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Self-reflection versus Self-critique

I had an interesting discussion a while back with a client about what self-reflection is and isn’t. It makes sense that if she had questions about it, disregulated eaters in general might have them too and that the subject would be blog-worthy. Self-reflection is a critical skill for recovery and emotional growth—but only if you do it correctly.

Basically, the problem arose for a client who said that every time she tried to reflect upon her actions, her inner critic grabbed center stage and wouldn’t give it up. She thought, therefore, that reflection meant evaluating herself as good or bad. For her, and for many disregulated eaters, assessment almost automatically means coming up short and giving yourself a negative review. This mindset explained why self-reflection was such an onerous process for my client, which is exactly the opposite of what it’s meant to be.

Self-reflection is an observational, non-judgmental process, a look in the mental-mirror. First, you observe and acknowledge. It’s not about liking or disliking yourself for what you see, but simply noticing and registering behavior. No self-judgment is required. Second, you decide if you want to change something or not. Again, no pronouncement on your self-worth. All that’s necessary is taking action. For example, you might consider a conversation you had with your sister and observe: she talked a lot and I didn’t say much, I felt angry when she went on and on about her kids, she cracked me up when she described the mess she’d made trying to re-stain an antique chair, etc.

Noticing, observing and acknowledging are not judging. No need to come down on yourself for tuning out when she was droning on about your nieces or to praise yourself for enjoying her chair-staining anecdote. Through neutral reflection, however, you might decide that the next time she rambles on about your nieces, rather than tune out or fester in silence, you plan to switch the subject back to yourself and talk about your life.

Self-reflection is a mindful practice because you notice, then let go of, a thought. In a way, it’s more involved than what I’m describing and, in another way, it’s quite simple. What you are doing is cutting out the middle man—your usually negative judgment about yourself which occurs between observing and taking corrective action. Everything you think and do need not be judged or analyzed to death. Because we’re all a mix of positive and negative, rather than judge yourself, simply neutrally observe behvior, make corrections if necessary, then move on.