Week Three / Day Six – Self-criticism Begone!


Click here for the audio version of the lesson

“I can’t believe I did that.  I can’t believe I was so weak and screamed why way through that labour.  I can’t believe I can’t breastfeed properly.  You are stupid.  You should be able to do this you idiot.  Why can’t you get him to stop crying?  You are his mother. You should know what he wants.  You are useless.  Look at your friends. They know what they are doing.  Why aren’t you coping like them?  Look at this house.  It’s a pigsty.  You should be able to keep this house clean.  You are lazy.  Don’t stop breastfeeding. I don’t care if it’s causing you pain, you need to do what’s best for your child or you are a selfish mother.  None of your friends like you, you know.  They all think you whinge too much.  They think you are a try hard.  Look at your body.  You need to lose weight.  You look tired and ugly.  Why would Steve [husband] even want to be with someone like you?”

I remember when I first started to really observe what I was saying in my mind.  I became quite shocked at the things I would say to myself, and the endless self-criticism going on.  Even now as I reflect on what I just wrote above from my personal experience of self-criticism, although I don’t believe them anymore, I am still saddened by these comments.

Everywhere I turned there seemed to be something I did that would cause me to think about how hopeless I was, how wrong I was doing something, making judgments on what other people thought of me, and finally, what a bad person I was.  I realised that I had become my own worst nightmare.  No wonder why I was so miserable.

I specifically remember a conversation with my mum where I was complaining about something my children had done.  Her response was, “Oh yes, I’ve been there.”

I was surprised by how quickly my mind responded with “You’re a whinger.  She thinks you’re a whinger you know.  Everyone thinks you’re a whinger. You just don’t stop whinging do you?  Nobody likes a whinger you know.”

As I caught these thoughts I told my mother what my reactions had been and she said that all she was thinking was that she remembered this happening when we were little.

This is the perfect example of how our beliefs about ourselves can be triggered when living our day to day lives.  These beliefs can cause us to experience a lot of pain and suffering as we see life through a lens of our believed limitations and incompetencies.  The more we see life this way, the more we see evidence of it being true.

Have a think for a moment about the judgments that you make about yourself.  Pick out about four or five of your most common criticisms and say them over and over again, deliberately right now, as you stop from reading for a moment.

How did that make you feel?  I’m willing to bet it did not make you feel good about yourself.

Now take your child or someone dear to you (even the family dog if you like) and think of how much you love them.  Picture a moment with them that makes you smile, either something that has happened in the past, or something that continually reminds you how much you love them.  List four or five things that you love about that person and while concentrating on that person, say the things you love about them out loud.

How did that make you feel?  I’m willing to bet that you felt a lot different than when you were down on yourself.

The only difference was what you believed about yourself versus what you believed about that other person.  It can often be easier to believe that someone else is more valuable and lovable than you are, but why do you feel this way?  Why is it easier to love another person than it is to love yourself?

What is so wrong with you?

As a child you learnt how to identify with yourself.  You learnt how much you should love and value yourself.  You learnt this through your experience of how much other people loved you, by observing how much the influential people in your life loved themselves and by how these people treated you.

Here are some common ways we can grow up to be critical of ourselves:

  • You were blatantly told how stupid, incompetent, useless, hopeless, dumb etc you were and were directly criticised a lot
  • You observed somebody else being directly criticised and learnt that in order to be valuable you have to make sure you were not like that person who was criticised.
  • You were not shown much affection.
  • You were rejected a lot as a child when trying to be affectionate to your parents and therefore taught that you were unlovable,
  • You were brought up in a society that is achievement based and taught that value comes with how well you do in life, what you can achieve and how well you can achieve it.
  • You had friends or siblings that would tease you and call you names

These are just a few of the ways that you can create the habit of being critical of yourself on a regular basis. The point is that if you have experienced somebody telling you or showing you that you are no good over and over again then you learn to adopt this view of yourself too.

When you have adopted these beliefs, you begin to experience life in this way.  You find evidence in your life of you being stupid, useless or whatever the self-criticism is.  You see that other people treat you the same, which confirms in your mind that belief.  Through the lens of this belief you see more and more evidence of you being stupid or useless which sinks you even lower into despair and self-disgust.

But how true are these beliefs really?  Who says that these beliefs are true?  Just because somebody else believes them, does this make them absolute truth?  Do you believe everything that other people believe?  If you accept that there is a difference in opinions between one person and another sometimes, then why do you so easily take on the beliefs of your parents, or your peers about yourself?

Why not, just for a moment contemplate something with me?  What if you actually aren’t incompetent or stupid? What if you aren’t all the bad things that you say you are?  What if, all these years of criticising yourself, you realise that what you have been saying is not true?

After all, these beliefs came from the minds of someone else.   Who’s to say they are right about you?  Who’s to say that you are now right about yourself?  Of course you might give me loads of evidence of these criticisms being true, however, of course you’re going to have evidence, because that is what your mind has been trained to find – the evidence of you being worth-less.

However, I urge you to challenge your beliefs about yourself.  When you catch yourself making judgments over about what you are doing, or who you are being, stop what you are doing and contemplate what you’ve just thought.

Has there ever been a time in your life where this statement has not been true?  Instead of believing what you are thinking and finding more and more evidence in your life of this belief being true, why not try and search for evidence in your life that this belief is NOT true and see what happens.

Recently I was watching Louise Hays’ movie ‘You can Heal your Life’ and she said that she used to ask people, “What is really wrong with you?  What have you really done that is so terrible that you are unable to be acceptable to yourself?”  She said she never ever got an answer that made any sense.

You might say, “but I’m fat”.  So what?  So only skinny people are valuable?  Challenge that belief.  Has there ever been a time in your life where that has not been true?  Have you ever had someone value what you have done just because you are you?  What about how your kids respond to you, or your family, or your husband or your work.  Has anyone valued you and shown you respect regardless of your weight?  Why did they do that?  Was it really because you were fat or skinny?  Has there ever been anyone else in history who were respected and valued, even though they were overweight (what about Oprah Winfrey or Kirstey Alley?)

This is where you need to start challenging your belief systems.  Here are three more examples of how you can begin challenging your beliefs.  If Louise Hay were to ask you what have you done as a parent that is so terrible that you are unable to be acceptable to yourself? You might say:

“I can’t/couldn’t breastfeed. That makes me an incompetent mother”
So what?  Does this really define you as a bad mum? Has there ever been a time when this belief was not true? Haven’t you done other things that constitute as being a good mum in your eyes?  Have you ever known a fantastic mum who didn’t breastfeed?

“I’ve been depressed for a long time and have neglected my children.”
So what do you think that means?  “But I’m sure that it has messed up their lives” you might say.  Has there ever been a time when this belief was not true?  Has there ever been a time where a parent has gone through an experience that a child has learnt from and grown positively from?  Has there ever been a time where a parent has learnt some valuable lessons in life and was then able to teach those lessons to their child so that they didn’t make the same mistakes or believe the same things?  Experiences are for learning and growing.  Having had depression can be the best lesson about loving yourself and life that you ever got.  One that you may never have had without depression.

“I don’t enjoy being a parent or my children.  I am a bad parent because I get angry all of the time.”
Has there ever been a time when this belief has not been true?  Do all parents enjoy all aspects of being a parent all of the time?  Do you know of someone who you think is a fantastic parent, but who sometimes gets angry?  Are you really a bad person for getting angry, or is your anger just an indication that you have some beliefs that are in conflict with reality that you need to work on changing? 

Whatever you say to yourself that you think is the answer to why you are such a bad person, you can challenge it.  It is simply not true.  Any behaviour you think you should not be displaying is simply an indication that you need to learn and grow, not an indication of you being a bad person or a bad parent.

I think we can all agree that when a baby comes into the world they are 100% worthy, beautiful, pure and precious. That was you once.  What happened?  What do you think occurred in your life that was so bad that you changed from that beautiful precious human being that could do no wrong to being this bad person that you make yourself out to be?

The answer is only beliefs.  Your worth did not change, but your beliefs about yourself did.  These beliefs are probably not even yours.  There is nothing wrong with you at all.  The only thing that is wrong is your perceptions of your self-worth and you can always work on changing them.

You are still that worthy, precious and beautiful person that you were when you were born.  Now we just need to unravel all those memes that taught you to believe that you aren’t worthy.  It’s time to let go of these self-defeating memes.  They are simply not true and this is exactly what you are going to be learning in the coming weeks.

Needing to get life right

Often we get critical of ourselves because we are not doing something right, or are not achieving something well enough.  Perhaps you feel critical of not keeping your house clean enough, or not having a well behaved child.

Let’s challenge that for a moment.

Why do you have to have a clean house at all times?  Why do you have to have a well behaved child at all times?  Whose ‘have to’ is this?  Is it another meme?  Why is it so important?

Consider for a moment, the possibility that maybe you don’t have to have a clean house.  Consider the possibility for a moment that perhaps you don’t have to have well behaved children at all times.

Most of the time we get so consumed by the belief that we ‘have to’ have certain things happen in life, we never actually stop to consider why we have to have these things.  We never consider the possibility that maybe we don’t have to have it together all the time and be great at everything we do in life.  Perhaps we are all just doing things the best way we know how. 

If it is a desire to be better at something, simply learn more about how to do it better and then practice.  There is a big difference between a desire to do something and a belief that you ‘have to’ do something in order to protect or prove your self-worth.

Next time you catch yourself getting caught up with being attached to a specific outcome (a constantly clean house, well behaved children), contemplate the possibility that perhaps it doesn’t have to be this way and that your belief causing you to believe that you ‘have to’, may just be the beliefs of someone else or that it could be the incorrect belief that this outcome will dictate your level of worth.

The ‘I can’t’ mentality

“I can’t” is a limitation of the mind.  Perhaps you were told that there are limits to what you can achieve.  Perhaps you were told over and over again that you can’t do this, or you can’t do that.  Most of us were brought up with someone who told us that we can’t do something, whether it was directly said, or whether you experienced it through someone else setting their own limitations.

Combine this ‘I can’t’ mentality with the fear of getting life wrong and looking like a failure to the world and you end up fearing anything that may be difficult or challenging.

You start to believe that if it is too hard, then you must be doing something wrong, or it’s dangerous (to your self-worth) so you retreat.  This can happen with being a parent and depression.

You try to be a good parent (we all start out with good intentions) and you soon realise that parenting is tough.  With your ‘I can’t’ mentality you start to criticise all the things that you are not doing well (I can’t breastfeed, I can’t get my child into a sleep routine, I can’t ‘control’ my child’s behaviour,  I can’t keep on top of the housework)

You begin to fear that you are not going to be a good parent or look like that organised, competent person you used to be – or any of the labels you attached your worth to.  You associate this fear of your self-worth being compromised with the actual events, in this case, parenthood.

In order to protect your self-worth, you retreat from the danger of being in pain and this is where depression kicks in.  I stop setting goals in the area of parenting because I have experienced that I can’t do it and that causes me pain.  It’s one of our basic human instincts to avoid pain, so we stop what we are doing that could potentially cause me pain.

All this is done mostly on a subconscious level, but this is what is happening inside your mind.

Changing your mind

Of course, all of this self-critical thinking can be changed.  Just because you have thought this way your whole life, it doesn’t mean you can’t escape it.  The first step to change is acknowledgement (step one – thoughts).  It’s becoming aware of what you are saying to yourself.

Take notice of all those judgments, the I can’t thoughts, fearful thoughts about being a bad person and recognise that these thoughts are not true.  They are simply the memes that have created this habitual thinking within your mind and these memes are what you are going to retrain in your mind as we progress.

You are a beautiful, wonderful, pure person who has 100% worth.  Nothing changed from the time you were a newborn baby and I hope to teach you to unravel all of that thinking that has been adopted from your experiences that are telling you otherwise.

This week has been all about learning about the causes of the emotions that you feel.  Emotions can be very confusing, painful and consuming.  When you can find the beliefs you hold behind the emotions and realise that:

a) they are memes that were conditioned into your mind by the behaviours and beliefs of others and do not represent absolute truth; and
b) you can choose to look at the events of your life in a different way

Then these emotions decrease in severity and may even disappear altogether.

In tomorrow’s weekly exercise you are going to do a recap of all the information you have learnt so far so that you can keep this information beside you and remember what the real cause of your stress, depression and anxiety is.