You know how sometimes you get critical of yourself for being critical of yourself?
I’m guessing that if you’re male, you’re answer is, “huh?” and if you’re female, you’re going, “Yes! Totally!” (But let me know if I’m wrong).
This criticism-of-criticism is changing the way I do therapy. I’m realizing that my effort to move my female clients out of self-criticism will likely increase their self-criticism. Because if criticism is the only tool in the psychic box, it gets pulled out for every task, even for undoing criticism.
I know this pattern well and personally. There are days for me that start with, “Why am I still fat if I’m running so much? Shit, I just called myself fat! I’m totally not fat. Oh god, I just fat-shamed. Fat is fine. But I wish I had less of it. Fuck. Shut up. SHUT UP!” And that’s just between my alarm clock and my shower.
One therapeutic approach I’m flirting with and considering dating, called DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy), promotes an idea called Radical Acceptance. Which means just what it seems to mean: Everything is worthy of acceptance just as it is— not because it’s necessarily good (it’s almost certainly not), but because there is a valid reason why it came to be. Even your harsh judgement of yourself is acceptable, if only because it makes perfect sense given the world you’ve lived in for 30 years.
So I’m reducing my efforts to change people’s self-criticism. Instead, I’m trying to respond to criticism-of-criticism with acceptance: “Of course you see yourself that way, that’s how you’ve been trained to see yourself. Your criticism just shows that you learned exactly what you were taught.”
But, DBT also asserts that Radical Acceptance is only helpful when it pairs up with Change. That’s the “dialectical” part of this method. DBT’s underlying philosophy is that for every truth, there’s an equally-true opposite truth. Change cannot happen without Acceptance. I’m still fuzzy on how, exactly, acceptance leads to change, but it does. I keep seeing it, over and over.
And for myself? Acceptance is much harder, especially when it’s my belly and my thighs getting bullied every day. But the meanness and criticism is a part of me too, the most difficult part to accept. If I can welcome it, not because it’s doing me any favors but just because it’s there, then embracing everything else should eventually come easy.