Self-Criticism and the Hidden Truth Behind It

man full of self-criticism

All else being equal, you have no reason for self-criticism. Your brain and body are inherently self-protective. You value your life and want good things for yourself and those around you.

Otherwise, you would make absolutely zero effort to survive and prosper. If you find yourself criticizing yourself constantly, it means that all else is not equal.

The hidden truth behind chronic self-criticism is that the self-victim doesn’t really believe, in his heart of hearts, that he is blameworthy.

I can pop most people out of self-criticism and into an understanding view of themselves within a few minutes. This would not be possible if the self-criticizer were 100% convinced of his worthlessness.

With self-criticism, what’s happening can be difficult to see:

1) The victim is continuing a habit learned from his early caregivers, who were critical of themselves and the victim. Incapable of intellectually or emotionally challenging his parents on the matter and separating himself from the family circle, the child joins in the family tradition of self-criticism.

In other words, giving up criticism is like rejecting the family and separating yourself from them. The world is full of people who live hundreds and thousands of miles away from their family of origin. They have separated themselves physically, which may be helpful with an emotionally unhealthy family. However, their family tradition of self-criticism lives on within them. They have not separated emotionally.

2) More hidden still is the victim’s self-sacrifice in order to show the parents what they have done to him.

Some people hurt themselves in order to hurt others. A child who is ignored or neglected may begin to hurt himself, get bad grades, use drugs, or any number of self-deprecating behaviors. The meta-message is clear: Don’t you see what you are doing to me? Before long, the cry for help turns into resentment, plain and simple. If you don’t care about me, why should I care about myself?

Often this truth is buried. The self-critic doesn’t realize he is really blaming his parents by blaming himself. Once this is clear, a road map to make peace with the parents can be created. Only by making peace (which doesn’t mean condoning their negligent behavior) can he move toward becoming his own person, emotionally free to develop in ways that he chooses. Most of all, the tendency toward self-criticism loses its grip.

If you tend to criticize yourself, stop for a moment, and consider your early caregivers. Are there issues there? Ending self-criticism may need to involve resolving those issues that may be driving your tendency to hurt yourself.

Just discovering this may be painful, as it reveals a world of resentment, hurt, and neglect that you may have been trying to avoid. If this is the case for you, then you have opened a door that represents an enormous opportunity for healing and hope for a life free of self-criticism.

One step at a time, square yourself with the truth. Face up to the issue and move forward with all of your adult resources.

iNLP Center Staff
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