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Darlene Lancer, JD, MFTDarlene Lancer, JD, MFT
A blog about Women’s Issues, Self-esteem and Relationships

Self-Criticism- Self-Esteem's Saboteur

Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT Updated: Oct 7th 2010

Women are notorious at finding fault with themselves. A Dove study last year found that over 40 percent of women are unhappy with their looks, and over two-thirds suffer low confidence about their bodies. Many blamed the airbrushed, ideal models for setting unrealistic, unattainable standards. Our societal attitudes are a major cause.

sad womanIt starts in childhood. Girls' self-esteem starts to plummet at nine years old, found Dr Emily Hancock (The Girl Within (Ballantine, 1990). A 1997 Commonwealth Fund survey determined 25 percent of teenage girls didn't like or hated themselves compared to 14 percent of males, and 27 percent of the girls had had suicidal thoughts. Girls admitted to being very self-critical particularly of their looks and weight. (The New York Times, "Women's Health," 11/4/1997) Things have gotten worse instead of better. A new survey by Dove Self-Esteem Fund reports that seven in ten girls are dissatisfied with their looks and/or their performance in school or in relationships. Sadly, many engage in self-destructive behavior.

By the time girls mature, they have an eagle eye that notices what's wrong far more than what's right. Self-Criticism is a major contributor to low self-esteem, and although it hasn't been shown to cause depression, it's a symptom of depression and often the cause of feeling down or having the blahs.

If you lived with someone constantly complaining about your cooking, your body, your work performance, your ability as a mother, daughter, wife, lover, home decorator, housekeeper, and on top of that also nagged you to diet and exercise more, read more, maybe even pray or meditate more, you'd know why you were depressed, anxious, and wanted to scream all the time. Maybe you do live with someone like that, YOURSELF.

Increasingly, since women have had careers, they feel pressured to excel as mothers, wives, homemakers, and as entrepreneurs and professionals. Perhaps, if you didn't work you'd have the time to be a better cook, to be with your family; without a family, you'd have more time to focus on your career; if you had neither, you could grow your own vegetables, pursue your hobbies, or spend the day at a spa and feel sexy by evening. But women more than men expect themselves to be topnotch at everything. In truth, one person can't.

A solution is to accept this reality. Whatever you work at, you will improve and excel in. Examine your priorities, and take responsibility for your choices. Commitment to a goal may require hard work, but that's an option. Changing your perspective and consciously choosing your lifestyle will lift a huge weight of guilt. You may decide not to change anything, but then accept that you've elected to divide your time as you do in order to accommodate your different roles and the needs or yourself and family, because they were important to you. If you later criticize yourself for what your not doing or not doing well enough, remind yourself that you've chosen to compromise and do less at one thing to make time for something else as well.

Another tactic in combating your critic is becoming more self-aware. Self-criticism is pernicious, because it leads a stealth life, remaining concealed from consciousness most of the time. It's a psychological axiom that our unconscious controls us. Hence the more conscious we become of our negative self talk, the more power we have to rein it in. Here are some suggestions to shine a spotlight on the critic to chase it out of hiding:

1. Sit quietly and notice your thoughts. You might hear yourself saying you can't. You're not good at it. Listen to that string of putdowns!

2. If you talk to yourself using "should," "always," or "never," your critic is probably at work.

3. Make a list of all the things you don't like about yourself in each area of your life. Complete the sentence, "I don't like myself when I…"

4.Watch out for criticisms as they pop up during the day, and add to the list.

5. Look in the mirror and assess what features you like, those that are neutral, and those you dislike.

6. If you're feeling bored, frustrated, down, or having other uncomfortable emotions, they may be a symptom of negative thinking. Trace back to what event preceded them, and what thoughts you had about it and about yourself.

7. Notice the voice of your critic - the tone, volume, and words. Do they remind you of someone who has spoken to you that way in the past? Young children easily emulate the words and tone of their parents and internalize those voices.

You can find 10 Steps for Disarming the Critic at www.DarleneLancer.com.

 

Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT

Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and expert on relationships and codependency. She’s counseled individuals and couples for 27 years and coaches internationally and is the author of two books: Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You and Codependency for Dummies. Her ebooks include: 10 Steps to Self-Esteem, How To Speak Your Mind - Become Assertive and Set Limits, Spiritual Transformation in the Twelve Steps and Codependency Recovery Daily Reflections. Ms. Lancer is a sought after speaker at national conferences, on radio, and to professional groups and institutions. Her articles appear in professional journals and Internet mental health websites, including on her own, www.darlenelancer.com and www.whatiscodependency.com, where you can get a free copy of “14 Tips for Letting Go.” Find her on www.youtube.com, Twitter @darlenelancer, and Facebook.

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