If you’re hardwired to push yourself to accomplish, produce and succeed, as so many men are, there may be a hidden cost associated with this type of behavior. You may fall into pushing yourself to the point of stress, exhaustion, relationship problems, and a poor-self-esteem underneath everything that looks like success on the outside. Worldly success and “making it” could leave you with a really harmful relationship with yourself.
The self-critic, or the voice within that constantly criticizes you and pushes you to be more, is never satisfied, so you can never be happy if the self-critic is still loud and active. No amount of success and productivity can ever quiet the self-critic, even when you’ve “made it” to where you’re trying to get to. Even with attaining your goals and getting to the “success” point, the self-critic still thinks more work can be done, and that you can be “better” or “more” But, when is “better” actually enough? When have you actually hit that point where you’re truly happy and fulfilled, and not just temporarily?
The self-critic is designed to negate happiness. I think it’s always looking for flaws and imperfections in how we look, how we act, how we work, how we love and how we live. The only antidote to the self-critic is self-understanding, compassion towards ourselves and learning how to just “be” with ourselves – good and bad and all.
As a man, I know my wife has a lot to teach me about just “being,” as opposed to doing or being so rigidly task-oriented. Women are fundamentally oriented more towards being, in the sense that they have a lot to teach men who are more inclined to asserting masculine power in the world through accomplishment, success and a “driving” kind of energy. The feminine energy is about being and presence; the masculine energy is about power, achievement and accomplishment. Not to say we don’t have both energies within us, because we do, it’s just that archetypally, it’s often men who exert the more “masculine” forces on the world.
Many men also tend to motivate themselves with their critic. So, dealing with the critic is a mixed bag, because learning to quiet the critic may risk losing motivation, which is actually not the case. We fear that if we can reign in our destructive critic, that we’ll lose our footing in the world and stop being “producers.” I don’t think it’s the case; in fact, you may become more productive with a quieter critic than having it constantly get in the way of you being effective in your life, whether that’s in being productive or creative at work, making decisions with more ease or being more in the “flow” of your life without constantly being stopped by the critic’s harsh words.
Here are some ways to learn to show yourself compassion, and deal with your self-critic:
- If you screw up, allow yourself to screw up once in a while without beating yourself up.
- Watch negative self-talk, or harsh words you tell yourself
- Carve a space out in your week – every week – in which to actively do nothing; practice just “being” without having to actually accomplish anything
- Remind yourself in which ways you’re good enough; create a journal, or voice memos on your phone to remind yourself periodically
- Start treating yourself the way you might treat others, or a close friend
- Get to the bottom of your criticism: ask yourself what is the worst of your “crimes,” meaning what is the worst that will happen because of your failures or inadequacies? What is the worst that will happen to you – realistically compared to irrationally?
- Meditate: find a style of meditation that works for you, and practice it regularly for a certain amount of time (e.g. 5 minutes every day). Meditation is a great antidote to the self-critic, and for letting compassion into your life.
We live in a culture that promotes doing more and more, and not stopping. We’re working way more hours at work, and having less relaxation time as a result. I think the self-critic is just the beginning of the problems associated with constantly pushing oneself and not getting off life’s treadmill. Getting a handle on your self-critic, and keeping him or her in check, is the basis for a healthy and compassionate relationship towards yourself.