Stop Picking On Yourself

Whenever one of my friends starts to unfairly criticize him or herself, I like to demand of them that they “stop picking on my friend!  I think (s)he’s great!”

Nonetheless I know the dangers of self-over-criticism too well first-hand and so I thought I’d pass on these tips from Melinda Beck for further help when the “stop picking on my friend” reasoning does not fully do the trick:

Monitor your thoughts. Jotting down your self-critical judgments — I’m a loser, I’m stupid, I’m ugly — in a journal or a personal-digital assistant is the first step to mastering them: That process alone may decrease the intensity and frequency. Also note the situations in which these feelings occur and see if you can spot patterns.

Evaluate your judgments. Define your terms and examine whether your standards are arbitrary or fair. If you think you’re a “bad person,” are you a bad person all the time? Are there times when you are adequate? Dr. Muller says patients often find that their views are internally inconsistent. “I’ll ask, ‘What does a loser look like to you?’ The patient is picturing a guy in sweatpants sitting around the house drinking beer. I say, ‘Is that what you did yesterday?’ And he’ll say, ‘Well, no.’ ”

Also, try to depersonalize what is really beyond your control. “Some people think, ‘My portfolio is down 35% — what’s wrong with me?’ As opposed to, ‘What’s wrong with the market?’ ” Dr. Leahy says.

Collect objective data. Challenge negative thoughts with hard facts. Keep a short list of your achievements on a note card and pull it out when your self-criticism threatens to overwhelm you. Or look back at your own CV and review what you’ve accomplished. “Focus on the fact that you made it as a scholarship student — not that nobody asked you to dance for two years,” says Dr. Legato.

Conviction or condemnation? Recognize the difference between thoughts that are critical and those that are constructive, suggests Therese J. Borchard, whose Beyond Blue blog on Beliefnet.com often deals with such issues. If you overeat at a picnic, thinking “I am a fat pig” is a condemnation, she says, whereas thinking “I’ll try to start eating better tomorrow” is a conviction. Dr. Leahy agrees: “Your goal should be improvement, rather than putting yourself down.”

Re-evaluate your values. Make sure that whatever you are beating yourself up about is worth striving for. Some goals, like kindness, integrity, and being self-disciplined, enhance the meaning and quality of life, whereas others only feed into your sense of defectiveness, Dr. Leahy says. “Some people think, ‘I can get Botox and then I’ll be lovable.’ But the way to be lovable is to do lovable things,” he adds.

Thanks to Psychcentral for the heads up.

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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