A Coaching Power Tool Created by Francis Sankey
(Transitional Coach, UNITED STATES)
Self-Criticism vs. Self-Assessment
(Side effects may include crying, hurling obscenities, and/or self-doubt.)
The world is full of critics.
Many, or even most, people would not argue with that statement. Most everyone has either been criticized criticized someone else, or read or watched the criticism of someone else’s work or art. In the world of social media, you can log onto Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or whatever your platform of choice is and be bombarded with it. You can read the comments on any online article and see where anyone with even a tiny bit of an opinion will express it. The very act of criticism has been mainstreamed and monetized to where it is almost ubiquitous.
Some people even understand how to give criticism properly.
That is to say, while a lot of what passes for positive criticism is thinly veiled insult or weak compliment, some people still try to give reasoned, thoughtful feedback on a subject, pointing out both strengths and shortcomings, and even offering what they believe could improve the product (or person). If you spend anytime watching American television, you’ve seen examples of all these – some networks (HGTV, E!, Bravo, Style) are based on this as their sole service.
Everyone has been given a level of criticism – from the moment they first took a test in school through their most recent job evaluation. They, hopefully, received a level of assessment with those evaluations, and some positive criticism to help with an agreed upon and understood type of improvement. The problem occurs when in the process of our lives, we are overly affected and impacted by the wrong type of criticism – the type without assessment, without suggestions for improvement, and with only opinion and judgment from the reviewer.
What it is vs. What it is worth
To begin, some definitions:
CRITIC: one who expresses a reasoned opinion on any matter especially involving a judgment of its value, righteousness, beauty, technique, merits, faults, or truth of a matter.
The important fact to remember is that criticism is the practice of judging the merits and faults of something or someone.
ASSESSMENT: to determine the importance, size, value, significance, or extent of.
In other words, assessment is mainly concerned with a determination of value, significance, or importance of something in a direct comparison to either another tangible thing, or to itself in a previous state or time. No judgment is involved in an assessment – as people say, “it is what it is.”
SELF CRITICISM: the pointing out of things critical/important to one’s own beliefs, thoughts, actions, behavior or results; internalizing the action of criticism
Again, this is not to say that criticism, when used well, isn’t a powerful tool for growth and improvement; my point is only to show that when that growth happens, there is usually assessment accompanying the criticism.
To add to this, both criticism and assessment are easily internalized, especially considering the young age at which most children are exposed to them. As we mature, we can appreciate the subtle differences between a parent telling a child he did a bad thing and telling the child he is bad for doing the thing. As a child being told this, there’s much confusion to be wrestled with. This is where the first occurrences of internalization can happen.
Who I am vs. Who I’m TOLD I am
In considering why criticism and judgment can bother us, we have to look deeper – do we value the person whom the judgment comes from? Do we agree with it/believe it? Does it resonate with our core values and beliefs? To quote author Sarah Grand Our opinion of people depends less on what we see in them than on what they make us see in ourselves.
But what happens once the criticism and judgment becomes internalized? Once someone hears that they are stupid, or ugly or will not amount to anything enough times, the statement can become fact in the person’s mind and lead directly to a self-fulfilling prophesy. To avoid this spiral, a person needs the ability (or a coach to help) to step back into a place of assessment where a person can look at themselves, either without the judgment, or in addition to the judgment, and gain a more true idea of what they are, where they are, and where they are going.
White Girls Can’t Do Math
In an article in Forbes magazine from 3/24/12 titled Why are High School Teachers Convinced that White Girls Can’t Do Math? author David DiSalvo writes: This speaks to the presence of a subtle yet omnipresent stereotype in high school classrooms: That math, comparatively speaking, is just easier for white males than it is for white females, says Catherine Riegle-Crumb, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-author of the study entitled, Exploring Bias in Math Teachers’ Perception of Students’ Ability by Gender and Race/Ethnicity. Riegle-Crumb says the misconception that white girls can’t handle math persists Because the idea that men and women are different in this regard is considered natural, and not discriminatory.
Many people, when considering their own or their family’s education, can point to a time in a classroom or with a teacher/professor, who told them that because of their gender, or race, or ethnicity, they would not do well. Some professors have told certain students that if they turned in their best work, and possibly the best work in the class, they would not receive the top grade because of this idea. At this point, what is the student to do – the few apparent options are to either drop the class if possible, fail out, or do their best work and still not get the grade the deserve. In the case of the white girl who is told that she can’t do math, if this becomes internalized self-criticism (telling herself “I can’t understand this because I was told I wouldn’t), her education, career path, and life can all be changed because of the poor criticism of a sweeping generalization.
IV. Self Application
When considering or determining our own levels of self-criticism, there are any number of online tools to use – test specifically for self-criticism, strength assessments, and even depression assessments. Many of them have some of the same types of questions:
- If you feel you can’t do something well, do you feel there is a point to doing it?
- Do you think people will think less of you if you make a mistake?
- If other people know what you really think/are like, do you think they will think less of you?
These questions all seek to various degrees to get at a person’s self-judgment. By reaching this and addressing the various emotions involved (possibly including guilt, shame, envy, anger, etc.), we begin to examine our underlying feelings about ourselves and how they tie into our own self worth. Ideally, we all are able to imagine ourselves as our best possible image – we can envision ourselves as happy, whole individuals, able to meet the tasks set before us with skill and grace. Settling in a place of self-criticism and self-judgment leads to a spiral of more self-criticism: I can’t do this, so I’m a weak person who isn’t a good as that person who can do this, and I will never be as good as that person.
To break this cycle, we need to step into a place of self-assessment. We look in the same places with similar questions, but remove the judgment, and thereby, the criticism. For the girl who thinks she can’t do math, she can recall when she knew she got the right change in a transaction, or successfully doubled a recipe she liked to cook. This ability IS the math she feared she failed.
V. Coaching application
As coaches, we support our client to see their individual triggers and understand how those triggers lead to their self-assessment or criticism. We, as coaches, also have to remember not only to avoid our own judgment, but to help our clients to avoid that place of judgment as well. To remain in our own truth as coaches is to help the client to assess their own truths for what they are – without judgment or criticism. A simple set of exercises for coaches and clients follows:
When falling into self-criticism…
- Stop yourself mid-act: people tend to self-evaluate several hundred times daily. During these times, when a negative thought comes, note it, write it down, and be aware of it.
- Investigate: Where did this thought come from? Why now? Is this fear of failure? Fear of success? Fear of risk? What’s the worst that can happen?
- Challenge yourself: Everyone has experienced something that they could have done better the first time and can improve upon next time. Note previous tries as a learning opportunity and use them to improve performance. And for the times a failure or shortcoming lead to a negative criticism, examine it to see just how warranted it was.
- Keep going: Ask yourself “Does it really matter in the overall scheme of things? What’s the worst thing that can happen? What could it cost you? Will your spouse/boss/friends think less of you?” More than likely, you’ll find you’re being excessively hard on yourself.
- Offer positive options: When you think “I should have said this in class” or “I should’ve asked her out,” replace those ideas with “I moved the discussion in this way,” or “I’ll see her on Thursday and ask her to coffee then.” Don’t just stop at ‘what didn’t work” – go on through ‘what needs to be improved’ to ‘what did work!’ There is always a positive side.
- Start feeling good about yourself: Pretty soon, that inner voice will send out more positive, empowering messages. Your thoughts will focus on what you can achieve versus what you should fear, what can go right versus what can go wrong.