“I’m so stupid!”
‘“I always find a way to screw it up.”
“No wonder I never get anywhere in life!”
“I’m just such an idiot!”
These are messages which many of us give ourselves when we make bonehead mistakes, or when we fail!
But it doesn’t stop there. Psychology is discovering that compared to the self-criticism we say to ourselves out loud, the criticism we give to ourselves in the privacy of our minds is far worse.
In fact, many of us respond to the following common life experiences by brow-beating ourselves:
Not living up to our expectations,
And an array of other events
But dear reader, you already know that these experiences are common to all of us, unless we have scrunched ourselves under our bed in a prenatal position.
In addition, such negative self-talk has absolutely no utility whatsoever…none.
In fact, it can be quite harmful. It can impair our self-esteem, our confidence, our mastery, our competence, our motivation, our determination, our purpose, and I could go on.
In fact, negative self-talk can actually cause cognitive damage.
So why do we keep doing it?
This is the question which Guy Winch, a licensed psychologist whose 2 books have been translated into 22 languages, asks his patients.
Here are the five most common justifications he discovered.
I’m just being honest with myself.
Indeed you should be. In fact, it’s always important to explore what mistakes you might have made, to be accountable for your errors, to take responsibility, to understand what went wrong, to figure out what you need to avoid or do differently next time—and being honest with yourself in that way is important and valuable.
However, listen to this: Calling ourselves names in the process of self-examination, or putting ourselves down, or treating ourselves dismissively and punitively, adds no value whatsoever. Worse, it significantly impairs our ability to learn the necessary lessons we need to extract from our experiences.
It will prevent me from having an inflated ego. People with inflated egos go around thinking everyone else is an idiot.
However, listen to this: Overly self-critical people who call themselves idiots are SO far from having an inflated ego it is simply not a risk factor for them.
It will prepare me for future disappointment or hurt. Nope, it will just set you up to make more mistakes and have more hurt because you’re undercutting your confidence, supersizing your insecurities, and sabotaging your motivation and determination.
It’s an accurate reflection of who I am as a person. The event causing your self-criticism reflects what you DID, dear reader; NOT who you are.
I deserve it.
When you feel you deserve it, imagine a dear friend who has made the same mistake you have made, and is feeling as bad about it has you have felt.
Would you say to them “You’re so stupid. You always find a way to screw it up. You’re an idiot!”
“Of course not,” you answer. “That would be horribly cruel.”
Indeed it is. So I have a question for you dear reader. Why do we insist on doing the same to ourselves so very often.
So instead of negative self-talk…
What we “deserve” is the same response you would give to your friend.
If you believe:
Your friend needed reminding that we’re all human
That we all make mistakes
That the best we can do sometimes is to learn from our mistakes
That our friends deserved our compassion and support
Then that’s exactly what YOU deserve as well. Dr. Winch calls this approach “self-compassion” and he has discovered that it is the most important thing to introduce for people who are self-critical.
Easier said than done!
When we mess up, our first utterances may be, “I’m so stupid!”
Or they can be…from now on…because we have chosen…to say, “No, I’m simply a human who is still learning and growing and changing, so I am still making mistakes.”
Steven Campbell is the author of “Making Your Mind Magnificent.” His seminar “Taming Your Mind, Unleashing Your Life” is now available on line at stevenrcampbell.teachable.com. For more information, call Steven Campbell at 707-480-5507.