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What’s Between Self-Criticism and Self- Empathy? (Part 1)

At the most basic level moving from self-criticism to self-empathy requires two things:

-awareness of the fact that you are judging yourself and

-some connection, no matter how small, with the part of you that knows you are basically good no matter what.

When these two fundamentals are not in place, self-criticism shows up as blame, anger, depression, apathy, dishonesty, and violence, to name a few.

I recently had my five year old niece over night. When she has made a mistake, she sometimes blames. She has said things like, "You did it wrong! You were supposed to . . .!" Not having either of the fundamentals in place she moves to protect herself by directing attention away from herself.

After she calms a bit, I let her know that it is okay to make mistakes and that when she does, instead of blaming, she can just say, "I made a mistake. That's okay." She readily takes in this feedback and uses it within the same day. My hope in offering her this is to help her stay connected to her self-worth regardless of circumstance and to give her tools to do that verbally.

My niece is pretty transparent in her intention to protect herself through blame. It is not always so obvious in adult relationships. A verbally skilled adult can begin blaming through analysis before you know what's happening.

You hear things like; how you were wrong to do what you did (with a list of convincing reasons) and how it relates to your relationship with your mother (with a detailed description of that relationship) and when are you going to take responsibility for your fears (with a list of your fears) and can't you see a pattern here (with a recounting of past incidents) and …etc.

If you are being blamed in this way, you may start to feel confused and foggy. You may have difficulty articulating your thoughts and staying connected to your needs. You may have difficulty making decisions that really work for you.

Analysis is a useful concept in science and the world of academia, but mostly harmful when applied to human beings.

Here are some basic things to remember when when blame / analysis is directed toward you:

  1. Responding to blame with a rebuttal of any sort, "I did not! That's not true! It's actually like this. .." will most likely escalate disconnect.
  2. Blame is a symptom of the speaker's pain and unmet needs. IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU.
  3. You can redirect with empathy or some basic requests:

-"Are you feeling hurt and wanting understanding?" (or other guesses at feelings and needs).

-"Can you tell me what you are wanting instead of saying what I am doing or not doing?"

- "Can you make that about you?"

-"Can we talk about what we want to do differently now?"

-"Hearing an analysis of me I feel foggy and disconnected and want understanding. Would you be willing to tell me what you are unhappy about rather than talking about me?

-"Stop! What you are saying is not okay with me! I am scared and I want connection! Can you tell me what you are hearing me say?!"

This week notice when blame or analysis comes your way. Feel and resist your impulse to submit, defend, withdraw, or offer a counter argument. Put on your giraffe** ears and remember it is not about you and then engage one of the redirects offered above.

Next week I will write about the process of moving from Self-Criticism to Self-Empathy.

*jackals refer to any language or thoughts that disconnect us from life.

**giraffe refers to shifting into an interest in connecting to the feelings and needs in yourself and others.

***click here for a list of feelings and universal needs

Next Gem
Moving from Self-Criticism to Self- Empathy
Previous Gem
Empathy: Meeting the Jackals


2 Responses

  1. Mar 04, 2009

    This morning I wanted to find and read something about self-empathy. I couldn't properly acknowledge my grumpy tiredness. Instead, standing alone in a quiet pre-dawn kitchen, I blamed others.

    Happily, I did find something to read --

  2. May 27, 2009

    happy to hear it!

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