I can’t do anything right.
I look… <insert favorite self-critical word here>
What’s wrong with me?
My grades stink!
I’ll never make the baseball team!
If your Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) are frequently about what’s wrong with you (you don’t measure up), then you probably suffer from infestations of the Critic.
Critic ANTs are just that – critical. And they are critical in absolutes. Often we think of these kinds of statements as a way to be “honest” and “accountable” to ourselves; we assume they keep us from being lazy, making mistakes, or becoming complacent. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, Critic ANTs often immobilize us – keeping us from achieving our goals.
Comparing ourselves to others is natural. In fact, many parents believe that kids need critical comparison in order to grow up well. When overdone, the child grows up believing that they are not good enough.
Having a Critic ANT infestation means always seeing yourself in the worst light possible.
An infestation starts out with a comparison:
- A friend, classmate, or colleague always looks so put together.
ANT: “I can never dress as well as she does!”
Reality: You’ve never seen her before she’s spent four hours getting ready in the morning. If you spent that much time getting ready, you could look that good too – but wouldn’t you rather have the extra sleep? Besides, not even supermodels look as good in real life as they do in magazines – photo editing software makes sure of that.
ANT: “He’s so much faster – I’ll never catch up!”
Reality: Well, he’s 6’2” and you’re 5’3” – yes, he runs faster. However, he is also in a growth spurt and is a giant klutz, one trip and you’ve caught up.
- A friend or classmate has terrific grades, is on the honor roll, gets lots of attention for his/her smarts.
ANT: “I’ll never be as smart as (name)!”
Reality: How do you know? If Algebra is not your subject, what about art? Or, the history of Minecraft? Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and it is MUCH easier to find the weaknesses than the strengths.
Comparing can easily lead to Labeling – ourselves and others.
- I’m such a jerk.
- He’s an idiot.
While labeling our feelings (describing them to ourselves) can be very helpful in combatting ANTs, applying a derogatory label about looks, personality, achievements, and the like only leaves us feeling worse.
- A jerk is someone who treats others badly – and doesn’t care. If you care enough to think of yourself as a jerk, then you are not one. If you treated someone badly, apologize. It really is that simple.
- You do not know all the things any other person knows. Even if you earn better grades than he does in every class, he is not idiot; you just have not seen him in his subject yet. Be careful, he may rock Minecraft Hardcore mode while you have just started Survival mode.
Critics are also prone to Emotional Reasoning – mistaking feeling for fact.
- I feel <stupid, fat, ugly, …>, so I am …
What To Do
Treating any ANT infestation starts with a little self-compassion. Love is far more motivating than fear and Critic ANTs are all about FEAR; so love yourself some. The next step is questioning your thinking. Feeling, thinking, and being are three different things, so separate them. And, it is OK to think or feel negative things, just remember that thoughts and feelings change – they are not facts.
Becoming aware of what triggers an infestation is a great way to stop, or even prevent, them. Looking back at previous infestations:
- What was going on when they started?
- What were you thinking?
- What were you feeling?
- What did you do?
When you find yourself in those conditions again, you can start questioning the negatives before they have a chance to take over. Awareness does require patience. Identifying what triggers Critic ANTs in hindsight as well as on the fly takes practice. Remember to maintain your self-compassion. Being kind and constructive with yourself as you deal with Critic ANTs will leave you feeling happier and more effective.