How To Stop Being So Hard On Yourself

Photo courtesy of Scribner

Even the most confident person has moments of self-doubt (and if you don't, please teach us your ways).

But, as much as it can suck to doubt yourself, it isn't always a bad thing. Jamie Justus, LCSW, a therapist based in Austin, TX says that self-criticism and doubt can actually help you do your best in certain circumstances.

"In low to moderate amounts, [self-criticism and doubt] give us the message to check our work, and to be realistic about our strengths and accomplishments," she says.

On the flip side, being too critical of yourself can veer into negativity, heighten your worst insecurities, and even contribute to anxiety and depression.

In writing her book, This Messy Magnificent Life, author Geneen Roth says that one of the main topics she wanted to tackle was self-criticism when it goes haywire — the judgmental voice that tells you that you're not enough.

"I realized that I was in the thrall of a shaming and judgmental voice about myself," she says about writing the book. "Every time I [beat myself up], I felt terrible about myself and I believed myself. I was at the mercy of this voice."

Roth, whose self-help books explore body image and self-esteem, says that she dealt with a lot of self-criticism when it came to her body. For This Messy Magnificent Life, she reflects on how we can find peace with ourselves, and practice gratitude for our bodies and our minds. Part of that, she says, is about quieting that judgmental voice.

"I don’t know that it’s possible to be free from self-criticism, but it is possible not to listen to it," Roth says.

Her advice? Try to see your self-doubt as an overbearing aunt who's clamoring away in the attic while you're two floors down, not listening.

Just because you think something, that doesn’t mean that it’s true.
Geneen Roth, author of This Messy Magnificent Life

As it turns out, Roth's "aunt in the attic" approach is a great, therapist-approved trick for getting yourself out of self-criticism. Justus says that thinking of your critical voice as something outside of yourself and creating a dialogue with it — telling it that it's wrong — can help you deal with negativity. You don't necessarily have to associate it with a person in your mind as Roth does. It can be an object.

"For example, you might picture self-doubt as a dark cloud, or personify your critical voice to be a guy named Bob who is always the naysayer at meetings," Justus says. "Personifying these thoughts helps us to get space from them and be able to lower the impact of their messages."

Justus says that you can also take a self-slight and turn it into a personal reflection based on facts. This can help you think about ways to improve.

For example, if you're thinking something like "I wasn't really cutting it at work today," you can try to figure out where that criticism is coming from and address it. If your criticism is actually about a work presentation that didn't go well, you can tell yourself, "I need to work on my public speaking," or "I'm going to give myself more time to prepare next time."

It's not always easy to realize that you're being too self-critical, but as Roth says, the first step to disengaging from the "aunt in the attic" is to realize that you have one, and that the voice doesn't represent all you are.

"Just because you think something, that doesn’t mean that it’s true," she says.

We might never stop criticizing ourselves — and that's okay, Roth says. But the next time you find yourself stewing in self-doubt, remember that you don't have to listen to the aunt in the attic.

This Messy Magnificent Life is on sale March 6, 2018.

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