One of the more destructive foes I encounter in my coaching and clinical work is self-criticalness. This nasty guy comes in and drains, diminishes and even immobilizes often without leaving a trace. Learning to recognize it and defeat it is critical to growing and flourishing.
What is this hideous foe?
Self-criticalness is when we adopt a negative, demeaning posture towards parts of our selves, such as our intelligence or appearance, and sometimes even our worth. It often attacks through critical statements we tell ourselves (in our heads, or sometimes even out loud), by saying something like: “I should be better at this by now,” or “I’m not good at anything that matters, or “I’m way too big.” Sometimes we can even question or attack our worth by telling ourselves something like: “I’m worthless,” or “I don’t even deserve to be here.”
What’s so insidious about this foe is that we often don’t even realize we are doing it to ourselves. It’s like we have this dream to be a great runner, and yet after our workouts we are breaking our toes, or not drinking the water our bodies need to run well. It’s how much self-criticalness can noiselessly “run in the background” out of our awareness, while doing substantial damage to our ability to express our gifts or enjoy our lives, that underscores how dangerous this subtle foe can be.
Where does it come from?
On a human level, self-criticalness often comes from internalizing negative messages that others have sent our way, (knowingly or unknowingly), such as parents, teachers, coaches, or even friends. It can come as well through media and magazines, where when we see those beautiful, brilliant, successful people on the covers, we can look at her own life and think “I clearly don’t measure up.”
But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t mention the darkness piece, or more explicitly, Satan’s role in our self-criticalness. I believe it is truly difficult for us, myself included, to capture how much Satan really hates all things good, all things beautiful. He especially hates God’s image bearers, the ones who remind him of what he has lost, the chance to be in God’s family. Consequently, he lives for accusing us, (Revelation 12:10), and loves to lie to us (John 8:44), using every possible angle he can, to pull us into his darkness, into a place where we fight against ourselves, (and others) leaving us feeling embattled, discouraged, or worthless. Yuk! But, man is this real.
What do we need?
Grace is what we most desperately need here. Grace from God, and grace from others and ourselves. Grace is foundational for growing in self-awareness, and grace is what we need to receive and extend to ourselves in the midst of our struggles to grow and mature. As it says in Hebrews 13:9, “it is good for hearts to be strengthened by grace.” Grace creates the safety to look at the truths about ourselves or what we wish was different about us, without being harsh with ourselves.
What can we do?
I believe we need to ask the Lord more consistently for the grace to be more aware of when we are, frankly, being mean to ourselves. We need to ask him to receive the truth about our growth areas without being harsh or impatient with ourselves. And, I believe we need to ask the Lord for the ability to receive more and more of his grace, to know ourselves as deeply loved children, to know ourselves as secure in his family, and to experience more of the freedom that Jesus came to give us. As we ask for that more and more, we are then gradually able to see the truth about our growth areas and shortcomings more from a place of love and support, and gradually move in the right direction.
May the grace of Jesus gradually fill your heart up more and more, enabling you to live in greater freedom from self-criticalness, (and other lies from Satan), and enable you to bring more life to others out of the glorious grace you have received.