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F grade written on a life report card

Re-considering my self-criticism

I tend toward overachieving in many areas of life, but my inner critic takes overachievement to whole new levels. My inner critic can find something to criticize about me no matter what I do. In fact, the report card my inner critic gives me often looks just like the one on the right.

So when the following message showed up in my email several years ago in my daily “Note from the Universe” from TUT (and Mike Dooley), it really caught my attention.

Some of the things you criticize about yourself, Kenetha, are your greatest strengths.

Hmmm … what if that’s true?

It’s made me stop and think about places where I have changed my mind about parts of myself over the years.

I once was very critical of myself for being an introvert. I had bought into our culture’s preference for extroverts and considered my need for time alone to process, my enjoyment of quiet activities, and my studious nature to be weaknesses to overcome.

But I’ve learned over the years that those things are great strengths as an artist and as a writer. Life is so much richer for me when I honor my introversion as a strength.

I accomplish more, I’m more pleasant to be around, and I make a greater positive impact on the world around me.

I also used to be very critical of my sensitive nature. I cannot bear to watch TV because it is too intense, I cry easily at sentimental stories, and the wounds I receive from unkind words from others run abnormally deep because those words can echo in my mind for years if they are not adequately processed. All of these things can be challenges for people who deal with me and are often causes for ridicule.

But my sensitivity is also one of my greatest strengths because it makes me unusually attuned to the emotional states of people around me. I often hear the things left unspoken as clearly as those that are spoken.

These two traits together are what makes it possible for others to experience my listening presence as a safe space to process their own griefs and struggles. Being able to provide that kind of presence is what I consider to be my greatest strength, but it springs directly from what I have often criticized most about myself.

I’ve found that the more I am able to embrace those traits as strengths, the more I am able to use them as a blessing for others and the less they show up in their shadow forms that do damage.

The traits themselves don’t change, but the way I express them varies greatly simply by how I value them. When I see them as strengths, I live into them in a deeper way which brings out the best they have to offer. When I try to smother them in criticism, they fight to be seen and heard in ways that are often ugly.

The results all depend on how I choose to view myself.

It makes me wonder what else I currently criticize about myself that may be a strength that I have not yet recognized.

Where else might finding a strength to value in a trait free me to make that part of myself a blessing instead of an opportunity for my shadow self to cause pain?

What other traits might I be twisting into negative versions of themselves by devaluing of them?

As I continue to ponder this, traits are already coming to mind that I may need to re-think, and I can already see how some of them might be a greater blessing simply by valuing them differently. However, I also know that I’ll have plenty of chances every day to notice what I’m criticizing about myself and to question whether it might be a strength if used in a different light.

I’m looking forward to finding more ways that I can shift those fundamental traits I was born with from things I criticize to strengths that bring blessing to the world. Will you join me?

As you think about the things you criticize about yourself, how might those things also be among your greatest strengths? How would changing the way you value those traits affect the way they showed up in your life?


Photo credit: FAIL by amboo who?, on Flickr. Used via Creative Commons licensing.

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