I have a confession to make: I am a self-criticizer. I take myself to court time and time again to be judged by… me. I am both the accused and judge. This habit, considered by most to be a bad one, used to be the cause of much suffering and pain.
When I decided to set about to find out how I can change that, I stumbled upon a lot of advice telling me to remind myself of my positive aspects whenever I hear the criticizing voices in my head. I tried that for quite a while but it didn’t work; the fact was that I was still filled with self hatred and was not happy at all with my behavior in many incidents during the day. Telling myself I am a good person was not completely incorrect because I could honestly say my intentions were good, but it wasn’t the entire truth, and therefore felt like a lie.
Turn Self Criticism Into A Useful Tool
Then, one day, I took an advice that completely changed the way I view self criticism: instead of trying to stop judging myself and repeating all those positive mantras, I was advised to use my self criticism to improve myself, to change the behaviors that I knew deep inside were not right simply because they made me feel bad about myself.
For example, if I woke up in a bad mood in the morning, my reactions at work (and else where) would tend be annoyed and unpleasant. How can I be pleased with myself when I act in a way that clearly pollutes my surroundings and makes me feel so guilty? So, I decided that no matter what, I will not take my bad mood out on anyone ever again. Instead, I would use my imagination to blow off steam because imagination does not create reality (I would imagine I am shouting at someone who just pissed me off, and break all the furniture in the office); I would allow some tears to come out for brief moments when and if I had the chance, like on my toilet break or if I was alone in my office; I would cry/scream/curse while I was driving to and from work (but without directing it at the other drivers); and I would let it all out as soon as everyone at home went to bed, or when I was in the shower, or at any other opportunity I had time for myself.
Change Comes Gradually
Of course things didn’t change over night, but what did happen was that every time I managed to hold myself from behaving badly toward someone else, I was so proud of myself that naturally, and with good reason, I felt good about myself. And every time I messed up and was harsh with someone just because I was harboring any type of unrelated bad emotions, I gave myself the guilty verdict, fully felt the pain that came with it and felt so bad about myself, that it served as an even greater motivation to never repeat it again.
These days, I still miss an opportunity from time to time to keep my unpleasant emotions in check until I’m by myself, when I can freely and fully let them out. But today, these incidents are much more subtle and rare because I developed the ability to swiftly catch myself in the act and immediately stop whatever it is I’m doing wrong. I use it for other areas in my life as well – parenting, family, relationships; I have improved in all those to such an extent that I am now much more emotionally balanced (meaning: happier, more precise and calmer) than I was when I started this process.
Self Criticism is A Powerful Tool
Whatever your issue – whether it’s shying away from confrontation, letting your ego lead you selfishly through life, having trouble making decisions, doing things only to gain the love of others, not being a good enough parent, or anything else – the next time you start judging yourself, remember: internally guilty people are usually more precise in their behavior because in every situation they take themselves to court and have the opportunity to admit with all honesty: “This is where I went wrong, and so this is where I change”. Change is the solution. Check what it is that makes you feel guilty and what you need to do about it. Sometimes, the solution would simply be to feel the guilt and express it emotionally, sometimes it would require you to take action as well as expressing the emotions your guilt evokes. Gradually, you will eradicate guilt in one area, and move on to the next. It is a very effective tool for self development.
One more thing: once you’ve made the decision to change, don’t back down and never give up! You will probably make the same mistake over and over again, but you will gradually start winning just a little bit, and then a bit more, until finally you will know you are a changed person. And when that happens, you will feel you have the right to love yourself more than before; you will be happier and that will reflect in your day to day reality. That’s a promise!
Do Try This at Home
1. Be completely honest when you judge yourself: plead guilty when you know you were wrong.
2. Feel the pain, the self hatred, the anger, the self pity, and any other painful emotion that your guilty verdict evokes. Feel it and express it fully and totally – let it all out.
3. Once you let out enough bad emotions, make a conscious decision to never repeat that mistake again.
4. Never waiver and never give up – be a warrior and fight until you change what you set out to change.
5. Give yourself love and feel good about yourself whenever you succeed in changing for the better.
Featured image by Andy Pixel