Your Biggest Critic

In the field of education and probably in almost any field, you will face a fair amount of criticism – from parents, teachers, administrators and students.  But my guess is that your biggest critic is yourself.  Yet self-criticism is good, isn’t it?  A sign of honesty, integrity, responsibility and a courageous willingness to face your flaws so you can become a better person.  But wait!  Not so fast.  There’s high quality research in the US, Canada, Israel and Europe that shows self-criticism contributes to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance use disorders and more.

Self-criticism is often characterized by an uncompromising demand for high standards of performance and hostility toward the self when these high standards are – inevitably – not met.  Hmmm…  Do we as educators promote self-criticism?

“Moreover, research worldwide provides a compelling answer as to why self-criticism leads to mental and physical disorders.  The answer: Self-criticism derails people’s social environments.  It propels people to generate interpersonal stress (e.g., be involved in quarrels and beget rejections), and it interferes with people’s ability to experience positive, enjoyable life events (such as having fun with friends) and to mobilize social support in times of need.  Such a negative environment serves as fertile ground for emotional distress, which in turn might increase self-criticism.  I call the process “The Self-Critical Cascade” (Golan Shahar Ph.D.).

So what is the answer?  Well, perhaps a place to start is with awareness of how devastating self-criticism can be for ourselves and others.  Know that you are not alone – it seems that this is a common problem.  You may be an expert in beating yourself up. Develop positive relationships with others who openly appreciate your value and care for you as a person. If you are a teacher, don’t be passive when you hear students speaking critically of themselves.  Encourage them to be kind to themselves rather than bash themselves into submission.  Tell them to stop the internal, negative self-talk.  Self-criticism could be a major obstacle to the teaching and learning process for both teachers and students.  Please know that I am in no way ignoring the importance of a high level of engagement and grit in the learning process.  More to come on this topic.  I am just beginning Sharah’s book, “Erosion: The Psychopathology of Self-criticism”.  Can’t wait to get into it. I am so moved by the significance of self identity/self respect as it relates to almost everything, including learning and healthy relationships.

Take a few moments to reflect on this quote from Parker Palmer:

“No punishment anyone can lay on me can possibly be any worse than the punishment I lay on myself by conspiring in my own diminishment.”


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Fran McGreevy at Root-Ed – Leadership and Learning