Self-Attack: Are You Your Own Worst Enemy?

Man leaning on his arms on a tableSelf-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.

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

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  • lorraine

    lorraine

    May 11th, 2010 at 4:27 PM

    I used to be the best singer in my old school’s choir.I’m in a new school now and there are some here who are better than me.i do not know if my singing has taken a plunge.My new friends tell me that I have a great voice and all,but then i know that I am not the best in this new school.

    I often find myself thinking about this and when I read this article,I could really connect with it!Maybe I am a bit hard on myself,but I just want to be the best!

  • Layla

    Layla

    May 12th, 2010 at 2:51 AM

    I have always said that we are our own worst enemy and I think that this proves that.

  • Morton H.

    Morton H.

    May 12th, 2010 at 6:12 AM

    Although I do persuade myself to go higher and aim higher and push myself to achieve it,I do not think I can ever be my own enemy…I know my limits in every sense.I know what I am capable of and never trouble myself by aiming for something that I cannot reach!

  • Cynthia Lubow

    Cynthia Lubow

    May 12th, 2010 at 9:58 AM

    I think self-attack is more common in women than men, but anyone who can set challenging goals that they can actually attain is doing great. For others, this seems impossible. Many people think that if they don’t set the bar extremely high, they will not do their best. Often, though, this produces the opposite result–failing by their own measure, even if everyone else sees them as very successful. On top of that, studies show that the stress of expecting more than is realistic of oneself actually causes worse performance than expecting less.

  • sangita

    sangita

    June 11th, 2016 at 7:46 AM

    I used to stand first in my class to maintain it i was gradually getting depressed

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