Here’s a strange thing – one element of negative thinking can involve being damagingly nasty… to yourself. In other words, you beat yourself up. But that’s not the strangest part.
The really strange bit happens when you know that you shouldn’t beat yourself up, but you catch yourself doing it anyway. Then it’s remarkably easy to beat yourself up for beating yourself up. And (stay with me here), if you catch yourself doing that then, yes, you may even beat yourself up for beating yourself up about beating yourself up.
People can be really hard on themselves, and if you’re a frequent self-beater-upper it can soon become a well grooved habit: put on a little weight – you’re a fat useless lump; get tongue-tied asking for a date – you’re a useless, lonely loser who will never, ever, get it right. And those are relatively small examples (although our Horrible Inner Critic will definitely make them seem gigantic). Get something big wrong and hey presto – you’ve now gifted yourself a stick that you can beat yourself with for years. Who needs enemies to knock the confidence out of you when you can do it yourself?
Beating Yourself Up is a Form of Negative Thinking
It’s easy to look at this beating-yourself-up style of thinking as being distinctly different to more straight-forward negativity. It can get nasty – and even be a key element in self-harm (you’d benefit from a more therapeutic approach if you are self-harming). Even at lower levels it can feel distressing and slow us down with self-doubt and fear. Beating yourself up can paralyse us when we know action is needed, and it can lead to all sorts of unhappiness.
But let’s get one thing straight – this is still a variety of negative thinking. Like most negative thinking it still relies on habit and dreary unimaginative repetition. And like all negative thinking, it still gets most of its power from our assumption that it has power. But it’s only powerful when we think it is.
How to Stop Beating Yourself Up.
Beating-yourself-up thoughts are one of many negative thought variants. Almost every good technique for controlling negative thoughts works on beating-yourself-up thoughts too. You’ll find lots of these techniques in future posts, but meanwhile here are three you can use right away.
Too often, negative thoughts run and run without us consciously registering them. So, simply realizing they are there is the first step. This may sound blindingly obvious. But it’s not. You need the positive part of who you are to wake up and see what’s going on. It’s this first step of recognition that acts as an enabler to every other tool you might use.
Recognition awakens your awareness. It offers you an ‘ah, this is a beating-myself-up’ moment. And once you’ve got that you have a choice: allow the unhelpful thinking to continue – or do something about it. It’s a massive pivot-point – a catalyst for thinking differently. Do not ignore this skill – it can help you transform your life. Practise being aware of your thoughts.
Laugh Away the Thoughts
Well, I couldn’t miss this out, could I? My previous post, Say Hello to Your Horrible Inner Critic, introduces the idea of your Horrible Inner Critic (HIC). Changing your thinking from the idea that it’s you doing the beating-up, to the notion of your HIC doing it, helps you take the thoughts far less seriously. It helps separate the damaging thoughts from the more positive part of yourself.
Now, when you have that recognition moment you can immediately take the sting out of the hurtful thinking by telling yourself something like: oh yeah, my little Horrible Inner Critic is trying to beat me up again. Then just flippantly tell it to go take a jump (or words to that effect).
Be Kind to Yourself
There’s more than one way to be kind to yourself – think about what would be most helpful to you.
- Say or think something positive about yourself. It can be good to work something out in advance and memorize it. That way you have a positive and helpful thought ready and waiting.
- Do something interesting and/or constructive that absorbs your mind
- Do some exercise
- BUT – avoid choosing actions that may rebound and cause more negative thinking. For instance, going on an expensive shopping spree or pigging out in front of a crappy film might be distracting, but you’ll probably get another bout of self-inflicted grief as soon as the final credits are rolling (or as soon as you see your credit card bill!)
- Beating-yourself-up is a form of negative thinking
- Beating-yourself-up can often lead to more negative thoughts and a downward spiral of negativity
- Habitual beating-yourself-up contributes to lowered confidence, and an impaired self-image
- Any good technique for controlling negative thoughts should also help with beating-yourself-up thoughts
- Recognition, laughing away your HIC, and being kind to yourself are helpful tools
Please have a go at using these tools and others, and let us know about your successes in the comments section. Remember, consciously and consistently practising with these tools and others is what works in transforming your outlook from negativity to positivity. Don’t expect a quick one-shot magic bullet, but do expect steady improvement as you gradually dampen down those unhelpful ways of thinking.
I find it very easy to get into the downward spiral of beating myself up and some times the more I look the worse it seems. This post is so helpful in addressing these problems I have. Thank you they will be put into good use. Feeling better already 🙂
That’s fantastic to hear, Lynda. Thank you for sharing.
Another fab article. I have been talking myself through this this week in relation to future careers. Self doubt kicks in when I think about potential jobs I’d like. I have decided that it is ok not to know everything, I can show employers what I do know, be honest about what I don’t and how I’d be very happy to learn.
If then I still don’t get the job I really want I can do further training and know I’m worthy of a well paid enjoyable career!
Also I was having a discussion earlier with another parent about not beating ourselves up when we get it wrong as that helps no one. We can apologise, hug and move on. So these messages are going in and hugely beneficial to a culture which hasn’t been very good at looking after ourselves.
I’ll probably look at what I’ve written in the morning and think what a lot of waffle 😊
Great to hear you like the article, Ruth – and certainly no waffle in your comment. Wise words, in fact, that I believe will help everyone reading them. I hope you get that dream job.
Hi, I really like the premise of this blog. Very helpful. I think recognition is really difficult. The power of the negative thought is sometimes so frightening I literally have to (sometimes out loud) shout over it because the fear of what it is saying and how it makes me feel is so intense. I like this idea of separating the critic from myself. Giving it a name. Giving it a picture. Exerting some power over that. Somehow I feel it will be easier to deal with if I can see it and lessen its power from a safe place (a period in my day when it is not overwhelming me with fear or replaying excruciating videos of my past behaviour in the cinema of my mind). Thank you for this blog. I think it will be helpful to me and give me actual, tangible ways of escaping the power and fear of my inner critic… so much more practical than just putting up some spiritual meme on my fridge.
Thanks for the comment. I’m so pleased you’re finding the approach helpful. I’ll post more about how to visualize your Horrible Inner Critic in a couple of post’s time. Bear with me as it does take a while for me to produce each post. I’ll get some kind of subscription form on the site shortly so you can be informed of new posts as their published.
can i use your picture for a school project. The picture at the beginning of the article i would cite it and all
Hi Sesa – Thanks for the request. I’ll email you privately.