On the website of the journal “Thomas” for a long time there is a permanent column “Question to the priest.” Each reader can ask a question to get a personal answer from a priest. But some of the questions can not be answered in one letter – they require a thorough conversation.
Letter to the editors
I have such a problem – I am too self-critical person and constantly scold myself. And I scold not only for obvious mistakes and sins, but for almost every step. This is especially true of my communication with people. It constantly seems to me that I didn’t look at someone wrongly, I didn’t say something wrong, I try to scrupulously work through all the upcoming dialogues in advance, so as not to tell a person something that in my understanding is nonsense. I find fault with my behavior on trifles, I begin to repeat to myself what a fool I am, how it was possible to see / say / do so. How to learn to deal with it and separate such flimsy trifles from real mistakes? Why is this happening to me? What is this temptation? Elizabeth
Psychologist Alexander Tkachenko answers the reader’s question
The more you scold yourself, the closer to God?
It is human nature to evaluate oneself — one’s words, deeds, thoughts. And it is not surprising that such an assessment is not always a plus sign, because everyone can make a mistake.
However, it so happens that self-esteem in people begins to “go off scale” towards the negative. Mental condemnation of oneself becomes a constant background, any trifle, such as accidentally spilling tea on the table, causes angry accusatory tirades in his own address. And if some unfortunate misunderstanding happened in front of other people, then in general you want to fall through the earth, even if no one noticed your mistake. The inner voice immediately begins to explain to you who you are, no longer choosing expressions and intonations, sometimes turning into blatant abuse.
Such self-incrimination, even with all their formal correctness, gradually steals confidence in their abilities, deprives them of strength and joy. Each of us is familiar with this strange phenomenon to one degree or another. But it is difficult to explain its nature even for people who are attentive to their inner world.
And the most important thing is that it is not clear what to do with all this and whether it is possible to make your “inner critic” behave more decently. Looking ahead, just say: you can. But for this you first need to find out what it is and where it comes from.
The “inner critic” is not at all some separate entity that has entered us, and is not a split personality. This is just an emotional experience of communication with people significant for us fixed in memory.
Man is a social being. This affirms not only science, but also religion. In the story about the creation of Adam, God says: it is not good for a man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). It was for a man to live not alone, but in a society of his own kind, he was first created a wife, and then blessing to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth by its numerous offspring. From the very moment of birth, each of us is in close cooperation with other people. And all new skills (with the exception of innate reflexes) we acquire in childhood only through communication with those who already possess these skills.
For example, a child will never learn to walk and talk unless he is specifically taught this. Therefore, we, who already know how to walk, take our children by the handles, learn to take the first steps, encourage them when they fall. All our daily papal-mom “agu” and “forty-crow raven cooked porridge” – nothing more than the transfer to the child of our parental experience in speaking speech. In the same way, we patiently teach him to eat with a spoon, go to the pot, introduce new food, look at pictures in children’s books, and help us to recognize the cat, dog, house, tree. All these skills are gradually fixed in the child’s visual, auditory and motor memory, then they are absorbed by him and become his own experience. This is the transfer of skills from parents to children. But there is another kind of experience that our child receives from us. This experience is an emotional response to an event. Suppose a child accidentally broke a cup in the kitchen or poured soup on himself. We can take it calmly and intelligently. For example, to say: “It’s okay, do not worry, it happens to everyone. Let me help you change clothes, and we’ll put everything together. ” Here the child sees that in situations of this kind, we still love him, take care of him and admit him the right to make a mistake.
However, we can respond in a completely different way: “Oh, you are a wicked shit! But what is it! Why do you all fall out of your hands? Others have children like children, and you have only one disorder! ”In this case, the child sees that he has no right to make mistakes. And it’s not even the most broken cup or soiled clothes. The child understands that if he does something wrong, he becomes bad for us, we deprive him of our love.
He is scared and bitter by this rejection. But he knows that mom or dad can not be wrong, they are adults. And then a very sad thing happens: the child, focusing on our negative parental reaction, begins to believe that he is bad and worthless if he breaks a cup or turns a plate of soup, laughs too loudly or goes too slowly, if he suddenly wants a toilet in the middle of the street, if … if … if … These self-assessment skills passed on to us are stored in his emotional memory, then absorbed and become his own way of relating to oneself after mistakes or defeats. And in similar situations, the very voice begins to sound in the child’s head: “Oh, you are a wry shit! You have one frustration! ”And this voice will be ours, the parent. He will accompany the child all his life, becoming that part of his personality, which will always be on the lookout and will not forgive him for a single slip or even simple awkwardness. Even when he grows up and becomes an adult, our irritated shout will again and again be reproduced by his psyche in situations for which it would be strange for an adult to curse himself at all, and even more so – with such words. The emotional memory of our grown-up child will reliably preserve in his soul those feelings that you once rashly poured on him for trivial mischief. Our parental emotions of that time would be assimilated and incorporated into his experience of relating to himself, just like the experience of walking upright or speaking speech. Approximately, his “inner critic” appears in man.
The experience of communicating with people significant for us manifests itself in the form of the reproduction of words, expressions, intonations with which these people used to turn to us if we did something wrong. This experience can be very different. For some, it can sound very soft: “Small, what are you doing? Do not do it this way”. Others are stricter: “Pick up the nurses, don’t become limp. And do until you succeed. ” These options do not interfere at all; on the contrary, they support, help to survive failures and mobilize themselves to overcome them.
But the “internal controller” also has completely different intonations and words, when in difficult moments instead of supporting emotional experience, it suddenly gets degrading, devaluing, frankly abusive phrases from the bins of memory. And you no longer want to overcome anything, achieve, and in general live.
You just want to hide somewhere far away from everyone, so that no one else can see what a bad brainless fool you are with crooked hands and a dull head. And hurriedly talking to yourself these evil, hurting the soul, as if hurrying to get ahead of someone who can call you that again.
Such a traumatic emotional experience is not necessarily acquired in the parental family. But in any case, its beginning is in a situation where a person has been subjected to emotional violence for a long time, which he, due to circumstances, cannot adequately answer. And then, in order to reduce internal stress from unexpressed anger at the offenders, he seems to agree with them. And accepts all these “reptiles”, “moron”, etc., as deserved and fair definitions. And later, he himself scolded himself with the same words for all sorts of real or imaginary transgressions. In such cases, the “internal controller” can speak with the voices of high school students, more aggressive peers, kindergarten teacher, school teacher, coach in the sports section. The “matrix” for the traumatic experience can be the daily abuse of old-timers or officers in the army, the cry of an aggressive boss at work or an annoyed spouse. But still the most vulnerable to such injuries is the soul of a person in his childhood, in the parental family.
What is the result? A person lives with the certainty that he must be perfect, not having the right to make a mistake even in anything. And although the ideal is unattainable by definition, a person perceives any deviation from it as a fall and a catastrophe. After all, he remembered that you can love him only when he does everything right. But the more he strives to be perfect (and therefore be loved), the worse it turns out. And the more often the “inner critic” is voiced in the soul remembered from childhood, which has already become habitual: “Oh, you are awkward!”
Believers in this state may have another problem: their skill to scold themselves at every step suddenly acquires sacred content.
Having believed in God, having familiarized themselves with the church dogma and the rules of the Christian life, they suddenly discover that the “inner critic” tormenting them for many years fits in wonderfully well with a number of very positive and sublime concepts. Here and “humility”, and “self-deprecation”, and “the vision of their sins as the sand of the sea.” And now, as if by magic, the neurotic habit of painful reflexion suddenly turns for them almost the pinnacle of the Christian virtues. And the abuse of the “inner critic” is in the voice of conscience or even in the voice of God. Now, after each of his mental “Oh, you are Krivorukan rubbish”, they with a feeling of deep satisfaction mentally add “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Why, because they saw their sin, reproached themselves for it, and repented before God. And so – tens, and even hundreds of times a day, just like great devotees!
Needless to say, this state of mind has nothing in common with neither humility nor self-discipline. In all matters, the habit of striving for ideal behavior plays another joke with such people. Having concluded that in spiritual life, “the worse you see yourself, the closer you are to God,” they give a psychological meaning to their psychological problem. And even more begin to cheat themselves, cursing themselves already arbitrarily and forcibly.
It is clear that such a “spiritual practice” cannot end in anything good, and usually leads to nervous exhaustion, hysteria, neurasthenia. Which, if desired, a person can also be attributed to manifestations of his “high spirituality.” However, in Orthodox ascetic practice, for such states there is a completely traditional definition — beauty (from the word — flattery, i.e., “deceive oneself”).
The third thesis:
In the self-made formula “the worse you see yourself, the closer you are to God”, figuratively speaking, the cart is put in front of the horse.
But what about self-annihilation and self-deprecation? Indeed, in the penitential prayers composed by the saints, one can really meet their very hard definitions regarding themselves. However, there is an important point, without which it is impossible to correctly understand the spiritual experience from which such prayers were born. The saints loved God and fellowship with Him very much. Their whole life was, in fact, such fellowship, prayer accompanied them in all their affairs, and they often knew the Holy Scriptures by heart and nevertheless read it daily, enjoying the Word of God that fed their soul. For the sake of communion with God, they even left the world and went into the wilderness, so that nothing of earthly concerns would distract them from this constant appeal to the Lord. And of course, such a love of the saints for God did not remain unrequited. The Holy Spirit shone in them, enlightening their mind, feelings, and even the body itself. In His radiance, the saints saw themselves sinful, unworthy of this Divine purity, which even in angels can highlight imperfections. The joy of such divine consolation was so great that the holy fathers seemed to counterbalance her with self-reproach and cry of repentance about sins that they saw in their souls, enlightened by grace.
The modern theologian, Metropolitan Callist (Ware), writes: “Until you see the light of Christ, you cannot really see your sins. While the room is dark, says Bishop Theophan the Recluse, you do not notice the dirt, but in bright light you can distinguish every speck of dust. The same is true of our soul room. The order is not such that we must first repent and then realize the presence of Christ; for only when the light of Christ has already entered our life, we really begin to understand our sinfulness. … According to the fathers of the desert, “the closer a man is to God, the more clearly he sees that he is a sinner.” They cite Isaiah as an example: first he sees the Lord on the throne and hears seraphim who declare: holy, holy, holy; and only after this vision does he exclaim: Woe is me! I died! for I am a man with unclean lips (Is. 6: 1–5). ”
It will probably be useful to repeat that the ascetic practice of self-chilling has nothing to do with the manifestations of traumatic emotional experience, which forces a person to scold himself for any trifle. To canonize one’s own “inner critic” is a deliberately pointless and detrimental to mental health.
To call the “inner critic” to order, first of all one should learn to recognize his voice in himself.
And each time when he starts his usual song, immediately stop these rude exposures of himself. After all, the “inner critic” is just your skill to scold yourself. Yes, it is automated and turns on involuntarily. But if you take care of yourself and set it as a goal to bring it into the conscious area of the psyche, this skill, like any bad habit, becomes visible, and then you can work with it. As soon as after your next small slip, the usual “Oh, so-and-so!” Will sound in your mind, immediately say to yourself, “Stop! I won’t scold myself anymore. This is a bad habit. ” You can pick up other words, but their meaning should be something like this. And since the “inner critic” often manifests itself in words from our childhood traumatic memories, it is possible to look for a completely different replacement for them — supporting words that once sounded in our childhood. Perhaps these will be the words of a grandmother or grandfather. Perhaps some other significant adult. Or maybe you yourself will find kind, comforting words that are now ready to say to yourself – then small. It could be something like “Calm down, my good. Everything will be alright”. Words here can also be different, everyone finds them for himself. The main thing is that they should sound warm, accepting intonation and be an expression of your care for yourself. This technique is simple to perform, but very effective. In general, if the “inner critic” is badly poisoning your life, it’s better to turn to a psychologist. When a person notices that he constantly scolds himself, finds fault with himself on trifles, thinks about the forthcoming dialogues in detail for fear of saying something wrong and is displeased with himself all the time, this may be manifestations of the consequences of a serious psychological trauma. Such problems are best solved with a specialist.
If you are a believer and you see that some kind of not very significant error that confused you in a spiritual sense is a sin, you can use the advice of Rev. Theophan the Recluse: “Regarding small sinful movements of the heart, thoughts, etc., the following rule : as soon as an unclean thing is noticed, it should immediately be cleansed by inner repentance before the face of the Lord. It can be limited to this, but if it is unclean, conscience is restless, then later on with the evening prayer, remember that with contrition and – the end. All such sins are cleansed by this act of inner repentance. ”
Let us pay attention: the point is precisely not to let the overwhelming “inner critic” determine our spiritual life, and not at all about getting rid of a calm, critical approach to our own thoughts and actions. After all, if we “silence” any inner voice that indicates to us our imperfections, then then our conscience and repentance can be declared unnecessary. But the opposite is true.
It is the endless accusations of self-imperfection that “knock down the sight” and confuse the Christian’s normal self-esteem, dissolving in real matters of hundreds of meaningless trivial violations of the commandments of God, for which one really needs to repent.
With the psychological trauma described above, a person in any of his awkward movements can discern a sin against God and neighbors. And he no longer notices the difference between randomly spilled coffee at a common table and conscious deceit, gossip, “podsizhivaniem” work colleagues, and many other sins that are almost impossible to distinguish from the general background of continuous neurotic self-criticism. Conscience, as an indicator of the spiritual danger of a particular act, ceases to perform its functions if the arrow of this indicator is constantly in the red sector: “I am always bad.” Getting rid of the evil and persistent “internal critic” only helps to hear her voice, exposing us in truly unjust deeds.
Of course, it happens that it is difficult for a believer to figure out for himself where he goes too far in analyzing his sinfulness, and where not. Therefore, if you have a confessor, then such questions should be discussed in detail with him. Spiritual life is difficult, and it is much easier to pass it when there is a more experienced mentor nearby.
Scolding yourself mentally for any blunder is harmful not only from the psychological, but also from the spiritual point of view.
According to the commandment, one must be treated as one’s neighbor. So, you also need to love yourself, to force yourself to this love, even if you see in yourself some sinful weaknesses and imperfections.
St. Seraphim of Sarov said about such a compulsion: “He should condescend his soul in its weaknesses and imperfections and endure its shortcomings, as we tolerate others, but not become envious, but encourage ourselves to the best. Whether he consumed a lot of food, or something like that, akin to human weakness, did – do not be outraged by this and don’t harm it, but bravely encourage yourself to correct, and meanwhile try to keep the peace of the soul. ”
And instead of the painful Samoyed, which leads to despondency and even self-loathing, it would be more correct to follow this advice of the great saint — to treat our own shortcomings with condescension and patience, to encourage yourself to be corrected and to keep peace in your soul.