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We are often our own worse critics, especially when dealing with mental health issues or if we don’t have a good relationship with ourselves.
All it takes is one innocent mistake, one small flaw to set off a spiral of negative thoughts bent on tearing yourself down.
Or maybe it wasn’t a mistake. It could have been an achievement you meticulously planned and worked for only to fall short of your goal. Maybe you just didn’t live up to your expectations.
But beating yourself up over your mistakes and under-achievements won’t prevent them. It’s not going to do anything for you other than make you more miserable.
Everyone makes mistakes. And sometimes, our best-laid plans fall very short of what we had hoped for them. These aren’t bad things. They are just part of life.
Does that mean you should ignore any introspection or negativity? Not at all. But there’s a difference between being critical of oneself and bullying oneself. Criticism is necessary for growth and self-improvement. Self-bullying is more about inflicting unnecessary harm.
That kind of thinking often starts in childhood with unkind adults. Childhood is such a formative stage that harsh criticism or abusiveness in a moment of vulnerability can inflict harm that persists into adulthood.
That harm facilitates thinking that the person should avoid criticism from other people and be perfect to be loved, worthy, and worthwhile. And when they’re inevitably not perfect, because no one is, they beat themselves up as punishment for their failure.
That’s a problem that needs to be addressed because there is a correlation between excessive negative self-talk and not achieving goals. People with harsh or severe negative self-talk tend to take fewer risks and not meet as many of their goals.
People who are kinder to themselves and more compassionate with their flaws reach their goals more often because they build themselves up instead of tearing themselves down.
Luckily, interrupting these thought patterns is something you can do with a lot of practice and patience.
How do you stop beating yourself up?
1. Identify the trigger for negative self-talk.
Negative self-talk is often caused by some event. That may be finding out that a goal didn’t work, making a mistake, or something random happening, triggering an emotional response.
For example, let’s say you drop a coffee mug by accident.
By reflex, those who beat themselves up will immediately launch into a thought process about the event. It might be things like, “I can’t do anything right.” “Why am I so worthless?” “What is wrong with me?”
Identifying the trigger allows you to interrupt the thought process. Your mind will try to jump right into those thoughts, but what you actually want to do is pause.
The pause is there to try to detach your emotional response from the action. Try not to think of anything if you’re able to.
It might help to remove yourself from the situation for a couple of minutes if possible. In our example, just walk away from the coffee mug, go into another room, look out of a window at the world that is still turning.
If you’re not able to get your mind off the thing that is triggering you, try to defuse the emotional response by replacing the negative self-talk with positive.
3. Replace the negative self-talk with more positive, fairer self-talk.
The negative emotions need to be brought in line with reality. A person is not stupid for accidentally breaking a coffee mug. Accidents happen! Coffee mugs get dropped! It’s not a big deal because it’s just a coffee cup.
These are the kinds of thoughts that you want to foster and grow.
You don’t need to be fake optimistic about it. If a big goal of yours didn’t work out because it just didn’t, that isn’t really your fault. It’s not a positive thing either, though. It’s a thing that happened that you now have to deal with.
False positivity can be harmful because it’s harder to believe, making it harder for that to sink in and become a habit.
4. Reinforce these positive thoughts with regular kindness to yourself.
Not every bit of that negative self-talk comes from immediately emotional circumstances. Sometimes, it comes from the way you generally relate to and think about yourself.
Suppose you regularly have unkind thoughts about yourself. In that case, it’s much easier to slip into the habit of beating yourself up because you may feel as though you aren’t good enough to deserve better.
Look for negative thoughts, patterns, and perceptions about yourself that you generally experience. Can these be influenced and changed? What can you replace these negative things with that are realistic and more kind to you?
5. Reframe mistakes and failures as opportunities.
Precious few people are ever successful on their first try. Most everyone starts at the bottom and needs to build themselves up. That typically comes with mistakes and failures. We’ve talked about mistakes, but failing is another subject that needs to be touched on.
It doesn’t feel right to fail. Or can it? Failure can be looked at as a strong and definitive end, or it can be looked at as an opportunity to pivot and keep moving.
Part of failing is learning about what does not work for your plan, whatever it may be. You can take that hard-earned wisdom, go back to the drawing board, and plot out a new course forward if you really want to.
Looking at failure that way makes it much easier to cope when things don’t work out. It’s not something to be feared or agonized over. Failure happens to everyone and will be a regular visitor on your road to success. Your power comes from the choice of how to use that failure.
6. Laugh at the situation.
Humor can be a great antidote to stress and distress. Tree separate studies explained in detail by Psychology Today showed that humor was stress-busting when used correctly.
What does ‘correctly’ mean? Well, it means seeing the funny side of a situation and even poking fun at yourself in a light-hearted way. This is known as self-enhancing humor.
Let’s go back to that dropped coffee mug – you might say or think something like, “Note to self, buy a mug that bounces next time!” or, “I’d never make it as a circus juggler, but a clown on the other hand…”
Perhaps you are dealing with constant rejection for jobs that you apply for. Instead of focusing on how unemployable you think you might be, laugh and say, “Great, more time to hone my skills as a TV critic.”
Or if your relationship doesn’t work out for whatever reason, you might say, “Plenty more fish in the sea, though I think I’ve been using the wrong bait!”
Another study showed that people who regularly use humor are more likely to engage in positive reappraisal – that’s a clever way of saying they see things differently and look for the silver linings. This ties in with the previous point about reframing mistakes and failures.
Steer clear of self-defeating humor, however, which is pretty much beating yourself up but trying to be funny about it. It’ll only make you feel worse about yourself if you’re already feeling low.
7. Patiently work at changing that internal dialogue.
The process of changing your internal dialogue is not going to be an easy one. You may even find that you have a hard time believing the more compassionate messages you’re giving yourself.
It will take time for this to become a new habit that you can take comfort in. It’s something you’ll have to practice at regularly, slip and mess up, and then decide to keep trying. The more you do it, the easier it will get.
This type of adjustment helps the major scheme of things, but it’s not going to fix the underlying issues that have pulled your mind in that direction. People who have an abusive childhood or survive domestic violence often need mental health professionals to close those wounds and let them heal. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help if you are having a hard time changing that internal dialogue.
Still not sure why you beat yourself up or how to stop? Speak to a counselor today who can walk you through the process. Simply click here to connect with one.
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