Dear Selfless Esteem,
I have noticed that when I look at one negative aspect of myself, it seems to turn into a downward spiral of looking at ALL my negative traits. How can I stop this cycle and just look and work on one trait at a time?
Dear Downward Spiraler,
You are not alone in experiencing the downward spiral of self-criticism. Every person has been down that spiral. Take comfort in knowing that this is normal and inevitably happens. Otherwise, you will beat yourself up for beating yourself up, causing you to go even deeper down the spiral! ツ
When the barrage of self-criticism starts, nothing is off limits. Every area of our lives is a target: our mistakes, regrets, sense of competence, areas in need of improvement, and even things we can’t necessarily control like our physical features.
As we fall down the spiral of negative thoughts, we feel bad about ourselves. Depression, anxiety, fear, insecurity, and other negative emotions overtake us. Then these negative feelings affect our behavior. We may isolate ourselves, give up, blame others, and become irritable.
Thoughts of self-harm and suicide might surface too. If so, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. Another option is the chat feature at Lifeline Chat : Lifeline (suicidepreventionlifeline.org) There are also suicide hotlines in each state. If you’re in immediate danger, of course call 911. For other countries, please see this list of suicide crisis lines.
How to Defeat Self Criticism
One way to escape the downward spiral is to change our thoughts. Let’s stop evaluating ourselves and contemplate God’s viewpoint. (See the post “Why Selfless Esteem Is Better Than Self Esteem” for more details about this process.) He sees you as perfect (Song of Solomon 6:9). But how can that be when we are not perfect? The Bible says God is love (1 John 4:16), and love does not dwell on offenses (1 Corinthians 13:5). We’ve all made mistakes, big and small, but He does not ruminate on our past sins and failures (Isaiah 43:25), and so neither should we.
When we continually think positive thoughts (Philippians 4:8) about God’s unconditional love and receive His perfect love, we are free to love ourselves unconditionally. As a result, our feelings change to peace and joy, and our interactions with others improve.
Furthermore, think of all the positive traits God has given you. Thank Him for each one. Your gratitude will lift your spirits.
Another way to escape the downward spiral of self-criticism is to change your behavior, which will then affect your mood and thoughts. Do something kind for yourself. It can even be simple and quick, such as the following:
- Drink a warm beverage.
- Rest your eyes for five minutes.
- Give your neck a mini-massage.
- Take a few deep breaths.
- And any other great ideas I know you have 🙂
For more explanation and additional practical tips, see Dr. Tracey Marks’ video about “How To Silence Your Inner Critic.”
I hear you protesting, “But you don’t know how much I’ve messed up!” Welcome to the human race; “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And here’s the good news: we are “justified freely by His grace through redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
What is the worst you’ve done anyway? Murder? Paul was involved in killing the martyr Stephen (Acts 8:1), yet he chose to forget the past and “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Consider what I heard Pastor Ricky Temple say in a sermon: “Education is expensive; pay the tuition and move on.” In other words, let’s learn from our mistakes and move forward.
As we grow, let’s be patient and compassionate with ourselves as God is. He understands we are a work in progress because He is transforming us to become more like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18). Allow Him to take you off the downward spiral and shape you into the best version of yourself (Isaiah 64:8). 😇
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version®. Copyright © 1984 by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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