Compulsive Pre-Criticism.

When I hosted Christmas dinner this year I wrote about how I caught myself pre-criticizing every element of the dinner…from the dishes I cooked to the way I set up the tables and wrapped the presents. I wrote about how it was almost like it was a strange involuntary reflex that my brain was prepping for the negative thoughts people might have, and addressing them first, like that would somehow take the power away from them or keep people from having them.

And as I sat back and reflected on the night I was so mad at myself for it. I could see it in hindsight and how annoying it was, but while I was doing it I didn’t notice.

Several of you mentioned having family members who do that and how it drives you crazy and I needed that feedback very much to settle my mind on the truth that this habit needed to be torn apart in a shredder immediately. Luckily, I only host family dinner a few times a year (there’s enough of us to split up the job so no one has to do it too often) so I have plenty of time to work on cramping those instincts. Right?

EXCEPT THAT NOW I REALIZE I DO IT IN EVERY ELEMENT OF MY LIFE.

I pre-criticize myself in everything, and I never noticed it until after I noticed it at Christmas dinner. Before I had my first meeting at a new volunteer job I kept saying things like, “I’m new. I’ll definitely make mistakes.” Before I gave presents to E for his birthday I said, “It’s really hard to shop for you so I gave you the receipts in case you want to take everything back.” Before my kids partake in activities I set up I say things like, “I’m sorry if you hate it.” I’m constantly apologizing for failing at housework and laundry before anyone has ever complained. I mean, I understand that in every one of these cases you could justify the pre-criticism statements but I do it waaaaaayyyyy too often. I never allow people to just experience something, or maybe even enjoy it, without me pre-criticizing my role in whatever their experiencing.

Of course, let’s be honest, it’s not like I woke up and realized I had two heads, this revelation wasn’t that surprising. It’s kinda on brand for someone with terrible self-esteem and who feels love through Words Of Affirmation.

(Sidenote: I demonstrate love through Acts Of Service but I feel through Words of Affirmation. Anyone else show/feel using two different love languages?)

It was not a shocking revelation that I do it at all, I think the shocking part was just realizing how often I do it. How do people not get so annoyed with that? And how am I so in tune with what I expect to be criticized about but I never thought, Maybe what really bothers people is how critical I am of myself?

Never considered that, nope.

But noticing it is not the only thing you have to do to stop. It turns out it’s a really hard habit to break and so I’m coming to you guys to see if you have ever noticed that trait in yourself or in others and have ideas of how to undo that. I feel like I kinda need to approach like I do with my body-hatred issues and do some immersion of counter programing. Like I would force myself to tell myself, “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!” to try to drown out the voices that say, “YOU ARE HIDEOUS!” But I’m not sure what that looks like in practice.

Especially because part of my brain is still convinced that I need to verbalize my flaws before anyone else does….and so that part of my brain doesn’t want me to change because it thinks this is a good habit. And in certain moments I logic myself that it’s okay. I think? I mean…do I really need to warn people who I’m helping in a new volunteer position that I’m new and will make mistakes? Because part of me is like, Yes! They need to know you’re new too so that if something gets neglected they’re understanding!

I mean…let’s be honest…all of this truly goes back to being mindful and present. Us people with anxiety disorders are prone to worrying about things that haven’t even happened yet and probably won’t happen. And some of the coping skills with anxiety is to try to stay present. So maybe if I just continue to work on that, the pre-criticism habits will fade naturally. I need to focus on what needs to be done today or in this minute and not think hours or days or weeks ahead preparing for the criticism if I’ve done something wrong.

It always comes back to mindfulness, doesn’t it?

via GIPHY

6 thoughts on “Compulsive Pre-Criticism.”

  1. I have also been comforted in the past several years by understanding the human brain more. Your amygdala fires when their is a threat—you are feeling fear–so your brain logically protects itself. When your finger touches a hot stove you jump back—some people just have a jumpier brain than others–but it’s still doing what it’s supposed to do!!! Keep you safe. Yeah you! You say those things to yourself as a cushion, as a “just in case”, to protect yourself.
    Lately what has been helping me (along with being mindful and meditating every day) is be more aware of how I feel, as well as the thoughts. When the bad habit thoughts occur, I see them, honor them and say “I am willing to release them”. My favorite saying is “I now release the negative energy from my childhood that lingers in my energetic field”. I also try to focus on how it feels to be the opposite of the habit feeling I am replacing and try to remember it specifically throughout the day. I even set an alarm on my clock for five times a day to relive the more positive memory. So I guess if in all your instances there is fear of what others think, you might try to think of times when you have been confident and not afraid of others opinions. You could then try to purposely remember those times throughout the day. If it’s hard to find those specific memories I have also found it more helpful lately to just be general in my appreciation, so just remembering times you have been confident in general might work.
    I always appreciate your posts. They make me self reflect and clarify my own thoughts.
    Thank you!

  2. I swear we are sisters sometimes. I am the exact same way. I like to make things but I have a hard time trying to sell them bc customers won’t exCtly like that kind of preemptive apology on what they’re buying. My hubs things it’s that perfectionist part of me but after reading your post, it is both that and the preemptive thoughts that may not even happen. Like last night, we finally exchanged gifts with some family members and I had to point out where there flaws. They all said they didn’t even see them until I pointed them out…or with one of the dishes I cooked – sorry it’s a bit bland but I didn’t add much salt, etc.

  3. You can try to convert ‘I’m sorry’ into ‘thank you’. Like ‘thank you for being patient with me as I figure this out’ or ‘thank you for sharing this meal with us’. Sometimes, the thank you version will feel more ridiculous and that might help you short-circuit it. Other times, it will force you to reframe into a positive version of what you’re feeling, which will help you and undoubtedly be less annoying to those around you.

  4. Same on the two love languages thing. Mine goes the same way. I’ll work an 80-hour week and perform all the tasks in all the ways to recieve words of affirmation.

  5. How do you figure out if you have 2 different love languages. I think I probably do? On the housework, unless the house stinks and no one has clean underwear, its all good. Then there is that thing about the housework. Both kids need responsibilities. You always talk about how is is such a wonderful responsible, caring person. He helped you with the house. To get the youngers to the same point, they need the responsibility of chores.

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