A day doesn't go by that you don't hear that nasty, contemptuous, nagging voice saying, "You can't do anything right. You're a loser. You're not good enough." Then you notice that voice is your voice. You are your own worst enemy.
Do any of these statements sound familiar to you?
If any of this sounds like you talking to you, you're not alone. Millions of us find ourselves battling a self-critic that we can never get away from. It makes you feel sad, hopeless and helpless. It makes you feel stuck in regret. You dwell on all of your past mistakes and think the future will be even worse. You can never get away from your own worst enemy: yourself.
Well, the good news is that you can defeat your self-critic and take back your life. You can stand up and put down the voice that puts you down. Here are five steps for answering the voice within you that has made you feel so bad.
You may think that you are being realistic or that criticizing yourself will help you correct your mistakes and motivate you to do better. But it doesn't make you better; it just makes you want to give up. Replace self-criticism with self-correction. If you think you could do better, don't put yourself down. Look for a solution. Change your behavior. Rather than hit yourself over the head with the tennis racquet, correct your swing and hit the ball over the net.
You probably don't need any training to pay attention to the negatives. In fact, you might win a prize for being the most negative person who talks about you. But even if some of the negatives are true, why not consider the positives also? One woman criticized herself for choosing the wrong man and thought, "I must be stupid." But when she looked at all the evidence, she realized that she was quite competent and had accomplished a lot. Besides, how could she know the relationship was wrong until she had all the facts?
We are often much more harsh with ourselves than we are with a friend, or a total stranger. Recognize this double standard, and when you start criticizing yourself, stop and direct the kindness and compassion that you feel for your best friend toward yourself. Just as you need your friends on your side, you need yourself in your corner. Ask yourself, "If my best friend had this problem, how would I support her?" And then treat yourself as you would treat your best friend.
Sometimes we say, "I did something stupid," or, "I was really nasty," and then we are off and running with a litany of negatives, and we sit for hours criticizing ourselves. But we all make mistakes, and we all have flaws and defects. Think of all the people you know, and think about their imperfections, their weaknesses and their mistakes. And you still accept and love them! We are all part of the same flawed human race. We all have some unlovable, stupid and nasty qualities at times. We are all fallen angels. You can recognize your shortcomings without digging a hole and climbing into it. You can rise above your self-critic and say, "Yes, I am human. Deal with it!!"
No matter what you do, that voice will still be chattering away, telling you that you can't do anything right. Wave to it, say, "Hello, I hear you," and then politely say to your self-critic, "I know that criticizing me is your job, but I have to get on with my life." Tell your self-critic that it is welcome to chatter away, but you are going to the gym to work out, getting your work done and making your relationships better. Just because there is noise in your head telling you what you can't do doesn't mean you can't get on with things. In fact, once you focus on acting in spite of the critic, you will find that it is irrelevant what this voice says. You have made the most fundamental decision: to live your life fully, with all the ups and downs, with the noise faintly disappearing in the background. You have taken control.
Answering your self-critic is the best way to fight for your self-esteem. You need to have yourself on your side. You must be willing to give yourself credit for what you do right and improve what you do wrong.
Follow Robert Leahy, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AICTCognitive