Spotting self-critical thoughts: no catch and release

We’ve been traveling over the holidays. We live out of state from the rest of our family, so we love spending time with them, but because we travel to visit it is always concentrated time together.

As an introvert who pretty much overthinks everything, spending days on end with lovely, successful, seemingly-confident people makes me extra critical of myself.

I have caught these thoughts sneaking through my mind this past week while comparing myself to others:

  • I’m not smart enough
  • I’m not well-traveled enough
  • I’m “just” a stay at home mom, and I’m not even that good at it
  • I’m not making a difference in the world
  • I’m too religious
  • I’m not religious enough
  • I’m so lazy
  • I have put on so much weight
  • I’m a disappointment
  • I mess up all the time

Ugh, that list looks terrible compiled together. But that is why I’m writing it out. So I can see it for what it is, and you can see yours, too.

I’ve caught these thoughts sliding around me, like standing in a mountain stream and spotting trout slipping by – camouflaged among the rocks and hiding along the creek side.

(Sorry for the random analogy – my dad’s a fly fisherman and I’ve done a good deal of trout-spotting in my day).

The point is, if I’m not careful, self-criticism slips by me, disguising itself as a valid critique. Just a part of the stream. And it’s gone, accepted as part of the landscape. Accepted as part of me.

But it’s not. If I can catch these thoughts, single them out, I can see them for what they are: ME, leveling an attack against myself. My own emotional auto-immune disorder.

No one is saying this to me. I’m saying it to myself, and I don’t have to. It’s within my power to single these thoughts out, hold them up to the light and examine them.

What part do I keep and what do I throw out?

My process is something like this:

#1 : Identify the thought; separate it.

#2: Ask: would I say this to a friend?  Speak kindly to yourself.

#3 Where did this come from? What truth is there? Is there anything constructive I can take from this?

If it is only negative and destructive (ie: I’m never going to be smart enough), throw it out. Move on. Focus on your gifts and talents.

If it can lead to constructive actions (ie: I could start exercising again; I need to practice patience; I would feel better if I got more sleep.) Then take it in stride, but not with guilt. Like a suggestion from a good friend. It is to leave you better off, not worse.

The thing is, I am the only one who knows my thoughts and the only one who can guard them. It’s up to me if I treat myself as an enemy or a friend.

So, as you are surrounded by family and friends AND their accomplishments – allow them to be themselves, you to be yourself, and layer it all with grace and kindness. No one can do that for you but yourself.

And to fellow believers:

Remember who you are in Christ as well as the grace he lavishes to you –  “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Don’t be the one to undermine the value you’ve been given.

3 thoughts on “Spotting self-critical thoughts: no catch and release

  1. Nancy says:

    Jessica, this is so true. It is so easy to let those thoughts sneak into our minds – just like those slippery trout slip – right up next to and then they pass right by those determined fishermen (women)!
    A verse came to mind as I read your post: Philippians 4:8 – Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. So when those thoughts come creeping into my mind, I try to remember “what is true”. Also when I think of you – all of my thoughts of you are excellent and praiseworthy!
    BTW – I was going though a box of memorabila and came across a paper you wrote in high school. The teacher’s comment was spot on! She said, “Jessica, ‘your paper’ shows enormous writing talent as well as intelligence, wisdom, and a keen eye for detail, character, and emotion”
    Wow! She was so right! Love you and the wonderful way you parent my precious grandchildren;)


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