If there were a major in self-criticism, I can guarantee that every college student would be straight A students. The inspiration for this article stemmed from my one and only class this semester which is “The Psychology of Self-Compassion.” I have to say, I don’t think I have ever been this excited to go to class before because I just might be able to fix myself for being so dang hard on myself. Of course, all classes we take here are valuable in some way shape or form–sometimes–but this one is relatable to everyone no matter what major you are because it brings up a lot of great points. One of the points that stood out to me the most so far is that self-criticism is very ironic.
I think we can all agree that we would not tolerate other peoples’ criticism every day, but we allow it from ourselves.
Have you ever actually sat down and thought about why you trash yourself day in and day out over the silliest things?
Seriously, go sit down in the most philosophical place you can find on campus and think about how many times you have told yourself that you are stupid for getting one question wrong on a test, an idiot for stumbling over a word in class when literally no one noticed, should be on Worst Cooks in America for burning a single noodle, will be single forever because your crush didn’t make eye contact with you as they passed by, couldn’t lift six hundred pounds in the weight room, insert more insane insults here. When you think about it, self-criticism serves no other purpose than to make ourselves feel guilty and full of shame. But for what?
“Growing up we’re told all the things we have to do to be healthy, successful, good people and we don’t get taught that it’s ok to learn and grow and fail and so a lot of people grow up being afraid of failure and disappointing their family,” said Junior Kali Johnson. I don’t think I know a single person who feels better after ripping themselves to pieces. This leads to the irony of why we self-criticize.
Even though we logically know that criticism is the basically the opposite of compassion and isn’t motivating at all, we still internally yell at ourselves every day to be better, and sometimes we don’t even notice it because we are so used to being so hard on ourselves. We self-criticize because as it is explained in Kristin Neff’s Ted Talk titled “The Space Between Self Compassion and Self Esteem.” As humans we think self-criticism is a form of motivation to do better, and we see self-compassion as letting ourselves off the hook. She continues to explain that in reality, self-criticism elevates our cortisol stress hormone levels because it activates our fight or flight response to attack threats which in this case is our own self, whereas self-compassion lowers cortisol levels. This is evidence that being hard on ourselves is actually detrimental to our health, yet we still do it.
Now knowing this information, I bet that you will continue to criticize yourself, or even start to criticize yourself for not being able to stop criticizing yourself. I know I haven’t stopped even though I’ve learned how bad it is since the semester started. Self-criticism seems to be a lot like Culver’s Cheese Curds–once you start, you can’t, and won’t, ever stop despite how bad they are for you. This is why it is so ironic that we criticize ourselves in order to do better.
“I think we all see the negative things we do, and it is hard for us to let ourselves off the hook,” Junior Jenna Kotz said. Our brains could hold so much more information if it weren’t using that space to ruminate on how weird our voice sounded when we did the whole name, major, hometown introduction at the beginning of the semester.
Another ironic part about self-criticism is that if we were to treat our friends as we treat ourselves, we would have no friends at all. We know that telling someone their jeans make their butt look big is not going to make them feel great or motivate them. For some reason, we have made it ok to be bullies to ourselves for making mistakes, but if our friend made the same mistake, we would tell them that it is ok and that they are still worthy, forgiven, and loved. “We worry about hurting other’s people’s feelings when we routinely hurt our own. You can’t lose you, however you can lose friends, so it is easier to be self-critical,” Senior Jessica Erskine said.
As humans, we should treat self-criticism as any other harmful thing in this world. If you’re sick, you shouldn’t continue to do things that make you even sicker in order to get better. If you’re cold, you shouldn’t go skinny dipping in icy water to build up tolerance to the cold. If your noodles are on fire, you shouldn’t let them sit there to make sure they get fully cooked. If you don’t like your body, you shouldn’t criticize it to make it look better. If you make a mistake, you shouldn’t tell yourself you’re an idiot to make yourself feel better. These examples may seem illogical and twisted, but these situations are equivalent to what we do when we criticize ourselves every day.