What’s the difference between self-criticism and self-awareness? There’s so much talk in the world about loving ourselves just the way we are. The idea is that we are each perfect and beautiful. It goes even further to say that in reference to our personal journeys, we are exactly where we are meant to be and there’s no need to berate ourselves for not being more spiritual, more educated, more affluent, more of anything. My concern is that so many people take that to mean they can then sit and do nothing about fixing any of their self-limiting ways. People act as though acknowledging a flaw or even using the very word ‘flaw’ is the same as self-hatred and is too critical. Yes, those who have been on the path of self-enlightenment for a long time have discovered the difference, but I’m not so sure that the everyday Joe on the street understands the message completely.
Nobody lives a perfect blissful life from birth to the grave. Problems arise and we usually play a role in creating those problems for ourselves. Perhaps the problem is that we just aren’t where we want to be in life. If we are ever to fix anything or solve any problems, we must first pull our head out of the sand and acknowledge the situation for what it is. Take full stock of ourselves, our beliefs, our gifts, our talents, our challenges, our flaws, everything. By really looking at ours e lves, we can then decide what we do and do not like about ourselves. From a place of self-awareness, we can determine what is helping us to accomplish our goals and what is limiting us. That’s being self-aware.
Self-criticism looks very similar. We are taking inventory of ourselves and assigning positive and negative labels to those traits we find within. The difference comes in the form of the attitude we use while doing so. If we are judging the various attributes, especially from a harsh light, then we are being critical rather than simply being aware. When we are being self-critical, we are not loving, logical, nor detached from the various elements of ourselves that we are analyzing. We are being very judgmental and unnecessarily harsh.
Either way, we come to the same conclusion that changes need to take place, but the emotional fuel behind them is very different. One says, “I choose to change because it will help me to manifest the life I desire for myself. I am perfect whether I change or not, but I choose this change because I would like to eliminate this self-defeating behavior.” The other says, “I must change because I’m a loser and no good. I must change because if I don’t, I’ll never be a winner. I can’t love myself until I am a winner and am therefore not worthy of anyone else’s love either.” Both of these views can be very powerful motivators, but the journey of life is difficult and challenging enough without our having added unnecessary negativity to it.
Many of us were raised to be self-critical and have to learn how to love ourselves. The goal is to be able to be both self-aware and self-loving. While trying to get to that point, there’s bound to be a transition period. During that time, while taking inventory of ourselves we need to make a conscious effort to remain detached and logical. Pretend that you are Spock from Star Trek. Do not attach any emotion whatsoever to the various lists of positive and negative traits. They simply exist. They are what they are. Nothing more, nothing less. There is no need to judge them good or evil. Make an effort to logically analyze what is serving you and what is not. Then make an informed decision as to what kinds of changes you think might be of benefit to your future hopes and dreams. Eventually, the detachment can be shifted towards having a loving emotion towards ourselves during the process. But for starters, a detached evaluation will still serve the purpose of getting you moving along towards a better future without the pain and heartache caused by being critical and mean to yourself just for being human.
The only thing worse than ripping yourself apart with cruel self-thoughts, is to pretend that nothing is wrong and to continue moving through your life repeating the same bad experiences over and over while never learning from them. Self-growth, self-help, self-empowerment, self-esteem, self-love all root from the ability to be self-aware without judgment. As long as we hide from ourselves and don’t face our flaws head on, then we are making a choice to live an unfulfilling, unenlightened life. Don’t take the teachings about loving yourself just the way you are to mean that you can’t improve upon your chances at happiness by making some internal adjustments. When you love something, you nurture it, protect it, help it to grow and thrive. The same should be true with self-love.
In being honest with ourselves regarding who and what we are, we can then begin making real choices that have a real impact on our future happiness. We can decide to make tiny adjustments or great big life changing alterations to ourselves. Avoiding taking a good long look at yourself will not make the core of who you are and how you approach life get any better. The act of avoiding self-reflection in and of itself implies that you really don’t see yourself as beautiful and exactly where you need to be in life. Being self-critical will never lead you to see that you really are beautiful and exactly where you need to be. Being self-aware will help you see that it’s true, you really are a beautiful soul just the way you are and exactly where you are, but will also allow you to take control over where you will be heading next and who you will be when you get there.
Copyright 2004, Skye Thomas, Tomorrow’s Edge