How to Make Peace with Your Critical Self

People, including men, are notoriously hard on themselves, and many times have an adversarial relationship with themselves, which I refer to as a negative self-critic. They push themselves harder and harder to succeed, and then beat themselves up when they don’t.

Since we are really the only ones that we live with full-time, doesn’t it make sense to develop a better relationship with ourselves?

Starting to make peace with yourself means learning how to identify unhealthy patterns that keep you stuck. A lot of the times, we have a critical self that we’re not aware of, but that keeps us from living life that we should be living. We’re unconscious to this part of ourselves that is running the show from behind the scenes.

Identifying the critical self, and learning how to push him or her back, is fundamental in learning how to develop a better relationship with yourself. Just watch your mind and see: how often do you find yourself beating up on yourself, criticizing yourself, or reminding yourself of screw ups? Are you relentless and do you not give it up even way after the thing happened?

The problem is often not the actual mess up or failure; it’s what we do to ourselves after that that becomes the real problem. We may fail, miss out on something, or generally not perform at our best, which is one thing, but we are making it infinitely worse by beating ourselves up and not letting ourselves off the hook, and fall into this cycle of self abuse, negativity, shame, anger, and self deprecation that never lets us out of this vicious cycle.

What happens as a result is that we tend to fall into depression, despair, carry around anxiety with us, and stay stuck in stagnant in our lives. On top of that, we have to live with the guilt and the regret of not living the life that we wanted to because we’ve been so stuck and set in our self critical ways.

The first step to change this is identification. You have to realize just how much you are beating yourself up or succumbing to your personal critical self. In order to make peace with yourself, you have to learn how you’re at war with yourself. If you never really truly comprehend the degree of your self abuse, you will stay stuck and in the dark, constantly looking for solutions, avoidance strategies, or ways out.

Forgiving yourself or developing compassion for yourself are helpful to consider. It requires making peace with your critical self, or your negative self-critic. Sometimes, this requires a little bit deeper working more attention, such as one that you could experience in a therapy or counseling session. Sometimes recognizing your negative self critic is not enough; you have to actually find a trained professional to be able to help you to deal with it directly and experientially.

Learning how to re-direct your anger not at yourself, but towards other sources is also beneficial. Sometimes we learn as children to flip the anger on ourselves, which creates a negative or critical self, rather than ever learning how to successfully (healthily) put our anger back out into the world, or towards the people that have hurt us.

A lot of the time, because we can’t verbalize our anger as kids, it never comes across to the people that have caused it, such as our parents. Many times, the environment is not conducive to being able to get angry, because we have ended up stifling it as to play our unconscious games with our parents or surrogates. Again, in therapy, these are things that can be worked on so that you can learn how to more appropriately you re-channel or read direct your anger so that you don’t end up directing it at yourself. You have to become conscious or aware of your negative critic, and your anger, to be able to deal with it directly.

Meditation and yoga do help, and do assist, in terms of starting to recognize the self critic. They are not the end-all be-all solutions, though, so don’t mistake them as “things that I can do to fix my critic.” Men are notoriously bad at working through issues because they think that they can fix them, and on their own by themselves.

In meditation, it’s a lot easier to observe the negative thought patterns and look at how the negative self critic tends to go to work. In meditation, it’s about being observant, and not as surly giving in to the usual unconscious responses. Yoga has a similar effect, in that it promotes self-awareness through concentration on the breath and the body.

Simply giving yourself a break, or making a conscious effort to do so, does really help. Committing to this, or starting your day with that type of thinking, can really help. You can leave your self critic “at the door” For the day, and give yourself some time away from beating yourself up or coming down on yourself. If you can’t do that, just start journaling a recording how many times your self critic is active, and what he is telling you. Start to write down the actual negative thoughts, and come up with a thought log. Start to see the patterns and the consistencies between negative thoughts about yourself, And the events, people, or situations that trigger that response. Start to develop your own patterns and sense of their origins.

Once you start to identify your negative critic, you’ll be able to start to recognize that “this isn’t just who I thought I was,” and start to see the critic as a different entity. That’s a powerful shift, and one that counseling can better highlight for you. Give us a call for more information on how we can work with you and your negative critic – we know the terrain and would like to help you.

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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