Let’s not confuse anger with self-blame and harsh self-criticism. Anger is a wonderful emotion to have provided we express it in a healthy, constructive manner. So, the next time you are angry with yourself, go ahead: be angry, but ensure you express that anger in a healthy, constructive manner. That means: no self-blame, no insults, no blurting, ‘Oh, I’m so stupid, what an idiot I am!’
How do we express it in a healthy manner?
1. Label it. Say to yourself, ‘I’m angry with myself, for good reason. I didn’t think things through before I —’
But no self criticism. No insults. If you do insult yourself, remind yourself that it is an unacceptable way to express anger. But saying to yourself, ‘I’m angry with myself because I made that poor decision’ is good. It’s making the observation without the judgement.
2. Be specific when you label your anger. Are you furious? Miffed? Peeved?
‘I’m furious with myself! . . . No, I’m irritated with myself.’ Good response. When we are specific we can gain a healthy perspective, and perhaps reduce the intensity of what we are feeling.
3. Am I feeling other emotions as well? Resentment? Despair?
‘I am so disappointed with what I have done. I feel so frustrated!’ That’s good! If you can say it out loud, do so. Express what you need to express in a healthy manner.
4. Be less harsh with yourself. ‘I am so disappointed with myself. And irritated with myself.’
These statements are a distinct improvement from the self-insults you might be used to. Consider: it’s not fair to criticise every aspect of yourself when only one aspect of yourself did the wrong thing. After all, in life you have done many other things correctly. If you are going to be angry with yourself you also deserve leniency. Take into account all the times you did things right.
Plus, remind yourself that it’s not the end of the world. Mistakes can be rectified. Time will pass. Try to nurture yourself. After expressing your frustration, you might add something like, ‘I guess I can be allowed this mistake.’
When we express anger with ourselves in a healthy way we will fulfil that urge to be self-critical without actually being self-critical. That way, we can learn from the incident without beating ourselves up.
Further, by not insulting ourselves we come to accept that we are not such a bad person after all. We come to trust ourselves more, and accept ourselves more. We become easygoing and relaxed.
So, if you want to be angry with yourself, go for it. Just express it the right way!
Q. ‘Self-criticism is good for us, isn’t it? We evolved it to prevent us from repeating mistakes.’
Self-criticism is like a dog barking: it’s trying to help, but doesn’t know when to shut up.