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Are You Self-Blaming and Self-Critical?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

When we stop and think about it, people can be extraordinarily self-critical. For example, I have worked with patients who entered psychotherapy because they were depressed over their divorces. These were not people recently divorced when it is understandable that their is a feeling of loss and mourning over the lost marriage but people who continued to struggle with the loss of the marriage years later. Essentially, these were people who blamed themselves for a number of things relevant to their lost marriages.

In several cases, people blamed themselves for not recognizing problems with the ex partner when they were dating. Essentially, they were convinced that their were warning signs that it would not be a good marriage and that they ignored those signals. The result was that they were ashamed of themselves and extremely embarrassed by what they saw as an unforgivable error.

In other cases, blame for the divorce was pointed completely at themselves as though their ex partner played no role in the way things worked out. They totally believed the accusations pointed at them by their ex as though it does not take to people to make a marriage fail.

Essentially, what this represents is that human beings have a seemingly endless capacity to be self-critical. In part, this is due to an unrealistic belief that many people are convinced that they must be perfect. The issue of perfection has been written about in other articles on this website. The fact of imperfection leads directly to self-blame and criticism for every perceived or real failure. Feelings of low self-worth, insecurity and incompetence result from this way of thinking. Therefore, it’s important that we learn to be self-compassionate. What is self-compassion? According to Kristin Neff, PhD, self-compassion is having these three things:

1. Self-Kindness

2. A Sense of Common Humanity

3. Mindfulness

Self-Kindness allows that all of us are imperfect and deserving of comfort and forgiveness. It is the opposite of the steady stream of criticism that we direct at ourselves. It is the opposite of self-hate which permeates the psychology of too many people. In this we share a lot in common with other people. In working with divorced people I have pointed out that they are not the only ones to divorce and, in fact, that it is at epidemic proportions today. In other words, it is a common experience to choose the wrong person as a result of having overlooked problems early in the relationship. How easy it is to have what is called 50/50 hindsight. If only we knew before we make decisions what we learn afterwards we would all be geniuses.

The fact is that all of us make bad decisions for which we suffer. Many of these are the result of factors that are outside our control. There seems to be a commonly held belief that we can control over events in life and, therefore we are responsible for everything that happens. It is normal to make mistakes and fail. We need to forgive ourselves and accept ourselves. This goes a long way towards preventing or reducing depression.

The question to then be asked is how to develop self-compassion? Basically, the answer lies in what is called “mindfulness.” This has to do with focusing attention on the present moment and without judgment. Meditation is used to accomplish this. Using meditation allows for an open and curious attitude about one’s current thoughts and a conscious awareness of the one’s feelings in the present moment. There are many websites that teach meditation for beginners and these can be found through a Google search. In addition, more can be learned about meditation, mindfulness and self-compassion at the following URL:

http://www.self-compassion.org/

Keep in mind that self-compassion allows for increased compassion for others.

Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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