At times, we take shots at ourselves. We use a few self-deprecating words in good fun to lighten the mood. There is nothing wrong with this once in a while, but when these negative characterizations become common they begin to inform the way we think about ourselves, our goals, and our worthiness to be in supportive, life-giving relationships.
Somewhere somebody said if you tell one funny joke, you just told a funny joke, but tell five funny jokes and people will begin to think you are a funny person. The same can be said about negative self-talk. A negative comment here or there makes for unremarkable background noise in terms of how we think about our self. Several negative comments make for a well-developed background from which we might understand or explain the self (ie: I make a lot of negative comments so I must be a negative person).
Don’t freak out. There is probably a very good explanation for this. From a self-compassion standpoint, criticizing our self may come from many places: a desire to decrease anxiety about failure (if I call my self a failure first then no one else can), a desire to decrease anxiety about going towards what you want (if I persuade myself that I can’t do it or don’t need it, then I never have to suffer from not getting it or getting it and not being able to deal with it), a common family trait (especially if depression and hardship run in the family, there may be a tendency toward self-criticism), an attempt to protect our self from having our hopes dashed for the umpteenth time (we can become jaded after having our hopes disappointed and find some relief in pessimism).
Now that we know some of the causes, what can we do about it?
First, notice the relationships, social media, television or movies that actively supports criticism of yourself or others and begin to prune these from your life. The more time you spend around criticism, the more prevalent it will be in your mind, and the greater likelihood you will feel that it will find you.
Second, acknowledge that we come by these feelings and actions naturally. Nobody sets out on having a more difficult life even if you think you do!
Third, instead of engaging in finger pointing or thumb biting (according to Shakespeare this was aggressive finger pointing), notice this negative self-talk or self-criticism when it comes up and make space for its existence without developing a more involved story around it.
Fourth, bring kindness to yourself perhaps through the self-compassion phrases (This is just suffering. May I be free from suffering, May I be kind to myself, May I accept myself just as I am, May I live with ease).
Fifth, think about how to reframe your words so that they are empowering instead of disempowering. For example, instead of “I am such a freak about details. I must make everyone crazy,” try “I am attentive to details. I really care about the quality of my work and relationships.”
In the end, life is challenging, especially if we are trying to live a good one, so we want access to every resource we can get! This means rest, nutrition, positive support networks, opportunities to work hard and take care of our bodies, and positive thoughts.
There once was a psychological study in which they had both optimistic and pessimistic people try to find money they left lying on the street. The optimistic people by in large found the most money not because they were smarter or more physically gifted, but because they expected to and were not weighed down by self-doubt.
This is not an opportunity to be down on yourself for being self-critical. That is not the answer, but rather the trick that self-criticism plays on you to get you to continue doubting yourself. When you criticize yourself, you make a withdrawal from the bank of well being and energy, and we simply want to fill the bank up. It’s just math, and if you hate math, then it’s just science, and if you hate science, then it is just magic. Well, it is not magic, but it may feel magical will is still pretty nice! Side note: I am not giving you permission to go out into the world and do magic.
In all likelihood, if you judge yourself, you are probably a good person who has been working very hard that simply needs a break. Take one that revitalizes you, and practice some self-compassion.
Positive self-talk programs your brain to believe that it is worth life-giving work, relationships, and passions. If you change the way you think and talk about yourself, it will definitely come with disappointments but so many more successes and happy moments than negative self-talk will, and the funny thing is you will actually believe you deserve it.
365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion. Day 26. In the Books.