One Way to Think About Self-Criticism

For a few days there, my mind was stuck in unsparing self-criticism.

It went something like this: You’re a thoughtless idiot. Pull it together, you’re 32, nobody else thinks like this. By the way, you look like a trainwreck. And why are you so self-critical? Get over it already.

And on.

This wouldn’t be my mind’s first self-flagellation binge. Usually, I can remember that other people feel this way, try to be kind to myself, and relocate my focus to something more expansive.

But none of that was working. These thoughts weren’t ready to be diffused. Which made them seem unstoppable, imperishable. Like they’d be fixed in my mind always.

But here’s a basic and beautiful truth about our human condition: we aren’t fixed or frozen creatures. Who we are today isn’t identical to who we were three months, seven years, two decades ago. We can always grow, develop, adapt, expand.

And so my mantra became: This won’t last. You will find a path to the other side of this. After all, we each arrive at this moment having grown, healed, developed so many different parts of who we are.

So perhaps it’s time we take our own capacity to change seriously. Perhaps it’s time we really believe in it. It’s such a hopeful orientation towards ourselves. And there are few more powerful responses to self-criticism, self-doubt, self-persecution than self-belief.

For me, it helped. I slowly and bumpily shifted self-criticism away from my default setting. And when it starts to creep back in, I take some big breaths and say quietly to myself, I can change this.

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