What should you do when you can’t seem to stop beating up on yourself mentally? I tend to be a perfectionist, so putting a stop to the negative thoughts in my head about all of the things I could have done better, said better or could do better has been one of the most challenging things for me.
You and I know as human beings, we all make mistakes and struggle with negative emotions.
But what can we really do to stop the inner critic before we go off the rails?
Here’s what I was able to dig up.
How can you learn to stop beating yourself up? As a general rule, accept that negative self-talk is common. Be proactive on reframing your self-image. Get clear on where the negative emotions are coming from. They may not be yours to own. Thank the negative ideas for trying their purpose of keeping you safe. Realize they do not define you.
But what if you struggle with it on almost a daily basis or it happens so often that you can’t function?
One of the first times I started really struggling with all of this was during my divorce. It was a time filled with uncertainty. I became my own worst critic. My mind was filled with thoughts of second guessing how I was responding to what was going on.
At the time, I was working as a medical rep, I remember having days where the negativity in my head was so strong that I’d put on my suit in the morning, get in my car, drive out of the apartment community, make a u-turn, go back home, neatly lay out all of my clothes and lay back down in my bed (ready to be put back on).
I prayed to God that my phone wouldn’t ring (although eventually it nearly always did.) As soon as it did, I’d muster the courage to throw back on my clothes and drive wherever I needed to go.
The urgency (and idea of losing my job) was just enough for me to overcome those emotions for long enough to get on the road.
What made it worse was that I beat myself up for not being like the rest of the world out there. You know… the responsible ones. They were at work. They weren’t struggling to get into action.
Or were they?
Over time, I’ve come to realize that many of us are struggling.
Most of the time, we only see what people want us to see. Spend 5 minutes on social media and you will see successful people appearing to bend and shape their worlds as if it’s easy.
How much of it is a game of fake it till you make it? You can call me Captain Obvious. But, I think it’s safe to say that at the end of the day, It’s a lot!
It’s normal to want to look good for others. So, you don’t have to hate on others when you catch them doing it.
It’s also normal for you to have a critical voice in your head telling you that you aren’t good enough or don’t have what it takes to be like the successful people you see around you, you not really going to be able to do anything about it.
In this article, we are going to look at what you can do to stop those negative thoughts and get back to living a life of freedom.
So, how can you learn to love yourself even when you are being hard on yourself? Generally speaking, there are 2 ways. Both involve changing your self-image. Either you experience a significant event that has a massive emotional impact or by intentional spaced time repetition of a new idea. But, it’s important to understand that 96% to 98% of your behavior is controlled by your subconscious mind and self-image.
You are essentially on autopilot for the majority of the time, and just because you are aware that this is how you operate won’t give you the tactical steps to making a difference in this area of your life.
Signs that You Are Beating Up on Yourself
You may have a hard time noticing when you are beating up on yourself. If you are going to address the bad habits and vicious cycle associated with self critical thought, you are going to need a way to identify the emotional clues that lead to low self-esteem. You may consider writing down your thoughts on a piece of paper about the following points at the end of each day to see if you can identify any patterns.
- The little voice in your head is overly critical, makes a big deal out of any poor decision, or is a source for harsh criticism.
- Do you have a lack of compassion for yourself, or notice that you don’t take care of yourself appropriately under the guise that you don’t deserve it?
- Is it hard for you to create a list of positive things going on in your life?
- Are you struggling with substance abuse or feel like you need a break from your own life?
- Do you wrestle with awful feelings about yourself, how you look, your abilities, or have a sense that if others only knew more about you, they wouldn’t like you?
- Do you avoid interactions with others, so you can avoid conflict, criticism, or potential rejection?
- Are you constantly thinking about something your past self has done, or constantly reliving a negative memory?
- Do you find yourself playing the comparison game? -Measuring yourself against others?
- Do you spend countless hours worried about what others may think of you?
- Are you stuck in ideas of what you “should do”, or “should have done?”
- Do you lack a general peace of mind?
- Do you feel like you can’t remember the last time, you felt great?
If you have answered yes, to any of the questions above (and you aren’t suffering from depression), let’s talk about things you can do reduce how much self-criticism you are dealing with and how to get you back to peak performance.
So, look at the list below to find the best way for you to change how you feel about yourself.
Work backwards: When you go to work on limiting beliefs, the first thing that you want to look at are your results.
Like it or not, we are caught in a loop. Your thoughts produce your feelings. Your feelings produce your actions, and your actions produce your results.
Realize Your Thoughts Don’t Define Who You Are.
I just watched the movie, Captain Fantastic. In a couple of different scenes, they said, “We are defined by our actions, not our words.”
Just because you have a thought about something, or someone doesn’t mean you are defined by it.
But for some reason, you may feel like I do and notice that negative thoughts are sticky. They are hard to shake and can become a huge distraction that keep you from focusing on what you know you “should” be focused on. Beware of the word “should.”
I believe Tony Robbins said it well when he said, “We start shoulding all over ourselves.”
The good news is that it’s completely normal to have trouble dealing with negative thinking. To understand why negative thoughts tend to stick more than positive, consider this:
There was a study done in 2000 in which people had their brain activity monitored while they were shown images of human faces. Below is a summary of the results:
see source https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1839771/
Facial expressions associated with anger, sadness, disgust or fear were recognized faster (and more efficiently) and more efficiently. Here are is a citation from the study by This showed that people seem to be especially attentive to negative emotions. Even worse: It turned out that this was caused by an increased activity in sections of their brains that are known for fear processing.
The takeaway is that it is normal to lean towards the negative. It appears to be a hard-wired survival mechanism that is designed to help you assess and avoid threats.
You Don’t Have to Listen to Your Inner Critic
It’s your programming. It’s Not YOUR voice. Who’s voice is it in your head anyways?
You may notice that the voice is your mom’s or dad’s. Maybe it is an authority figure that was frequently upset at you.
Even though, the little voice in your head might sound like your own voice, it’s helpful to try to remember a time when you heard those words for first time.
Do you know the voice I’m talking about? It’s in the back of our head telling you how stupid/ugly/awful you are. Most people take those thoughts as a sign that they have to change something about themselves, but it’s not true!
I remember being in a seminar. A young man came to the front of the room. The speaker asked him, “What is your biggest challenge you face at work?”
He said, I needed some people to move their vehicles so we could get a delivery in. But noone listened.
They had a short conversation about it, and came to the conclusion that his experience in several areas of his life was that he didn’t have a voice.
He said, “NOONE EVER LISTENS TO ME.”
The speaker asked, “When was the first time you can remember not being listened to?”
The man let out a huff (like he had been punched in the gut).
He said, “I was maybe 10 years old. My brother and I were swimming with some friends in a lake. My brother went missing. The last I remember seeing him swimming was in a certain area of the lake. The cops came. Family came. I told them all I think he is in over there. But noone listened. They looked everywhere, and days later, they found that he had drowned in the area I told them. I always thought if they would have listened to me inititially, maybe he would have been saved.”
Handling Negative Thought Patterns
Recognize that negative thoughts about past mistakes and negative self-talk brought on by external circumstances can be harmful. The good news is that you don’t have to live at the mercy of all of this.
Once you shed light on what is happening, you can begin to untangle the web that holds you captive.
You can learn to replace them quickly with more positive thoughts so they are less likely to invade the present moment in the first place.
A great way to minimize the negative message and redirect your thoughts in the right direction is by simply acknowledging the thoughts and thank them for trying to keep you safe and having a new thought.
You might find it helpful to try to step outside of yourself for a moment. Ask, “What would you tell a friend to do given a specific set of circumstances?”
Another option is to focus on the space around you. Or, the air just outside of your body. Try to feel the space around you. Similar to meditation, this can help clear your mind of ruminating (worrysome) thoughts. If you are sitting at a table, notice the table. Put your hand on the table and feel the texture. Grab the table firmly and say outloud, “This is a table.” This can help you settle down the negative thoughts and get present.
Push Pause – Get Clear – Get Happy
If you are like me, you may wrestle with the value equation, in which you do things to feel more valued.
The funny part is that you might deceive yourself into believing that you are doing it for a different reason.
For instance, I may serve at my local charity so I can feel good about giving back.
While giving back isn’t a bad thing, if the motivation is to feel good about myself, it could imply that I don’t feel good about who I am to begin with.
Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with helping out, and I assert that a lot of helping out is done out of the wrong motivation, but it still gets things done. I just want you to be clear on why you are doing it, and what it may highlight that is going on below the surface.
What I’m pointing at is the motivation of the heart, and just consider that much of what you do maybe is to make you feel better about yourself.
Beware of the Value Trap
It’s a trap. Pay attention to it. Once you become aware of it, you will be in a better position to get happy. Pay attention to your feelings. They matter. If you are doing something that makes you feel worse, stop. Hello captain obvious, right?
It sounds simple, but we all do things we don’t want to do because we are trying to please others etc. Internally, it is eating your soul’s zest for life.
Then, we get stuck seeking relief from our circumstances, which leads to all kinds of other unhealthy coping like substance abuse.
Push pause, and take the time to evaluate what you are serving and what is serving you.
When you wake up tomorrow, act as if it is the first day of a new life. Pretend you are just renting your body for the day. Like you only get a short time on earth. Taste your favorite desert. Like, really taste it. Experience it like it’s the first time trying it.
Connect with the beauty of living
Instead of focusing on everything that isn’t going right, focus on what is. What are you grateful for?
On a side not, if you are stuck in the value trap as discused above, you may be tempted to always try to do more. I can tell you first hand that tackling too much at one time is a recipe for disaster.
If you have ever been to a rodeo, they sometimes have kids chase chickens. It’s funny to watch because most kids don’t focus on catching just one chicken, they chase this one then that one and then another one. There is no definite goal. In the end, they come up empty handed. You will need to set your sights on a specific goal and chase it mainly.
Take some time for some focused relaxation
Put it in your calendar, and honor that time as if you were meeting with the highest level of authority. If you can’t learn to value yourself, no one else will.
It’s important to set the time aside and then keep the appointment. Make yourself a priority. Tell people you have a meeting. Who cares if they have to wait. What good are you for anyone else if you don’t take time for yourself.
I’ve spent time staring at a candle. See if you can allow the candle to hold your attention for 10 minutes.
You will see that your mind will want to wonder. When it does, just bring your focus back to the candle.
Shame and Guilt is part of Being Human
If you look at nearly any religion out there, you will notice that many offer different coping mechanisms for shame and guilt?
The reason for this is that shame and guilt are such a universal experience for humans that nearly everyone needs a healthy way to cope with it. If you don’t, you are liable to feel guilty.
I’ve noticed that the experience of guilt weakens me in two unique ways.
- It diminishes my sense of self-worth, and sets me up to start to seek value externally. This sets the stage for manipulation.
- It causes me not to take action around the things that make me feel guilty, which opens the door for more guilt. It perpetuates itself so to speak.
I’m not talking about sociopathic behavior. Sociopaths are incapable of feeling remorse or guilt. What I’m pointing at is that you should be responsible for your actions, but don’t let yourself fall into the guilt trap. If it happened in the past, you will have to make peace with it and leave it in the past.
I’ve found that writing it down on a piece of paper and then burning the paper can be helpful.
Good news: if you are here reading this, you probably aren’t a sociopath.
You wouldn’t be spending your time like this, wink.
Are you defined by the worst thing or best thing you’ve ever done?
I spent a lot of time contemplating this question, years actually. I realized somewhere along the line that I was capable be such a great guy and also capable of being terrible.
After years of thinking about this, I finally came up with an answer that I find suitable.
The answer is: Both, and you get to choose how you see yourself.
Everyday, you are defining yourself by a set of beliefs and programming. You can choose what image of yourself you will impress upon your mind. As you practice this, what people say about you won’t bother you as much.
Don’t forget that small wins lead to big wins, and it is important to celebrate the little wins when they happen.
The lack of awareness and the role it plays
One of the big problems that can stand in the way of your learning to stop beating yourself up is that you may be fooling yourself.
I’ve learned that if I buy into my own excuses as to why I’m behaving a certain way, I can never get ahead of the problem.
Let me give you an example:
If I asked you if you are an honest person, what would you say? Most people will say they are honest. But can you give an example when you weren’t? Have you ever withheld information from your boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse? or maybe from a boss? What were the circumstances? Why weren’t you honest? What did you have to lose?
Let’s say you didn’t tell your spouse about some feelings you had for someone else.
You could argue that you weren’t trying to keep from hurting them. Besides, it wasn’t anything serious, right?
Here is the rub, you might be able convince yourself that you are being honest because it sounds honest. But the truth might actually be that you are afraid of how your spouse is going to react, and you want to preserve yourself from the anger, emotion, and upset feelings your partner is going to have to contend with, and what you are going to have to contend with.
In the end, it’s about saving yourself.
Results and behavior dictate what’s going on beneath the surface
In the past, I wanted Kat to go to more counseling and personal growth training so that she would be easier for me to deal with.
Can you believe it?
I considered her having freedom in life as a result of the training she got a secondary benefit.
How pathetic, right?
Always looking out for numero uno, I was more interested in how it benefited me. When I got real with myself and how incredibly selfish I could be, I finally had access to be able to change myself, and grow.
For as long as you are lacking in self-awareness and aren’t willing to look at the real motive behind your actions, you will be held hostage by the “not-so-nice” things that are holding you back.
If you want to know what your beliefs are, just take a look at your results.
Looking at the results in your life will show you what your behavior has been, and your behavior will show you what you must be thinking, otherwise, you would have different results.