A scary scenario if you need to be working!
So far, I’ve said that self-undermining thoughts are a natural phenomena and that pausing as feelings get more intense is the necessary step for sanity.
Not that feelings are wrong – they aren’t! Your feelings are there for a reason AND depending on how you respond to yourself in times of self-worry, you can escalate or ease their intensity.
If you’re reading this article, I’m guessing you’re after a kinder, wiser response.
Let’s explore what it takes to develop.
First, the biggest mistake to avoid
From years of study, experimentation and finally client work, I’d say that THE biggest mistake people make with self-worry is to get hooked into the literal ‘message’.
In meditation, you can watch words or feelings flow in and out of you and all is well.
Engage with the ‘verdict’ your thoughts offer about you and you can drive yourself crazy from upset, confusion and powerlessness.
Like I did, big time, around my A-Levels.
Looking back, I see that I was overwhelmed by revision. Back then, all I knew was that I needed to study but wasn’t. I despaired about being ‘hopeless’ at school and at life. In a state, I was unable to study at all.
Can you relate?
In the tractor beam of self-criticism, you get hypnotised into a state of powerlessness that then ‘confirms the conclusion’ which in fact had created your disempowerment. It’s an unwinnable loop unlike your situation itself which, like most challenges, can be resolved given a bit of a new perspective.
With luck (or within the reality that was kinder than my thoughts), I did okay with my A levels. I even went on to train as a teacher.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered study skills. Here was a miraculous-to-me-then realisation that there exist simple, strategic interventions you can put in place to experience progress in the area you believed yourself powerless. No more pain about ‘who I am’, no need for a personality transplant. Just discovering and applying what’s needed.
Duh! And so I had a lot of fun with studying in college and in time realised that learning and teaching are the biggest gifts I have in life.
Who’d have thought that my biggest worry was hiding (or hinting at?) my core strength?
Next, what do you do instead?
Okay, so you get that ingesting a critical thought as-is will multiply rather than help your concerns. What do you do instead?
It’s a question I spent over twenty years exploring because with a tendency to mega self-doubts that revealed itself around my A-levels I was terrified of seizing up again when something mattered to me a lot. I went through NUMEROUS failed attempts and a large number of self-help techniques to discover something I can rely on.
No one technique proved to work enough for me and eventually I understood that nobody else’s technique ever will. At the same time, there were some similarities, principles if you wish, underneath everything I tried. Finally, I got it:
To successfully respond to your individual emotional challenge (such as self-worry), you need to use universal principles that work for others but in a way that’s doable and heartening within your life’s reality and limits.
The main two and I believe universal principles around self-criticism are these:
1. With any negative assessment, there comes a corresponding worthwhile, life enhancing truth to discover.
You get to choose which you emphasise and so powerlessness or empowerment will result, accordingly. (See: the biggest mistake mechanism info, earlier)
2. You need to watch out for the habit of ruminating on ‘what’s wrong?’.
It’s as destructive as it’s commonplace all around you. Moving on requires shifting attention from ‘what’s wrong?’ to ‘what’s needed?’ This is something you can (must!) find your way how to do so that you have an effective and empowering response whenever the tractor beam of criticism takes hold.
How about that?
Now, steps to design your response
Having spent so many years figuring this out, I now like nothing better than supporting people to design their own response ‘rituals’ that can hold them in wobbly times, e.g. in self-worry.
Here’re some questions to help evolve yours.
Walk yourself through them briefly in the next five minutes and see how even this initial heartstorming increases hope about being able to respond rather than suffer when in distress.
1. How can you catch yourself getting into a tractor beam of self-criticism before the beam firmly gets hold of you?
What typical for you ‘early warning signs’ can you notice in your body, emotions or thoughts?
e.g. Ah, usually I sort of freeze, my body goes inert, I almost don’t breathe, only darker and darker thoughts are moving in my head.
2. What ways/prompts worked for you in the past to inject a pause into growing intensity inside so you may do something de-escalating and clearing your head instead?
e.g. If I manage to get up and change the scene I begin to feel better. Fresh air, sharing a hug, stroking my cat, a shower, things like that.
3. Think about a familiar line of self-criticism. What are you longing for deep down that’s a cry for help for that moment, separately from what the situation itself requires?
Check for ‘inner state’ qualities such as love, safety, gentleness, etc. rather than specific things you think you need to do or have.
e.g. Hm… What I ache for most in those moments is to feel received. To know that what’s happening in me is ok. To matter!
Here’s wishing you to feel whole even when you ‘feel like crap’. Go on, design your response!