Correcting yourself

Do you have an inner critic that persecutes you, or does it help you improve? When I think of the inner critic I think of it calling me Worthless, so the idea that it might correct me, or give valuable criticism, surprised me. And yet I notice when I do something not as well as I might, and how I might do it better; and the realisation is not always kicking myself. It could be rueful, and it could even be hopeful, seeing a chance for improvement.

I thought of the “inner critic” merely as a persecutor, so that I thought of this process of assessing my actions and ways of improving as a different thing. I still do. Though that could be a way of hiving off anger at myself, the most negative self criticism, and conceiving it as separate from me. I think it is introjected, so in a way it is.

A self-criticism scale has seven heads which are classified as self-persecuting, fourteen as self-correcting. Some are clearly persecuting- “to punish myself”. Some are clearly correcting- “to remind me of my responsibilities”. Yet I think that inner critic persecutor, which feels like a small child, if it articulated its purpose would claim to be correcting me. I experience it as always enraged and terrified, but it wants to improve my relations with others, just has no idea how.

Who can define “overconfident”? I feel Mr Johnson and Mr Trump have too great confidence, and it makes them act badly, but some risk taking is necessary. So “to stop me getting overconfident” could be self-restricting rather than self-correcting, holding me down. Who defines what is overconfident? Luck and hindsight can affect that.

I feel I have a fairly adult way of recognising that I could do better, see better, know better next time, with a proportionate regret, and separately an inner critic which berates me, turning my hurt into anger against myself.

That persecutor also brings strong feelings to consciousness. When I berated myself as an idiot for a comparatively minor mistake I became conscious of anguish I felt.

It is interesting to read the list. “To stop myself being happy”. I get happy occasionally. I tend to realise that it will pass, but I don’t think it makes me particularly self-critical.

“To stop me being lazy.” I notice that I ought to do cleaning and tidying, but do not do it. I don’t know I would call myself lazy. Lacking self-care, perhaps. I kick myself a bit about it, but it does not generally have the effect of making me do the task. Too rarely I feel desire to do it or an anticipated pleasure at doing it. These things can become habits, I understand, strengthening pathways in the brain through repetition. I have never done that, though.

“To stop me being angry with others.” That fits. I hold myself in.

“Because if I punish myself I feel better.” That sounds like self-harm. Cutting, one lets the feelings out. I feel pain I can only acknowledge as physical. Releasing and acknowledging the feelings brings relief. Again distress is turned inwards.

One, “to make me concentrate” seems to consider current action rather than past mistakes. Concentrate! I tell myself. That would be better as encouragement than criticism or correction. You can do it!

I can’t suppress the inner critic. I don’t think it a good idea to fight it. I feel a rueful acknowledgment is the best way: notice the anger, fear, hurt, desperation, consider that this is the negative inner critic speaking, and that I do not believe what it says. No, I am not a worthless halfwit.

Then notice and practise productive self-criticism. I could improve.

I went to the library to ask for The Testaments. I was in a poor quality t shirt and found myself patronised. The woman said they had not acquired it yet, and could not say if they would get it, nor take reservations for a book they had not bought. She asked if I had read The Power and suggested that I read Vox, a feminist adventure novel. Women are silenced-one woman fights to speak out. No, I don’t want a feminist novel, I want the latest Margaret Atwood. I am not reading occasionally, or hat trying reading as an entertainment, I know my own taste. Instead I got the latest Sebastian Faulks.

The self-criticism which might ameliorate that situation is too abstruse and wide-ranging to attempt.

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