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When You Are Your Own Worst Enemy

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By Linda Sapadin, Ph.D

Each of us has an inner critic. That could be a good thing or a bad thing.

When it’s a good thing, it provides you with a healthy dose of reality. You learn to self-correct by amending your assumptions, changing your behavior, upgrading your brain power.

When it’s a bad thing it’s quite a different story. Your inner critic pounces on you, inflicting injury, constricting spontaneity, bawling you out for any mistake you happen to make. Now that’s a problem.

Heather typifies this harsh type of self-criticism. “When something doesn’t work out right, I don’t simply tell myself I made a mistake. I call myself an idiot, a moron as well as some other choice words that I’m too embarrassed to repeat. I know it’s not good for me to do this, but I can’t help it. It’s like I do my own character assassination.”

If you relate to Heather, keep reading. Here are ways to reframe your thinking so that you keep that inner critic of yours in check:

  1. Accept that you will make mistakes, like everyone else. You are not a perfect person. Nor do you need to be. You do not have to do everything right.
  2. You’re still learning important skills. And that’ a good thing. Don’t denigrate yourself for still learning. By toning down your self-criticism, you’ll make your life far less stressful than it already is.
  3. Define the important skills you still need to learn. You may not think of them as skills, but they are. You may need to learn how to be assertive or when to be quiet. You may need to learn how to curb your temper. Or, how to relax when there is so much to do. These are skills that people learn; you are not born with that knowledge.
  4. Accept your weaknesses. We’ve all got them. Some folks brag about them, others keep them to themselves. Either style is okay, as long as you don’t become your own worst enemy. Having flaws, deficiencies and shortcomings doesn’t make you an awful person. You’re just a human being who is still growing and learning.
  5. If your weaknesses are upsetting to you, strengthen them. Yes, you have to put in the time and effort. Sorry, it doesn’t happen with the wave of a magic wand. Even if you feel like you’ve got a muddled brain, two left feet or no time to spare, you can still learn to do anything you put your mind to. You may never reach an expert level. Maybe not even an intermediate one, but you can certainly increase your skill level.
  6. Speak more compassionately about your mistakes. Scratch those harsh words. Chase away the name calling. Stop being cruel to yourself. Use gentle words and a caring tone of voice, as you own up to your mistakes. “Yup, I miscalculated those numbers. Overlooked a detail. Ignored my hunch. Lost my cool. Broke the shade. Yup, I goofed. I messed up. I made a blunder.” By changing the words you use, are you playing a game with yourself? Is it all just semantics? Or is it, as I believe, a kinder and more accurate accounting of your mistakes.

So, I hope these ideas will encourage you to cut yourself some slack, give yourself a break and keep that inner critic of yours in check.

And oh yes, Mark Twain’s advice might assist you as well: “An occasional compliment is necessary to keep up one’s self-respect. When you cannot get a compliment any other way, pay yourself one.”

Copyright © 2017: Linda Sapadin, Ph.D
Linda Sapadin is a psychologist and personal coach in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. For more information about her work, contact her by email or visit her website at PsychWisdom.
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