Taming the Negative Self-Critic

Most people don’t know it’s always there, because they take it for granted. It’s that little voice inside, constantly evaluating, criticizing and shaming you. It’s the annoying voice of evaluation that prevents you from finding spontaneity or freedom in what you do. It’s your negative self-critic.

The self-critic is hard to find, because we spend so much time dealing with it, or projecting onto others. We fall into criticism or others, and make it about other people’s shortcomings, rather than looking at our flawed selves. If we did, we would find our negative self critic tirelessly at work, beating up on ourselves, pushing ourselves to do more and more, and not feeling satisfied with the work we’ve done.

Getting handle on the self-critic begins with acknowledging it’s presence. We need to become aware that it’s there in the first place, because if we don’t, we’re flying blind. We also have to get to a place where we would envision ourselves living without it, or at least in a reduced way. We would have to picture living free from the enslavement it put us under, always striving to “do it better,” or “do it right.” The negative self-critic, or the evaluator, is usually not satisfied with validating us, just criticizing us to do more and better.

I dealt with a negative self-critic for years. It had defined the relationship I had with myself, unfortunately. Although it would propel me to accomplish more, do more and produce more (all culturally valued things), it wouldn’t stop. It wouldn’t let me just “live in the moment” and experience my life as it unfolded. It would be there, in the background or in the bleachers section of my brain, judging, sizing up, criticizing and generally not accepting ways of being in the world: from interacting with others, to completing tasks without thinking about them afterwards, etc. In learning to accept myself, and my flaws, I learned to tame my negative self-critic, and, consequently, did the same for the others in my life. It got easier to live with myself, and, I’m sure, others in my life felt that way, too.

Self-critical and internalize messages usually originate from growing up, with our families of origin. I think we internalize these messages about ourselves from our childhood environments, and absorb messages – either subtle or overt – about the fact that our fundamental “being” is somehow flawed, that we need to be different from ourselves, better than ourselves, in some way. I think, as children, we deal with critical parents, or from withdrawn parents, constantly keeping ourselves in check to be better, the way Mom and Dad want us to be. We would be loved more “if we were just better,” rather than accepting ourselves as we are, which, as children, is incredibly hard. The biggest problem with this is: we forget to drop the messages when we grow up, and we forget that they’re playing in the background the whole time (throughout our lives).

Honestly, dealing effectively with the negative self-critic takes counseling. Sometimes a lot of it. It’s not enough to recognize it’s presence in your life, and to intellectually understand it. You have to confront it, and with the help of a therapist, you can start to tame it so that you don’t feel enslaved to it. For beginners, just start to appreciate that it’s there, that it takes up your mental headspace and does it’s damage on you. Try journalling, even dedicating a journal to your negative self-critic. Create a lot of awareness that it’s there, and you’ll start to see the effects that it has on your life.



About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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