There is a theme that runs through just about every story with every person who comes into my office for an individual session or for a group program: self-judgment. We are always our own worst critics. From beating ourselves up for something we have said or done to harassing ourselves to do better or be more productive. It just seems to be a never-ending cycle, and a strain on our ability to move forward in life. Sometimes when my inner critic gets fired up it seems like it may take days to get it to calm down again.
So why does this happen? Well, Rick Hanson, PhD, describes it as a negativity bias. Our brain naturally looks for the negative to keep us safe. Primitive man had to always be on the lookout for danger, to self, to food, to family. This pattern has continued in our brains as we are always scouting out our surroundings looking for anything that may be unsafe. But instead of being concerned that someone is going to run off with our newly caught and roasted pig, we are seeking anything that may harm our self-concept, our security in our relationships, etc. And when we find something that we do not like we then tend to attack ourselves as the problem. Berating ourselves has several positive aspects: we get to jump the gun just in case someone else plans to criticize us, that way it won’t hurt as badly. We keep ourselves from expecting too much and therefore we are not disappointed with any outcome we achieve. Self-judgment also keeps us from being boastful and thinking too much of ourselves. And though these protective patterns work they also make us feel badly and keep us stuck.
So what to do? Time to learn some mindful self-compassion. Notice when you are judging yourself. Remind yourself that just about every body on this planet practices this pattern from time to time, therefore you are not alone in this. And finally speak kinder words to yourself and maybe even place a hand on your heart or across your arms, rubbing and soothing yourself. Even our own physical touch will calm down the alarm system in our brains. If you are a chronic self-judging person you may want to consider joining our 8 week Mindful Self-Compassion training. We have these listed at centerformindbodyhealth.org.
Until then, may you find some kindness towards yourself!