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3 Radical Ways to Stop Beating Yourself Up

Here are three ways to banish the rituals of self-flagellation.

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Woman thinking to herself

Ridofranz/Thinkstock

Did you know there’s a scale for self-criticism? Developed in 2004 by Richard Thompson (presumably not Richard Thompson, the famous singer-songwriter) and David Zuroff, the Levels of Self-Criticism (LOSC) Scale was designed to measure two dysfunctional forms of negative self-evaluation: Comparative Self-Criticism, when you compare yourself to others unfavorably, and Internalized Self-Criticism, when you are holding yourself up to impossibly high standards. While some self-criticism is a good thing—“Gosh, I shouldn’t have wolfed down all 16 brownies I baked for Granny”—too much of it torpedoes our happiness. For this week’s Healthy Habit, here are three ways to banish the rituals of self-flagellation.

1. Ask the Four Questions. Byron Katie is the founder of a method of self-inquiry known as “The Work.” She teaches the Four Questions, which she calls “a form of meditation." When you have a negative thought, ask yourself:

  1. Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought? (This is the most important.)

2. Don’t Trust Your Own Opinion. Normally I’m all for trusting yourself. But self-criticism is an exception, because we tend to exaggerate. “Fear is often based on unhelpful interpretation,” writes Henrik Edberg, of the Positivity Blog. “As humans we like to look for patterns. The problem is just that we often find negative and not so helpful patterns in our lives based on just one or two experiences. Or by misjudging situations. Or through some silly miscommunication. When you get too identified with your thoughts you’ll believe anything they tell you.” As a more helpful practice, Edberg suggests simply not taking your thoughts quite so seriously. “A lot of the time they and your memory are pretty inaccurate.”

Maybe you’re not really the world’s worst mother. Probably what you said at that meeting wasn’t quite as humiliating as you think. Is there a trusted friend, coworker, family member or therapist who could give you a more honest assessment?

3. Pretend You Are a Beloved Pet. Would you tell Sparky his undereye circles were out of control? Would you berate Fluffy with harsh words of shame, guilt and hopelessness? Is Tubby the Turtle being passive aggressive? I think not. You stroke your pets, you feed them the right foods—plus the occasional treat. You give them soft beds and snuggles and tell them they are good and loved.

Starting today, see if you can give yourself the same loving care, the same kindness. When you start to think, “I am a dumbass because...” Stop! This is no way to talk. Speak to yourself in hushed, reverent tones. You are competent and unique. You are a masterpiece, made by a creative universe.

How do you deal with self-criticism? Tell us in the comments section, below.


Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. Her latest book is Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!, a science and natural history “gross out” for young readers.  


Kathryn Drury Wagner

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!, a science and natural history “gross out” for young readers.  


This entry is tagged with:
Healthy HabitsSelf CompassionKindnessEgo

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