
-how others see the individual
-how the individual perceives the individual sees themself
-how the individual perceives others see them
A interesting study was done by Thomas Kuhn, an American Philosopher of Science, in which he investigated the self-image using something called The Twenty Statements Test.
This test essentially asks the person, “who are you” which is then to be answered by the person in 20 different ways.
The responses and overall results yielded, he said, could be divided in two groups:
- Social roles – external or objective aspects of oneself (such as son, teacher, friend.)
- Personality traits – internal or affective aspects of oneself (such as gregarious, impatient, humorous.)
Self-esteem, simply enough, is the level at which we value ourselves.
If we were to give ourselves an amount of worth; how much we like, approve, accept, or rate ourselves, the results would be the current state of our self-esteem.
However, we end up with a self-esteem that is either in the high, or low end. (Although there seems to be a middle category as well.)
It is commonly believed that a high self-esteem is a prerequisite to achievement.
In fact, a low self-esteem, can, in some cases, be a possible predictor of not only mental illness, but of how much one will accomplish in life.
Imagine the person you want to be.
Weight, skill, job, career, all of the above.
Picture the person you want to or have always wanted to be.
This, is our ideal self.
It is who, we would like to be.
Not all of us work on this or have ever really heard the concept being discussed, however, we all have this ideal wish to be this person deep down.
Or, we once did before. . .
Some suppress it.
Some of us believe we are incapable of attaining it; settling into whatever nest the world bundles together for us.
Others, go after it.
They find out what is needed to become what they need to be.
Further, it is theorized that, when a person has a misalignment with their self-image and ideal self, this could present a defect in how we value our selves.
If you think about it, how well is someone going to feel about themselves if they are in fact NOT who they always wanted to be?
A few things all of us should keep in mind with this particular trait of talking ourselves in to the ground:
According to Sidney Blatt, former professor emeritus of psychiatry and psychology at Yale University’s Department of psychiatry, the presence of self-criticism, outside of a case of depression, has the potential to lead to depression.
That is, if we were, for the most part clear from developing depression prior to this negative trait, we are now one cognitive step closer to potentially developing a case of our own.
Normally, and for the purpose of this post, the message is for those that already have this trait developed, as well as a type of depression already polluting their minds.
However, it is something serious to consider in it of itself; being something that has what it needs to conjure such a potentially dark sickness in anyone.
As with anything else, there are theories as to how self-criticism can develop.
The first is at home.
Our parents/guardians our those most influential characters in the early years of our lives.
And, unfortunately, most parents are not perfect.
Because of this, we, by default, inherit a lot of their thinking and behavioral patterns.
In fact, when some areas of parenting are off-set, for instance a lack of affection, children have been seen to cling to extremely toxic treatment, as it is, in this case, all the love they have.
And of-course, when they get older, the same is passed down.
Parents who are over critical to their children often create critical thinking children.
It is the voice that teaches them how this world works, and the voice that carries them through it thereafter.
According to some psychologist, parents that tend to be more critical are less affectionate at the same time.
Amongst other traits we can inherit from those that raise us in this world, much of it is pure impulse on their part.
In which, has has never been interrupted, so it is understandable how the cycle continues, and continues.
Unconsciously, for years.
In Our Head
Phrases and words associated with the defected self-concept can develop in to a critical evaluation of ourselves.
Negative self-concepts, especially in depressed folk, have transformed in to a disliking and even hatred for the undesirable object we have become.
So, for some things that we dislike about ourselves (which could be irrational in that of themselves), eventually, are identified by a barrage of hurtful words.
For instance, a child is told they are not very smart.
If this notion is kept as true as a child, there is a good chance it will stick around and carried to adulthood, but only to become more of a solid yet, extremely malleable trait.
Then, in the case of self-criticism, especially when it is associated with depression, what seems to happen is that the person will turn on their own self for these presumed defects.
The person will think they are not smart, but call themselves stupid, dumb and good for nothing.
I did this for years and never knew it was happening.
I never knew that a lot of the my own suffering, on a day to day basis, was a direct result of the nasty things I was referring to myself.
For any part of the day:
“Get up loser.”
“Time to wakeup deadbeat.”
“You’re such a failure”
And so on.
It’s like I would list and then say all the things I hate about myself anytimeI had the chance.
Although I don’t think I cared enough about myself to hear them.
I actually became aware of a few things about myself and this is when I realized that I was even critical myself.
For years I had not seen anything wrong with some of my approaches to other humans and I think one of the main reasons why is that, they were happening every day in my head so, how could they be hurtful to anyone else.
Nevertheless, I began to see all of the hurtful things I would tell myself.
I would not only repeat the things others have called me, but I would add to them, or make them a bit more barbed.
When it came to negative moods, this was one of the main reservoirs of sadness and gloom.
Self-criticism is a barrage of negative thoughts about ourselves, to ourselves.
All of our deficiencies as people (which in some cases may not even be deficiencies) are kept on display for us to place our negative views upon it.
We blame ourselves, put ourselves down, and, in a way, one could look at it as a part of ourselves breaking apart, becoming a new part of us that then holds our own-selves in contempt for these presumed deficiencies.
But how to fix it?
See a therapist, psychologist, psychotherapist, that specializes in what you’re suffering with. Period.
I think that is one of the safest routes we can take above all.
If you can’t afford one at the moment, or perhaps this is not even an option for you, try these useful tips from Amy Morin, a world renown psychotherapist that specializes in mental strength:
Pay attention to your thoughts
We are so used to hearing ourselves give the same narration that we never stop to listen. According to Amy, there are a estimated 60,000 thoughts per day, and “that’s 60,000 chances to either build yourself up or tear yourself down. . .”
But we can’t begin to make the choice if out thoughts are never quite.
Change the channel
Sometimes we think too much, even though it is necessary at times.
She says we should break this cycle of thinking by becoming active, and doing something that takes our mind somewhere else.
Examine the evidence
We never take a look at what we are thinking, and more importantly, what we are telling ourselves. Much of which, if we take a look, will be shown to b everything but true.
Replace exaggerated thoughts with realistic statements.
When you hear a negative thought, replace it with a positive one. Simple practice, but profound change it could bring.
Consider how bad these would be if they were true
Sometimes what we fear is going to be a disaster may not be that bad after all.
If we lose a job she says, is our lives over? Is it really that bad? Hard to think about things falling apart, however, if we can see that it is not going to be that bad, perhaps we can let it happen to try again.
Ask yourself what kind of advice you would give a friend
We most likely would not say anything hurtful to ourselves, so when we may feel like we would or have a moment where internal dialogue is present, try and treat yourself like a friend. What would you say to a loved one if they were hurting
Balance self improvement with self acceptance
Accepting our flaws is necessary for improvement in the future. We accept who we are while working forward to improve.
If you are daring enough to take on the inward tormentors, we could start with asking ourselves:
“Where is this coming from?”
It is widely accepted that self-criticism is a disruption of our self-concept, which we just took a look at it.
So, it starts with our self-image.
If we won’t leave ourselves alone, and we have all of these personal issues with ourselves, it may be worth jotting them down.
Or, if you’re like me, begin the search for what is actually being said.
I say this because for the longest I did not know myself that I was a critical person at all, but I was, and for years.
Looking back now, talking to myself like I was, no wonder I felt so bad about myself.
Further, what I was saying to myself was worse than anyone else had said to me, and on a daily basis.
It is ironic that humans can have things going on in their head and not know anything about it.
Even more so, as in some cases, these cognitive issues are not only effecting our behavior, they are dictating it.
Now, it would be safe to say that those suffering with self-criticism have a serious problem with there, selves.
But again, if we are unaware, how could we ever begin to think about where it might be coming from.
Hence, the uncomplicated task of asking just that.
Where it coming from.
For me, when I began to do this, everything came to light.
It seemed that my mind suppressed all of the traits I did not like.
For example, I made some mistakes in life and had to go live in a cage for a few years.
Upon my release, an education, which I had begun in the penitentiary, was my only hope to a better life.
I was ready to study for 10-15 years and become a Doctor or work for NASA or something.
I was denied four times at four universities and I have to say, I felt heart broken each time.
In my searching, I found that I was calling myself a lot of named in regards to this, and it wasn’t even my fault for being denied. (Well, I did break the law but what was the point of 41 months of incarceration to then deny me education, decent jobs. . . I digress.)
I was calling myself “stupid” every other minute. I was looking at myself as inferior to those that had a degree and to others in general.
The rejection in itself made me dislike me, just because: “Why are you like the way you are, we can’t even go to school now you idiot.”
Find The Source
I did this and I accumulated quite the list of things I hated about myself.
These things, although I knew I disked after seeing them, were wandering in my mind with me unaware of it.
The only thing I heard were the protests, the put-downs, and the name calling.
That is, all that was wrong with myself or what I did not like, was bypassed, and I skipped right to calling myself names because of it.
Why this turned out to be important information, was because, now, I knew the very specific issues I needed to work to make myself not dislike every aspect of my own character.
Which is ironic really: how can we possibly hate ourselves, and not even know it, but call ourselves hurtful names all day, and live in the stats these barrages create, all of our lives.
Because again, as noted above, self-criticism is a result of a distorted self-concept.
How we see ourselves, is flawed.
Flawed in that, what we see and how we think others see us are not what is really there, is has been distorted.
Although I began tackling my self-criticism organically, from Amy’s list, I ended up using some of what she recommends.
And similar to any other tip in life, it may sound easy, and the overall approach is, however, it could take us on an emotional rollercoaster.
I began paying attention to my thoughts
This was the first time I realized I was the harshest person I knew, to myself.
I would call myself the worst names, and even the names that other people would call me.
However, I was 100% unaware.
I realized I had grown to dislike me, to eventually hate me.
My self-image was ruined.
And coming to a point in which I understood this was huge.
Interestingly enough, at this point in my life I had already begun working on my mental health, yet, I had no idea the things I was saying to myself were contributing to my overall depleted mood.
I began to examine the evidence.
When I began to compare what I was saying with the actual truth, I began to see that even though I was still not thrilled with who I was as a person, the things that I was saying, were, simply put, not true.
Although in order to like myself even a little bit, it would be a long road and still very doubtful at this point, however, this revealed priceless information.
I was able to find the very specific things that I did not like about myself that were connected to the words.
For instance: because I was unable to get an education, a sad experience for me, I was calling myself “dumb”, and “stupid”, and “illiterate” all throughout the day, for years.
And on and on the list went.
These questions yielded the information that I needed for the next step used or at-least it was my best bet, in my own mind, to start liking myself more.
Self-improvement + Self acceptance
Amy put it perfectly, “There’s a difference between telling yourself that you’re not good enough and reminding yourself that there is room for improvement”.
Accepting yourself may be hard, in fact, we might have to make some major improvements in life before we can even come to this point.
This is okay; the overall idea here was to change anyways.
For instance: going back to the lack of education as an example, I thought about what I would like to be if I had in-fact went to college.
I am naive to how school works, but I ended writing down more than one profession (Astronomer, Nutritionist, Doctor, etc).
I looked up prestigious schools, and what courses are required for getting a degree or majoring in the fields.
I eventually found thriftbooks.com and I began loading up on books.
What I will do with the knowledge I attain is still unknown, but in doing so, I stopped calling myself names associated with education.
In fact, just the learning in it-self (apparently an important thing for me) made me feel better about me.
And just like that in this micro example, I was able to come to a point where I accepted me more, as well as a desire to continue the self-improvement.
I began to copy and paste this idea to other areas I did not enjoy about myself.
I seem to be on a roll with these few approaches, however, if I were you, I would entertain the thought of trying all of them out.
Three of them alone helped me to improve, and I would suspect in a year or so, may eradicate self-criticism from my brain all in all.
And so. . .
Whether we are already suffering from depression or far from any such thing: we are important.
We’re not all bad.
We may not have much we like about ourselves, but we can create reasons to like us.
Also, many of our reasons to dislike ourselves are not valid anyways, and will be extracted rather quickly.
I used to hate myself to the point that Russian Roulette was not that scary of a game to play.
Now, I’m learning to like me.
Working my way up, to loving me.
There is hope.
We have to want it.
We have to put in the work.
But, it’s possible.
Which is a beautiful reminder I think.