Calming Your Self-Critical Self with Mindfulness
A core problem for many people is their incessant self (or other) criticism. This is a major part of our psychological mind suffering today. In the past life for most people was more difficult, so human basic needs were the energized priorities; today so many of us have been “spoiled” by having basic needs met and lingering with more time to worry about usually less important things. Observe the number of TV ads aimed at improving how you look, or improving what others may thing about you. Note how the aim of some ads is to improve your perceived status, but not your inner reality of who you really are.Yes, looking ok, being healthy, and more importantly being happy are all important to our successful functioning. However, we tend to be dominated by limbic-brain survival mechanisms that boil down to interpersonal attraction and feeling liked by others. We ask: Am I good enough? D. W. Winnicott may have some answers for us, and he would be more apt to focus on psychological well-being above superficial qualities – how we look, status, etc.
Our competitive world and the American economic rat-race cause many to suffer from on-going “red ants” – what I call automatic emotionally loaded negative thoughts. Cognitive Therapy, Recovery Oriented Cognitive Therapy, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy all can help reduce our thought-caused suffering. These approaches when implemented correctly work much faster than psychodynamic methods, which tend to prolong and deepen dependency on therapists and serve mutually self-rewarding experiences (some unconscious for therapists). All evidence-based approaches work, but how well and how fast do they work? There may be a moral question involved when a therapist uses a much slower method with outcomes that are no better than more efficient methods. They all involve a strong therapeutic alliance and clinical relationship. That also all involve a deeper change process not simply symptom reduction.
Why do we suffer so much from our own thoughts? Why do we sometimes project our own feared or actual character flaws onto and into others? There are so many causes. It all begins with the quality of our early attachment experiences. How good was the quality of your own early attachment experience with parental before thinkers like Freud came to the same conclusion. And, what about the level of your own self-medication? Do you self-medicate to reach some short-term joy or perhaps to just feel a bit better? In self-medication we eventually learn that it just works for a brief period and almost always leads to more serious problems – addictions of all kind including to our “I-Smart” phones. figures and other caretakers? Were you reasonably satisfied and nurtured, or were you experiencing what The Buddha called dissatisfaction with what is. Did early life experience leave you craving for what you did not receive? We seek pleasure and hope to avoid pain; The Buddha noted this 2600 years ago – way, way
Below I have listed various self-critical patterns that we human have befriended. I also note some mindful ways to counteract their unhelpful emotional effects. Sometimes is means just taking better conscious control overs our CABS – cognition, affect, behavior and sensory sensations. Other times to means learning and using regularly new skills. At times it means we need professionally competent therapeutic help to improve our lives.
Do what is needed! Here the list.
- Self-Devaluing thoughts – STOP and be mindful of your strengths. Use the ‘doing” of your strengths as antidotes.
- Feeling inadequate – STOP and recall times when you had a lived experience with success no matter how small.
- Deep distortion of self-disdain (even self-hate) – STOP and do your best to practice
- mindful self-compassion.
- Not being “good enough” – STOP and recognize this is a social construct of unhealthy competition. Use strengths.
- No spiritual self – Consider what if any spiritual practice you might explore or do more of. Being in nature helps.
- Feeling you do not have enough – Recognize that if basic needs have been met, it is time to work harder on higher emotional needs. Stop thinking – only if I had… then I would be happy. This is almost always untrue.
- Hopeless perfectionism – STOP and recognize this is also a social construct based on the projections of others, who believed they were not perfect enough. These introjects became your beliefs. There is NO perfectionism; it is totally impossible to achieve it because it does not exist. Think: I am good enough as I am now!
- Stuck in conditioned life (samsara) – where when you are happy you become dissatisfied because it does not last, and when you are suffering you become dissatisfied because you are not happy. Craving and trying to prolong happiness and being without happiness both lead to just more suffering. Find small things to have gratitude for.
- A list of more mindfulnesss-based “things” you can do to counteract automatic negative thinking and feeling: live in the present moment; stay grounded with helpful cues – things are ok; allow negative thoughts to pass – do not get hooked by them; Un-trap yourself from a painful past by living presently with what is; practice radical acceptance of what you cannot change; meditate and do yoga a lot to cultivate more inner peace; practice self-efficacy in a very conscious manner; learn and live by the Four Noble Truths; let go of your shame so you can flourish; learn and use The UCLA four step process; use cognitive disputation and reframing more and more often; DO better self-care and learn to locate and “feed” your protective dragons; ask your inner self-helper for guidance on how to be healthier and happier; seek out and learn from an ethical mindfulness mentor; if possible, practice more self-love and less self-doubt. Do more of these practices more often; I believe you will find things will improve.
- I realize that some of you may not be aware of some of the terms noted above, so do some good “Googling” about them. When you have a set of practices you like – practice them every single day of your life.
A helpful book to read is Brenner, G. (2018). Suffering is Optional: A Spiritual Guide to Freedom…Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont and the Home of The Monkton Sangha
Author of Mindful Happiness