When we harshly criticize ourselves
Sometimes, we have the habit of criticizing ourselves so harshly that we end up feeling completely demoralized and exhausted. Moreover, we have the advantage of knowing what hurts us the most... and therefore, "where to hit." Thus, someone who values themselves based on their work will condemn themselves as useless. A mother who tries to give her best will condemn herself for what she didn't do for her son. Someone who values their appearance will say how bad they look.
This is what we do every time we exercise sharp criticism against ourselves. This habit often becomes a mechanism of which we are not aware, and it activates at the slightest mistake or the tiniest omission.
I'm not judging criticism as a harmful word in itself. It's about how we use this art of discerning what we appreciate as good or bad, and also about the moment when criticism appears – sometimes it's too early. We're just starting to learn something, and we tell ourselves, "You could do it better." We barely sketch two lines of a work, and we whisper to ourselves, "That's not how you're supposed to do it."
Anticipated criticism doesn't understand the notion of a process. It wants results and wants them now! We rush, demand too much of ourselves, forgetting a fundamental detail: we are only human! Imperfect human beings who don't always behave as we desire, who don't always find the right words or achieve the desired results!
We rush, demand too much of ourselves, forgetting a fundamental detail: we are only human! Where does this rigorous instance come from?
There is a psychic instance called the "super ego" that develops during our upbringing and education. This construction is essential for living in society because it allows us to incorporate rules, ethical and moral values, norms, and guidelines of "right and wrong" in a specific social and cultural context. Therefore, it is a mistake to identify the super ego as a part of ourselves that inherently goes against us. Instead, it is essential to clarify that some people do not have a strong foundation of the super ego and go through life being disrespectful to others, not considering what is right or wrong, using only their own desires and whims as a parameter to guide their actions.
The super ego I am referring to here is that of those individuals who not only have a solid foundation but also have built upon it a load of "shoulds," "ought tos," and "coulds" that never leave us alone! A strict upbringing, the mistaken expectation that a child should behave like an adult, the lack of praise, and the constant pointing out of errors are some of the root causes that can lead that individual to become their worst judge and accuser as they grow older. What we have received passively, we actively exercise as adults if we are not aware and just repeat patterns that have been passed on to us.
It is not about blaming our parents, as we mentioned before... we are just human beings! And here's the revelation: our parents are human beings too! They are not gods obligated to have everything figured out or never make mistakes.
That's why it is about taking responsibility to "do and be" with ourselves the most loving and tolerant parents they couldn't be. Thus, if our "super ego" is too well-fed, we might have to put it on a diet to make it lighter.
I like to call my strict super ego "Jiminy Cricket," I've given it a name, and I have it perfectly identified. I talk to it every time it dares to criticize me severely and prematurely... We made a sort of deal..., and when I manage to get it to fulfill its part of the pact, it only comes when I call it, when it is necessary.
It is not about "getting rid of it" but "counting on it." We count on it when it encourages us to improve ourselves from a good place, from self-compassion, when it speaks gently and reminds us that we might be wrong but also celebrates our achievements and recognizes our talents and gifts.
We count on it when it encourages us to improve ourselves from a good place, from self-compassion, when it speaks gently and reminds us that we might be wrong but also celebrates our achievements
Of course, it is a challenging task to put it in its rightful place and let it take the stage only when necessary. In my personal experience, I renew the pact every day... it's not something that can be taken for granted. We must be aware that it is a tendency that activates itself and can dominate us every time we function unconsciously, on autopilot. When we passively respond to the dictates of the super ego, we become slaves to this moral instance that burdens us much more than it contributes to our lives. It destroys much more than it constructs.
Soothing its severity. Easing its strictness.
Recognizing this psychic instance is the first step to start dismantling the habit of harmful self-criticism. Acknowledging the severity of our super ego and giving it a name is the second step. The last step involves "sitting down" to have a coffee with it and establish agreements of peace.
Acknowledging the severity of our super ego and giving it a name is the second step. The last step involves "sitting down" to have a coffee with it and establish agreements of peace.
Undoubtedly, its intention is for us to be our best version... but it chooses the wrong path, spoiling it with its ways and exaggerated demands and interrogations. It doesn't want to hurt us; this part of ourselves learned to be this way once... and it just repeats what it learned until we show it different paths to achieve the same goal. Embracing our critic instead of fighting against it is the best way not to escalate internal conflicts. Integrating it with other parts of ourselves to balance its exaggeration. In this psychic teamwork, there is room for recognition, tolerance, and compassion, along with the valid and necessary function of a "tamed" super ego that doesn't bite with primitive harshness what should be treated as fragile: our own vulnerability.
We are imperfect, hesitant human beings who do the best we can. This is far from self-indulgence; it is a full acknowledgment of our true nature. The challenge is to recognize the thin line between self-improvement and self-abuse. If we become more conscious every day, if we work enough on ourselves, we can manage ourselves better in an atmosphere of serenity, transcending useless battles that lead nowhere.