About Me

I am a parent coach. I received my MSW from Simmons School of Social Work and have been a licensed social worker practicing in the greater Boston area for over 20 years. My dream has always been to work with parents on the most important job in their lives. In my practice and in my blog I want parents to be heard, supported and informed in order to feel empowered to be effective as parents. I love helping parents find joy and mastery in their parenting.

"Stop trying to perfect your child, but keep trying to perfect your relationship with him" - Dr. Henker

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Critical Voices

Recently, I attended Christopher Germer’s inspiring training about mindfulness and self-compassion. I referred to his book, The Mindful Path to Self Compassion in a previous post about parents learning to be kind to themselves.

During the seminar, Germer emphasized the toxicity of self-criticism. 

We all do it.  When we don’t do as well as we had hoped at work, or on a task at home, we talk to ourselves in ways we would never think about addressing our friends.

“You are a loser, you suck, you didn’t deserve that raise, clumsy oaf” 

We criticize ourselves about our weight, our food choices, and our level of activity.

“You are a fat pig, do you really need that candy bar, and you are so lazy.”

We often have a negative, continuous reel, of these, and other self-insults, playing in our heads at any given time.

There has long been a misconception that speaking harshly to oneself is the most effective way to get motivated.  It makes me think of sports coaches in films and television who yell at and berate the players, to improve their performance.

Germer, and other psychologists and social scientists have recently begun to scientifically measure the efficacy of this approach.

Dr.Kristin Neff, an Associate Professor in Human Development and Culture, Educational Psychology Department at the University of Texas at Austin writes:

“Research shows that self-critics are much more likely to be anxious and depressed -- not exactly get-up-and-go mindsets. They also have lower self-efficacy beliefs (i.e., self-confidence in their abilities), which undermines their potential for success. The habit of self-criticism engenders fear of failure, meaning that self-critics often don't even try achieving their goals because the possibility of failure is unacceptable. Even more problematic, self-critics have a hard time seeing themselves clearly and identifying needed areas of improvement because they know the self-punishment that will ensue if they admit the truth. Much better to deny there's a problem or, even better, blame it on someone else.”

All this is extremely relevant to parenting.  When I meet with parents in my coaching practice they often say, “I listen to myself yelling at the kids, and it’s not the way I want to talk to them, but I get so frustrated, and angry.” Or “This isn’t how I imagined talking to my children, but when I start to feel at the end of my rope, it just escalates. Then I feel really bad about myself.”

Parents often think of their children as an extension of themselves.

If we talk so critically to ourselves, there is much more chance that we will talk to our children, in a harsh critical tone as well. 

As parents, we need to teach our children appropriate ways to behave; we need to set limits.  We also need to help them develop the self discipline to accomplish their tasks, and learn to problem solve.

However, if we do it in harsh critical tones, they will be much less likely to actually develop those skills.   We will unintentionally pass on a generational cycle of self-criticism.

So where do we start to change this cycle? 

As always, we need to start with ourselves.

We need to find ways to switch to a much kinder and more compassionate tape in our heads. We must start to pay attention to how we are talking to ourselves.

One way to start is to begin to be curious about our self-critical thoughts, and to begin to notice when they are happening.

Hmm, I just called myself a loser.  That’s a pretty harsh statement.  What would I say to a dear friend who said that about himself or herself? 

Then, practice saying that statement to yourself.  Even repeating it to yourself a few times.

This may sound simplistic, but we have a long history of being self-critics.  We need to start somewhere, and change one small self-interaction at a time.

We want to guide and teach our children, but not in a manner that criticizes them harshly. 

There are a lot of more formal and structured ways to decrease self-criticism.  I will write about more about this, and the general topic of self-compassion, in future posts.

1 comment:

  1. I also believe that if we talk aloud and criticize ourselves our children will strive for perfection, which is an unrealistic goal. They need to know that we all make mistakes and it is ok, everything is a learning experience, GREAT POST THANK YOU!