Breaking Free From Self-Criticism (Written By A Former Victim)
Daily practices for quieting the inner critic
Welcome to another edition of Beyond Self Improvement! Last Monday, I published My 10 Most Popular Articles of the Year.
Today’s essay is dedicated to reader Christine, who suggested today’s topic. It is about facing your inner critic and finding freedom from negative self-talk by accepting yourself as you are. If you’re new to the community, subscribe now to get my next essay in your inbox.
Do you ever feel like you’re not good enough? Like you’re constantly criticizing yourself, comparing yourself to others, and feeling unhappy with who you are?
If so, you’re not alone. Many people struggle with negative self-talk, self-loathing, and self-hatred. I know I did.
For years, I suffered from a crippling sense of inadequacy. “Your biggest challenge is feeling like you’re not enough,” said my last therapist at our final session. I didn’t doubt her. I have always thought I had to do more, be more, and achieve more to be worthy of love and respect.
I always pushed myself to work harder, stay up later, get up earlier, be better prepared, go to the gym every day, and run faster. I was never satisfied with what I did or who I was. I hated being lazy and forever procrastinating (before discovering fear was the real culprit). I hated failure and avoided the risk of looking bad. I worked at Fortune 500 companies because that’s what successful, talented people do, right? And to please my parents. I went to grad school to prove I could get good grades.
This started at least by fourth grade. Fourth grade! I taped a daily schedule inside a cabinet door in the family room, hoping to be more organized and productive. But instead of helping me, it only reinforced my feelings of inadequacy. I had difficulty sticking to the schedule and felt like I was always behind, failing, and insufficient.
This is a common problem in the West. We live in a culture that values achievement, competition, and perfection. We are bombarded with messages that tell us we need to have more, do more, and be more. We learn to measure our worth by external standards, such as grades, income, appearance, or popularity. We are conditioned to ignore our inner voice, true self, and authentic feelings.
But this is a recipe for misery. Negative emotions are not our enemies, such as anger, sadness, fear, or shame. They are not something to be suppressed, denied, or avoided. They are signals that something is wrong, needs to change, and requires our attention.
The fear is that if we allow the negative thoughts and feelings, we will be consumed by them and won’t be able to face the day and do what needs to be done. But the opposite is true. The more we resist them, the more they persist. The more we fight them, the more they grow. The more we ignore them, the more they hurt us. As Brené Brown cautions, “We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”
So what can we do? How can we face our negative traits, emotions, and feelings and find freedom?
The solution is simple but challenging. It is to allow them. To embrace them. To befriend them.
Acceptance does not mean resignation. It does not mean giving up or giving in. It does not mean agreeing or approving. It means acknowledging and allowing, recognizing and respecting, being aware and compassionate.
Acceptance is the first step to transformation. When we accept ourselves as we are, we create space for change. We open ourselves to new possibilities. We free ourselves from the tyranny of our judgments. We heal ourselves from the wounds of feeling rejected or ignored.
Acceptance is the key to contentment. When we accept ourselves as we are, we experience peace. We feel gratitude. We enjoy life. We love ourselves and others.
How can we practice acceptance? Here are some tips:
Be aware. Notice your thoughts and feelings without judging or reacting to them. Observe them as they are without trying to change or avoid them. Note how they affect your body, your mood, and your behavior. Be curious and compassionate about them. Awareness is wisdom.
Be gentle. Beating yourself up for having negative thoughts and feelings reinforces them. Blaming yourself or others keeps you stuck. Comparing yourself to others or to unrealistic standards makes you feel worse. Expecting yourself to be perfect is self-shaming. Instead, be kind, friendly and forgiving of yourself. You’re doing your best. If you could do better, you would.
Be expressive. Bottling up your negative thoughts and feelings traps them in your body. Hiding them or denying them leaves you feeling fragmented. Pretending they don’t exist denies your humanity. Instead, express your feelings in healthy and constructive ways. Write them down, share them with someone without reliving the drama, cry, allow yourself to grieve, scream. Let them out, let them be, let them go. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to sit with the discomfort of your thoughts and feelings without doing anything.
Be supportive. Isolating yourself or suffering alone only reinforces the sense of aloneness. Feeling ashamed or embarrassed by your negative thoughts and feelings is irrational. Everyone experiences negative thoughts and feelings. You’re not weak or crazy for having them. Seek support and help from safe people who will listen and understand you. Feeling seen and heard with compassion is healing. You’re not alone, you’re not hopeless, you’re not helpless.
I know this takes work. I know this takes time and effort. I know this requires courage and constancy. But I also know this works. I know this because I’ve done it. I’ve faced and found freedom from my negative traits, emotions, and feelings. And so can you.
You are enough. You are worthy. You are lovable. You are beautiful. You are unique. You are you. And that’s enough. That’s more than enough. That’s everything.
Keep practicing self-acceptance,
Whenever you’re ready, I can help you transform chronic anxiety and overwhelm into ongoing peace—making you feel calm and in control in 90 days. Schedule a free, 30-minute discovery call today.
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