It was around late 2019 when I transferred from a different course by taking teaching education. At that time, I wanted to major in Psychology in hopes to become a psychologist someday. However, due to the huge competition to get accepted, I couldn’t get in. It was fine for me. Teaching education was also one of the paths I wanted to take and it’s closest to the field of psychology I wanted to pursue. And so I spent my whole semester in teaching education.
It was going smoothly I would say. Of course, adjusting and studying the majors was a huge struggle. Not to mention, I had occasional anxiety over the uncertainties about my future and if the path I chose was the right one. I was coping well nonetheless. Not until I learned something I should have known from the start.
It was in the middle of the night when I saw a Facebook post from my previous course congratulating their former students for passing the psychology licensure exam. At that moment, I lost it. I thought to myself, “How did I not know this? Why am I so dumb? Why did I transfer without thinking about the opportunities from my previous course? I’m so stupid and such a failure.” I cried for the next hours instead of preparing for my tasks the next day.
I bet throughout our years of living, we had experienced many failures and disappointments. You probably had terrible marks on your finals or you flunked a presentation. You might have embarrassed yourself in an interview or even mindlessly offended someone with what you said. You look back and wonder, “How could I have done that?” You keep using words like useless, stupid, ugly, failure, and hopeless against yourself until you believe it’s true. As if it defines who you are.
Yet if you think about it, at that time you could’ve acted that way given the circumstances and how things appeared to you. Sure you should have acted differently, but perhaps it was really the most suitable choice you had, even when if it was not the best. When I look back from my experience, perhaps it was really what I’ve done best with what I have known. It may have been embarrassing, but perhaps I had other reasons to transfer. Perhaps I didn’t really have all the information and just acted exactly as I did. Certainly, your own experiences must have been the same too. Maybe it was what you’ve known best and you just acted the way you should have at that time.
So why bother pulling yourself down? Why criticize yourself over what happened? Why shoot another arrow to yourself when the first one already hurt?
Self-critical thoughts are a danger to your own well-being and how you view yourself as a person. Imagine yourself as a defendant, and there’s a prosecutor who keeps talking you down. They keep telling you you’re useless, stupid, and a failure. That’s how self-criticism feels. You prosecute yourself; you fall into rumination where you endlessly replay the failure in your head and judge yourself based on what happened. It’s different from calmly observing yourself and identifying what went wrong. It’s different from constructively reflecting and seeing what you can learn from it. Self-criticism undermines any positive view and highlights any negative view you have over yourself.
You’re probably thinking “Is being self-critical a big deal? I actually work harder doing it”. Okay but imagine your friend experienced the same failure and you say the exact self-critical thoughts you say to them. Would it make them feel better? Would they be more confident? How would they react to it? Chances are they’ll lose self-confidence and be depressed. Self-criticism is much more dangerous than you think. It may help you work harder in the short term, but in the long term, it just feeds your habit of pulling yourself down; sooner or later you reach your breaking point.
There are a lot of reasons why self-criticism is a danger. Here are some convincing for you to rethink how you should treat yourself more:
- It denies you the opportunity for you to grow and learn – self-criticism only focuses on emphasizing the failures you’ve done and lowering your self-esteem. It’s not close to seeing things clearly and helping yourself to improve.
- It’s unfair – making mistakes and having weaknesses is a part of life. However, if you let it as something that defines your whole being, is this fair? Is it fair to wholeheartedly believe you’re useless because of a mistake? Is it fair when in fact your whole being is made up of millions of attributes, traits, skills, and thoughts? When you only focus on the negative aspects, that’s cherry-picking. It’s not fair at all.
- It pulls you down and paralyzes you – self-criticism does not encourage you to be better or even embrace your failures. It makes you disappointed with yourself, avoid the situation, and be unmotivated to do anything.
Convinced yet? I sure hope so. Now that you’re aware of how self-criticism can be dangerous, how do you overcome it? How to move on from self-critical thinking to healthier realistic thinking? Through reading self-help books and practicing healthier activities, I’m able to formulate six points of overcoming self-criticism that, hopefully, would help you out as much as they did to me.
Question self-critical thoughts – Become aware whenever you start criticizing yourself. Identify the usual negative words you say to yourself such as useless, stupid, disappointing, or frustrated. Being aware of your thoughts is the first step into questioning them. Once you’re aware of these thoughts, write them down and rethink. Is this statement really true? What evidence do I have to prove it? Then think about a statement or evidence that can disprove that self-critical thought. What pieces of evidence can I prove that this statement is wrong? Why is this statement not wholeheartedly true?
Imagine it like the defendant and prosecutor scenario, then bring in the defense attorney who can refute the prosecutor’s harsh statements. Although you may still believe the negative statement at some degree, having a counter-argument helps you see things from a much broader perspective (like a judge!) than focusing only on the negatives.
Practice saying positive affirmations to yourself every day – I cannot stress this enough over how important this is. Words are such a powerful thing you can use to lift yourself up. Saying positive affirmations can improve your mood and set your perspective of your day in a brighter light. You can do this anytime you want, but I highly recommend you do it every morning. You can try picking out a motivational quote online that resonates with you and say it to yourself in the first person. In addition, it’s much more effective if you say it to yourself five times like a mantra.
Reflect on your progress and failures – Healthier realistic thinking doesn’t mean you ignore and move on from your mistakes. It means you have to realistically reflect on your progress and failures. Reflect on your progress so that when things get sour, you can look back at how long you’ve come so far to realize that this mistake is just a micro aspect of your life. At the same time, reflect on your failures so that you can grow. As uncomfortable as it may to recall the failure, it helps you learn and identify what you can do better. You can do reflecting in a journal. When you do it solely depends on you. You can do it daily, weekly, or monthly. Choose whatever floats your boat and diminishes self-critical you.
Make a list of your strengths, talents, and skills – Similar to reflecting your progress, have a list of good things about you. This helps you cope with the failure you’ve experienced. Whenever you make a mistake, look back on your list and know that you’re still a person full of strengths, talents, and skills; this weakness is just one thing over a million things made up of you! You can also list down things you’re currently improving on to remind yourself that you’re still growing and learning as a human being.
Become comfortable in making mistakes – Mistakes are a part of life. Trying to avoid making mistakes will only lead you to your downfall, so why bother avoiding it? Acknowledge that it happens and it’s a human thing to do. In fact, encourage yourself to make more mistakes until you become comfortable with them. See mistakes as an opportunity for growth rather as a catastrophe.
Embrace and indulge yourself with feedback – I know, feedback is such a scary thing. We want to run away and avoid hearing the words we fear the most. But in all honestly, getting feedback from others is a helpful thing. Having someone see a different perspective can help you grow even more. Get feedback from someone you trust or someone who won’t criticize you but guide you.
That’s it! I hope these tips are helpful enough for you to practice a healthier realistic thinking. It may take some time and lots of practice to grow out of your self-critical thinking habits (after all, it’s something that you may have unconsciously have done for years), but you’ll get there. Looking back at my embarrassing choices in life, I don’t regret it anymore. I may never change the past, but I did grow from it a lot. Because of the choices I made, I gained new perspectives, picked up different kinds of wisdom, and developed skills that I may not have if I stayed. I even learned to cope better with my mistakes and grow from them. I’m happier with the path I’m taking now. Although I’m not in psychology, I believe my road can still lead me to achieve my vision and dreams, even better in fact. I know full well no matter where I am, I still carry my skills, talents, strengths, and even stuff under improvement! Because of that, I can still shine bright, rise, and bloom like a sunflower. Surely the same goes for you.
I hope this was an enjoyable read and you were able to learn a lot. If you enjoy this, then perhaps you would also enjoy the content I share on my Instagram @by.mirasoul. I aim to provide many resources and wisdom involving lifelong learning, personal growth, and lifestyle. I’m hoping to see more growth from you soon! Always remember: dream, grow, and bloom.