We should always have an understanding heart toward ourselves.
Self-criticism is learned—we don’t come out of the womb with that tendency. I’m talking about the self-esteem-destroying self-talk that buzzes around in one’s head endlessly. Like a virus that invades the brain, it constantly judges and condemns its host.
Infection takes hold early in childhood after repeated exposure to pathogens like belittling comments, looks of contempt, and ridicule. What happens is we start to believe what the virus is saying. It tells us such things as we’re bad for messing up, selfish for wanting something, cowardly for being cautious, mean for speaking up, weak for crying, and that we’re a failure for losing.
Daniel Gottlieb, one of my favorite authors, wrote in his book Learning from the Heart:
“Most of us have a part of our brain that observes our own behavior. But the observers lodged in our brains are neither objective nor compassionate. They’re more likely to be judgmental, always reminding us that we are not good enough. And so we criticize ourselves, judge ourselves, work harder, sleep less, or push our loved ones more . . . all in an effort to somehow be okay.”
What’s really sad is we give the virus more credibility than the nicer treatment and messages we receive from kind-hearted people. Their messages are seen as unreal and unbelievable.
The good news is that the virus can be annihilated. We can unlearn self-criticism.
Sophia—a client in her 20’s—is a good example. She began the process of unlearning by becoming aware of the constant babble of negative self-talk occurring in her head. Before that, she accepted it as a valid part of herself—it seemed to belong.
That’s all changed. Acting as her own ever-vigilant investigator, she’s determined to root out and destroy any belittling thoughts that rob her of self-esteem and joy in her life. How are they destroyed? By questioning the validity of any thoughts that tell her she’s defective, guilty, bad or inferior in any way. Increasingly, she’s the master of her opinions about herself, not her conditioned brain.
I’m proud of her!
Names used in this post are changed to honor client confidentiality.