Self-Criticism: How Anxiety Affects Your Thoughts

Thoughtful Asian Woman Looking Out Of Window“I can’t believe I didn’t get that done today. I should have done it.”

“Why the heck did I say that to her? I’m so stupid.”

“I must do better!”

If you are wondering where all that anxiety comes from, please take a moment to examine how your own words might be allowing it to grow. Listen to all that the above statements bring with them. When I hear the words “must” or “should,” I hear pressure. And statements such as “I’m so stupid”—are they supposed to help me feel better? How is that encouraging? Remember, it all starts with us.

It is sadly amazing to me what people will say to themselves. We do not need enemies when we can be our own worst one. Think about the language you use when reflecting about yourself. Do you criticize yourself? Actually, I fear the more appropriate question might be how you criticize yourself, as I see how so many of us do. Please think about this, and let’s look at more of the ways we may do it. When you reflect on a past action and think something like, “Man, was that dumb,” this is problematic. Or how about a situation where you are in a conversation with others, hear something you have an opinion on, but choose not to share because of internal messages like, “What’s the point in saying something? People don’t listen to me,” or, “They’ll probably disagree with me because I don’t know it all or enough about the subject.” It’s like we are judging ourselves here and expecting a negative outcome.

Now, what about the scenario of a friend sharing something with us or another person in the interaction and we leave the conversation discouraged or feeling attacked? Let’s say I am talking with two friends, and friend No. 1 compliments friend No. 2 on a recent activity we were all involved in. If I am feeling down (or down on myself), I may wonder, “Well, why didn’t the friend compliment me? Are they mad at me? Do they think I didn’t work as hard? Was that a jab at me?” It is too easy to personalize and expect a negative outcome, instead of thinking, “How nice friend No. 1 acknowledged friend No. 2. They did work really hard.” Or, “It was nice to see friend No. 2’s smile after the comment.” I don’t want you upset or getting down on yourself. These messages we send ourselves will affect our mood and anxiety levels.

We have enough to worry about already, and yet sometimes we pile it on. Negative energy will beget negative energy. Coming back to the same scenario above, what if you do leave that interaction feeling positive? I might be saying to myself, “How neat to have friends that support each other and get involved in important things.” This kind of reframing of the interaction moves me in the direction I want to go in my life. Friend No. 2 may be in a place in his or her life where that comment is needed more than I can imagine, and it does not have to be about me all the time. In fact, the more I look at how someone was helped (versus what I may have wanted to have happen), the more uplifted I feel anyway.

Watch your language! Take close examination of the past few times you felt hurt or down and reflect on what was going on for you. What did you say about yourself in these interactions? Positive thoughts will fuel hope and elevate our moods. Conversely, negative thoughts will fuel doubt and frustration—even when many of these are just misinterpretations on our parts. This reminds me of the wonderful tool called an Automatic Thought Record. I would love to outline this next time. Thank you!

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Stuart A. Kaplowitz, MFT, Anxiety Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Cleo

    November 5th, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    Man, getting this point across to a 14 year old girl in the ninth grade is like banging your head against a wall! If I could get her to see that what she perceives people are saying and thinking about her may not even be close to reality, her life would be so different. We just moved, and she thinks the entire school is talking about how fat and stupid she is. Getting her to think positively about how other people are thinking would be awesome! I would love to think that I could get her away from thinking that everyone is thinking and talking about her all the time, but that egocentric adolescent thing just won’t quit.

  • Tiger Stripes

    November 5th, 2012 at 9:19 AM

    This entry reminds me of something a therapist I know enjoys telling her patients: Don’t should on yourself! The more we tell ourselves what we should be doing, the more anxious we become for sure. Sometimes, we need to have grace with ourselves as much as we do other people. Being genuinely happy for other’s accomplishments and good fortunes will go a long way towards positive thinking.

  • Weda

    January 10th, 2016 at 1:09 PM

    That’s called ‘musterbating’ according to Ellis

  • Laney

    November 5th, 2012 at 3:20 PM

    I have never really realized just how much pressure I put on my ownself by saying things like must and have to. Why not just cut ourselves a little mor slack now and again?

  • D.Ryder

    November 5th, 2012 at 11:18 PM

    I cannot tell you how often I do this..It’s like I’m always criticizing and questioning why I did this or that or why I said this at that time. Even small undesirable incidents stay on my mind for a couple of days..I guess I should be able to get over things that small quite easily.. But I just can’t!

    Guess I just need to be nice to myself a little more and stop criticizing myself so very much!

  • Ellen Traynham

    November 6th, 2012 at 5:11 AM

    I am always the person blaming everyone and wnyone else for all of my stress and anxiety and not ever looking at the things that I could be doing that will lead to even more.

    I am always fully willing to point the finger of blame at what others are piling on me, making me perform poorly, and not accepting that I have a lot of responsibility in this as well.

    I thought that I had a pretty clear head about all of this until I sat down and read this article and realized that a lot of my own stress I create for myself, not because the situation warrants that much stress but because I guess it’s the only way I know how to react in this kind of situation.

    Appears that I have a whole lot of soul searching to do to work through all of this!

  • Philip Bond

    May 3rd, 2013 at 9:56 PM

    Insightful, and well worth sharing.

  • Kristy Labardee

    June 20th, 2013 at 8:59 AM

    Great article Stuart! Thank you!

  • Steve

    April 2nd, 2017 at 8:44 AM

    When the negative thoughts popup. It is helpful to laugh at myself such sillyness.

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