Self-attack, or destructive self-criticism, is a cornerstone of depression. Confusingly, self-attack can both cause and be caused by depression, but it is always damaging. Some people may be aware that they engage in self-attack but believe it is appropriate, whether because they think they deserve it or because they use it as a motivator.
Other people don’t even realize they do it because it is so automatic. In that case, the first step is to listen for it. Its messages may or may not be in words, but often take the form of telling you that you are worthlessness, a failure, inadequate, disgusting, unlovable, incompetent, or more.
If you are not aware of attacking or saying mean things to yourself, here are some questions you can use to do some research.
Ask your friends if they think you’re hard on yourself. Other people may be able to give you perspective and help you realize patterns you might not have noticed.
If you feel depressed, try to write down your thoughts about yourself. Do you insult yourself, scrutinize flaws, or focus on things you think you can’t do or do badly?
When you make a mistake, do you think forgiving, compassionate thoughts that put your mistake into a larger perspective? Or do you think “I’m not good enough,” “Nobody will ever love me,” “If people knew me, they wouldn’t like me,” “I can’t do anything right,” “It’s all my fault,” “I’m crazy, damaged goods, worthless, bad, a failure….”
Do you make large conclusions about your worth based on mistakes, flaws, or inabilities in one area or one day of your life? For example, “I made that mistake at work, and that reminds me that I’m not a good mother, and I’ve done lots of things incompetently, and I’ve never really been a good person; I don’t deserve to have this job, these kids, or this life.…”
Notice what you say, think, feel, and experience in your body when someone gives you a compliment. Do you say “thank you” and feel good about it, finding that it resonates with your beliefs about yourself? Or do you say “Yes, but…” or argue with it inside your head or with the other person? Do you feel anxious? Happy? Sad? Do you blush? Does your stomach tighten or become uncomfortable? Notice how your physical and emotional responses to praise indicate whether you are comfortable or uncomfortable with it.
Describe how you think your parents thought of you when you were a child (and what they thought of themselves, because we actually imitate how our parents treat themselves, as well). Are any of the negative messages you got as a child similar to what you hear inside your head as an adult?
If you realize that you are attacking yourself, begin to consider where it comes from and what keeps you doing it.
© Copyright 2010 by Cynthia W. Lubow, MS, MFT, therapist in El Cerrito, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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