I’ve realized the hardest thing to do in this world is to…not judge yourself.
Honestly, I think many people are prone to self-criticism. I sure am!
Self-Criticism is Normal
I also find that many of the teens and adults on the autism spectrum I work with are overwhelmed by self-critical thoughts. Their self-judgements can be downright mean! They have harsh critical thoughts like: “I’m such a failure”, “I should never need to ask for help”, “I’m defective”, “I should never be wrong”, or “I should hide who I am from others”.
Most aspie and autistic adults I work with would not expect perfection from others, but demand it of themselves.
Honestly, if you identify as neurodiverse or on the autism spectrum, you likely face a great number of challenges every day. Your energy reserves may be depleted from social interactions, as well as from dealing with changes in routine, sensory sensitivities, and misunderstandings with others.
Punishing yourself with words of criticism does more harm than good. Such critical thoughts and words break down your self-confidence. They make you feel less than.
So, how do you empower yourself?
Self-Awareness is Key to Avoid Self-Criticism
First, you need to increase your awareness in the moment of your self-critical thoughts. Self-criticisms can be stealthy like ninjas – they can hit you so fast that you don’t know what happened or where those thoughts just came from. Your mood drops and you feel bad inside. Maybe you start feeling ashamed, discouraged, hopeless.
Should and Shouldn’t
A sign that you might be criticizing yourself is your use of the word “should” or ”shouldn’t”in reference to yourself. “I should have more friends”, “I shouldn’t have made that mistake”.
Another signal you might be judging yourself harshly is when you compare yourself to others. Often your comparisons will be unfair comparisons. For instance, you are just learning a new skill (like playing the violin) and you compare yourself to someone who has mastered the skill. You find yourself saying you’re terrible at it (in comparison to a violin master who has been honing their skill for 20 years).
Give yourself a break!
Honestly, we are all unique. Comparing ourselves to others is just a way to make either ourselves or others feel bad. It’s not easy in the moment to be understanding and nurture yourself. But when you are able to say a self-compassionate statement to yourself, you will gain energy from it. On the other hand, it may seem easy to have a self-critical thought, but ironically such thoughts seem to deplete you of energy.
Some Tips to Consider to Combat Criticism
For some ways to reduce self-critical thoughts and enhance self-compassion:
- Notice the “should” or comparison (simply notice without blaming yourself)
- Pause, take a deep breath
- Then say something kind to yourself
Many people on the spectrum find it difficult to come up with even one kind thing to tell themselves in those moments. Simply acknowledging that this is a hard moment for you is a kind thing. It softens that rigid criticism and perfectionist tendency.
The key to offsetting self-criticism is self-compassion. The more self-compassionate thoughts you have, the more you build up an immunity to self-critical thoughts. I’ll discuss this further in future blog posts.
Wishing you well on your life journey!
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Other Autism Services at Open Doors Therapy
Our Palo Alto/Bay Area mental health clinic serves individuals with autistic traits (Aspergers, high functioning autism, undiagnosed autism traits, etc) and their families. Spcifically, or autism therapy services include individual counseling, parent counseling and group therapy. Our support and educational groups include: college students with autistic traits, neurodiverse adults, women who identify as neurodiverse, and neurodiverse youth & caregivers. If you would like to learn about any of these services, please reach out today!
About the Author
Dr. Tasha Oswald is a trained developmental and clinical psychologist. She is the founder and director of Open Doors Therapy, a private practice in Palo Alto, near San Francisco, CA. She specializes in socials skills groups for neurodiverse adults and teens on the autism spectrum.