Self-reflection and self-criticism – a fine line

October 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

self reflection narcissus self condemnation awareness knowledge philosophy mindset depression

That line is an invisible razor edge. There is an innate value in being able to examine our thought processes, beliefs and actions in a weird sort of detached ‘consciousness observing consciousness’ way (mindfulness, anyone?). We can reason against harmful and illogical thought patterns, and limit self-destructive behaviour. In fact, philosophy itself is based upon inquiry and examination.

However, we’ve all, I’m sure, experienced how easy it is to fall into self-criticism. We criticise ourselves for the actions we take or don’t, for what we lack – for our weaknesses. Why, then, do we spend such a huge chunk of our time in this self-critical state, rather than a productive, self-examining one?

Our self-perception is formed from an early age. Factors such as the amount and quality of maternal attention during childhood to negative/positive reinforcement from peers all determine how we perceive ourselves. Self-perception is complicated, and is formed over years, mainly in response to stimuli in one’s environment. We often end up treating ourselves as we’d imagine we deserve to be treated. It is no wonder, then, that self-criticism and condemnation are linked with anxiety, low self-esteem and depression.

The biggest enemies of willpower: temptation, self-criticism, and stress. (…) these three skills —self-awareness, self-care, and remembering what matter most— are the foundation for self-control. –The Willpower Instinct, Kelly McGonigal

Self-criticism is inherently an evolved survival tool. In an inhospitable environment, where survival itself meant success, criticising mistakes / missed opportunities (or whatever the negative element might be) ensured a higher chance of success and therefore procreation in the future. However, in an era where the survival ‘basics’ (shelter/food/air/water) are met for most of us in the Western world, these evolutionary traits are defunct. Sadly, however, our brains haven’t evolved as quickly as our societies and their respective technologies.

This is where we have to smarten up. If you find yourself having trouble with self-criticism, there are methods that you can use to deal with it. Ben Martin from PsychCentral has a good article on combating what he calls ‘negative self talk’. These steps, involving logic and reasoning against illogical thoughts and fears, can be found in a wide spectrum of practices, from mindfulness to cognitive behavioural therapy. They’re tried and tested, and simply need consistency in application to work.

Until you make the unconscious conscious,
it will direct your life and you will call it fate –Carl Jung

Self-reflection and examination, on the other hand, is both beautiful and useful. Urban Lifestyle Blog have a relevant article about self-reflection as part of a modern lifestyle. It’s a productive habit that allows you to process your thoughts, emotions and experiences, and potentially learn a lot from them. We spend so much time paying attention to external variables in our lives (careers, families, hobbies). If we spent a little of that time becoming more aware of the way we perceive ourselves and our thoughts, we’d be better off for it.



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