How to handle your nasty self-criticism
I’ve received multiple emails from readers sharing what triggers their self-criticism. Self-criticism can be one of the most MASSIVE obstacles to tackle, because it underlies everything.
What you’re telling yourself will determine the way you feel, the behaviors and actions you take and the words you say to others. Your “invisible scripts” shape your experience of your world. They are the paintbrushes on your life canvas (OK, that was slightly cheesy, but you get the point).
The sneaky thing with these invisible scripts is that they are… well, invisible.
Generally, you don’t notice them. They run around in the background of your mind all day long, and occur to you like they’re real.
Your invisible scripts sound like an observation of reality, but they’re actually a biased judgement coming from a part of you that wants to keep you behaving in the same way you always have.
Here’s a few recent comments from readers about their self-criticism or invisible scripts. I’ve bolded the invisible scripts for emphasis. These are the things that these readers are telling themselves and believing that it’s reality:
“If I have one lick of something that I feel is a “bad food” I start to feel I have failed and throw in the towel. I know logically I cannot be perfect, but I use that inability to let a binge take over. It makes no sense.“
“I teach Pilates and actually TRAIN people around health and fitness… and then I can’t even control myself! I come home and somehow start eating, then get so mad at myself for being a weak failure. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.“
“Its like ever since I moved to the US and started having kids, I lost touch with myself or something. I don’t have much time to myself and when the kids finally go to bed I just want to eat. I know that it’s a bad habit but I can’t stop doing it.“
“I will be good for a week and eat healthy and then I just lose it and say hell with it and hate myself. I know better but it doesn’t matter when I am alone and have a weak moment. It would be nice to have one piece of chocolate or something but I can’t do that. Once I start, I don’t stop.“
Most of the time, a part of you knows that what you’re telling yourself probably isn’t ACTUALLY true, but you believe it anyway.
Which makes total sense if part of you is really used to beating yourself up.
Naturally, that part is going to be looking for ways to be right that you’re not good enough, a failure, or whatever it is that you tell yourself when you’re being critical. So when you eat something that one part of you has judged to be “bad”, the other part of you will rejoice in victory because it’s RIGHT that you always throw in the towel.
The trick is to notice when that part of you is looking to be right.
When you hear these negative thoughts running in your head, take note. Observe what’s happening. You don’t need to stop the thoughts (or feel doubly bad that you are allowing the negative thoughts to override everything). Just notice them.
You can appreciate that it’s coming from a part of your ego or your “animal brain” that’s just doing its job. As your ego or your “animal brain”, it’s #1 priority is to protect you.
It’s trying to keep you in the same patterns because those are trusted, reliable patterns you’ve lived most of your life. It doesn’t want you to do something radically different, like enjoy the pleasure of the food for what it is and NOT beat yourself up over it.
Our minds are funny things.
When you notice this part of you, you can see it for what it is. You don’t have to react to it unless you choose to. If you choose to react to it as you normally would, you’re making a conscious decision. This puts you in the driver’s seat because you’re making a choice rather than reacting on autopilot.
This is very similar to when you have urges to eat when you aren’t physically hungry, or to overeat. The urges are being driven by this same part, the “animal” brain, that’s trying to protect you by comforting you, nurturing and feeding you because—for whatever reason—it feels triggered.
A habitual response to these urges, just like the invisible scripts, is to react and do what you’ve done before. Whether its beating yourself up, calling yourself a failure or eating the entire box of ice cream.
The hard thing to do with cravings or urges to eat is to notice the impulse to react and choose to let it run its course without taking action.
Likewise, the hard thing to do with nasty self-criticism is to notice it, choose to recognize where it’s coming from, thank it for trying to protect you and then let it pass on by.
It’s hard because, in the moment, it feels SO REAL.
And when you’re that triggered, if you’re like me, you don’t want to let it pass. You want to be bitchy, nasty and down on yourself because you think you deserve it.
So here’s a challenge for you this week:
See if you can find the “invisible script” or voice telling you that you’re failing (or you’re weak, or ugly, or whatever your word weapon of choice is). You don’t have to take it seriously. You can just listen to it like you would listen to a little yippy dog at your ankles. You know it’s there, but you don’t have to engage with it unless you choose to.
Notice how often you hear it.
Notice what you’re doing when you hear it.
See if you can zoom out for a moment when you hear it. If this is your “animal brain” telling you this message in order to keep you behaving in a certain way and feeling bad about yourself, it’s not real. It’s a triggered, programmed impulse. Congratulate yourself on being able to recognize it.
Congratulating yourself in the face of nasty self-criticism is the opposite of what you will feel compelled to do. But you’ve got the winning hand: you can’t transform it until you can see it.
When you can see it for what it is, it will lose steam. The more you notice the criticism and choose to not indulge it, the easier it will be to let it pass and put your attention elsewhere.
Can you spot your scripts?