Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Combatting Self-Criticism

On some occasions, the harsh criticism of others can be crippling, but most often the criticism that does the most damage in our lives is our own. Self-criticism is a more deadly poison because we often don't set up any guards against it; we have no defenses.
It happens when I compare myself to others, or when I'm embarrassed that my child didn't perform up to par in public. It happens when I feel defeated after a bad day rather than determined to find a better solution. And it happens subtly, when I mutter "we homeschool" under my breath and feel as though I might ought to offer an apology for that fact.

Self-criticism is sneaky and subtle, yet overpowering. And the best way to defend against it is to stay alert to its tactics and to prepare for it.

Recognizing Self-Criticism.
The first step to guarding against self-criticism is recognizing its tactics, knowing where it's likely to attack, and the verbal assault that it is about to launch. It could happen at your local homeschool group, or at your favorite blog. It could happen on Facebook or while you are chatting with your friend. Instead of rejoicing in someone else's success, we immediately notice the differences. And the self-criticism begins its attack: "We don't do it that way." "I never would have thought of that." "I couldn't possibly do more than we're doing already." And then, from noticing the differences, suddenly those differences make us feel inferior: "No wonder we struggle." "I'm just not cut out for this." "I could never be that kind of a homeschool parent." We resort to absolute statements of "always" and the even more common "never." Then, we resign ourselves to defeat and discouragement.

Defending with Realism.
Ironically, many of us who struggle the most with self-criticism claim to be realists. We're just "facing the facts," we say. And yet, it's probably more true that we are omitting certain facts.
For instance, I only occasionally post about our bad days on my blog. Every now and then I will have caught it on camera or will have learned something valuable enough from the experience to warrant publishing it to the world. But everyone's natural tendency is to present only our best for the world to scrutinize. Remember that as you drool over someone's curriculum, school room, or craft-filled lesson plans; remember that their children throw tantrums and color on walls, too.
Another dose of realism is to recount your own successes: the things your children have learned, the days that were highlights of education, the moments when the light went on for your children. If you find yourself a frequent victim of self-criticism, keep a journal of your high moments and refer back to this often. Bottom-line: remind yourself of the reality that everyone has lows and that you, too, have some highs worth remembering.

Personally, I find myself most susceptible to self-criticism when I feel that I have something to prove. I put more pressure on my children to succeed in public, and I put more pressure on myself to do things perfectly. And the result is that I'm destined for defeat. It's the fear of man, and it's a guaranteed snare.
One of the most powerful quotes in my life, one that I come back to over and over again says:
"I live before an Audience of One. Before others I have nothing to gain, nothing to prove, nothing to lose." --Os Guinness
When self-criticism fingers its way into your day, recognize its tactics, be prepared to face it off with reality, and then remember to whom you are accountable. There's only One opinion worth worrying about.

To read all of Tracy's posts on "Combatting Criticism," click here.

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