Does your critic, or negative inner voice, attack and judge you? Do you find yourself avoiding activities or situations that you believe might bring about the pain of self-rejection or failure? Do you lack self-confidence in your abilities to do some things? Do you feel less worthy when you compare yourself to others?
The capacity for humans to judge and reject parts of themselves can be enormously painful. To avoid negative judgments and self-rejection, we erect barriers of self-defense in our mind. Our self-imposed barriers allow us to feel safe but unfortunately limit our ability to enjoy a fulfilling life – to be open with others, express our sexuality, be the center of attention, listen to criticism, accept failure, ask for help, accept challenges or change, take the initiative to solve relationship problems as well as personal problems.
The way you feel about yourself and perceive yourself can be positively changed. Your self- esteem is simply your awareness of yourself; to be able to form an identity and attach a value to it. It is the total acceptance of yourself and how you feel about yourself in relation to others. It is the absence of judgment toward yourself and others. Developing positive self-esteem is the foundation on which you build your whole life. The following are some suggestions on how to strengthen your self-concept which I learned from an impressive book written by Matthew McKay, PhD. and Patrick Fanning, Self Esteem: A proven program of cognitive techniques for assessing, improving, and maintaining your self-esteem. In Part 1 of how to improve your self-esteem, we will start by reviewing the importance of developing a healthy awareness.
Developing a healthy awareness
First, you must become aware of what you believe to be your reality about yourself is not true; it is only true because you believe it to be. Every human has certain basic needs to fulfill: to feel safe and unafraid, to feel competent, to be accepted, to feel a sense of ok-ness in most situations. When low self-esteem robs you of your confidence, you become anxious and less able to cope with some of the challenges of life. You rely on your pathological critic to help you cope with the feelings of anxiety, helplessness, rejection, and inadequacy. Your critic makes you feel safer by giving you reasons not to bust through your walls of protection and face your fears. Unfortunately, your critic does this at the expense of undermining your sense of worth. Any behavior that stops the fear or pain will be rewarding, and will increase the likelihood of you repeating the behavior. The first step to developing a healthy awareness is to understand what you believe about yourself is not true. You can talk back to your critic. You can experience your fears and a whole new life outside the life-limiting barriers you have erected in your mind. You can become who you want to be.
Second, we must become aware of our inner critical voice. We must pay attention to why and when our critic is using our fears to make us feel safe in exchange for tearing down our self-esteem. Whenever our self-criticizing thoughts are reinforced by reduced anxiety and pain, the success of our short term negative thoughts begin to shape how we think. For example, blaming others may relieve anxiety about mistakes we have made, setting impossible standards for ourself helps us fight off feelings of inadequacy, reading the minds of others helps us to deal with our fear of rejection. For example, has your inner voice ever convinced you not to attend a social gathering because no one is really interested in getting to know you? Do you to protect yourself by listening to your critic say, “They will not miss me if I do not attend.” To reduce our frustrations with our own life, we let our critic beat us up. We cannot begin to fight back and build a stronger self-concept until we can identify why and when we use our critic to protect us from our fears and pain.
Third, we must become aware of how our critic uses cognitive distortions to make us feel safe in exchange for destroying our self-concept. Distortions are judgmental; they apply labels to people and events before properly evaluating them. Distortions are inaccurate, general in scope, allow us to only see one side, and are based on emotion rather than rational thought. For example, when your critic overgeneralizes, he closes the door on all possibilities by saying something like, “No one will want to talk to me or like me so why should I go to this event.” Become aware of how your critic also uses self-blame to punish you for all of your mistakes and shortcomings, how he personalizes events and comments by others to involve you negatively, how he mind reads others thoughts that tear down your self-image, how he uses polarized thinking to paint you good or bad with no in between, how he creates control fallacies to make you feel you have no power or control over the outcome of any situation. There are always opportunities in every situation. There is always goodness in every person. There are always shades of grey in everything. Every human being has several parts of himself which make up the whole person; we all have certain talents, skills, and positive qualities; none of us are all bad. When your critic’s self-talk is using overgeneralized statements, it is not reality. You cannot successfully wage a challenge to build a stronger self-concept until you can recognize the difference between your critic’s overgeneralizations and reality.
Take- away thought
We can all become who we want to be. We must start by becoming aware of our fears and how, when, and why we use our critic as protector to make us feel safe. To be successful at building a stronger self-concept, we must be objective about ourselves and our fears and why we use our critic. We must crave to experience the freedom that lies outside the walls of protection we have built in our minds. We must be brave enough to experience and feel our fears to grow.
This topic is a three part series. Part 2 next week will demonstrate how to develop healthy ways to think about yourself. Part 3 the following week will teach how to develop the building blocks for a stronger self-worth.
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