If we suffered significant childhood trauma it is likely we were not instilled with an adequate sense of self-acceptance or self-assurance when we were young. Perhaps we were made to feel inadequate and inherently flawed as individuals.
Such feelings can extend well into our adult lives, or, without therapy, last the whole of our lives.
As a result, we may have been led to over-focus, and exaggerate in our own minds, any weaknesses we have and any mistakes we make, perhaps, even, to the point of obsession.
Now, as adults, as a result of such a childhood, it is possible we have developed a highly self-deprecating personality – this can mean, for example, we find it very hard to accept compliments. Furthermore, we may :
– downplay our achievements and accomplishments
– feel embarrassed if someone refers to our achievements and accomplishments
– become obsessed with mistakes we make
– believe that if someone praises us they do not really mean it but are just trying to be kind
– feel that compliments given to us are not really warranted and that we don’t really deserve them
– even if we do very well at something, we may very well tend to focus on why we did not achieve perfection; this leads us onto the next section :
If unreasonable demands were made of us as children, we may find that, as adults, we need to get everything ‘perfectly right’; this is likely to be a largely unconscious attempt to finally gain parental approval and acceptance.
However, this leads us to set standards for ourselves that are unrealistic and impossible for us to meet. For example, we might be obsessed with ensuring that nothing we do ever goes wrong, that we can always fully meet the needs of others who are dependent upon us, and that, if we fail in such areas, we must be ‘deeply flawed individuals.
However, because it is impossible to go through life without ever making mistakes, taking wrong decisions, or making the wrong choices, we frequently become filled with intense feelings of self-reproach.
Setting ourselves impossibly unrealistic targets means we become far too demanding of ourselves and, therefore, we find ourselves constantly criticizing ourselves and being disappointed in ourselves for failing always to meet our self-imposed, highly exacting demands.
SHAME AND GUILT :
The feelings, beliefs, and behaviors described above are likely to have arisen because we were made to feel shame and guilt when we failed to be perfect as children – it is likely that our parent/parents/primary carer made us feel that we were ‘never quite good enough and that we were a constant source of disappointment.
As adults, then, we have displaced our parent’s/parents’ unreasonable expectations of us onto our current relationships with others. Insight into this problem is the first step to freeing us from our perpetual, unreasonable self-demands.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one therapy that studies show can be very effective for the treatment of intense and obsessive self-criticism.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).