“It’s All My Fault”: Quieting and Healing Your Inner Critic
For more on this topic, see Trauma: Your Lord Has Not Forsaken You
What is happening to me?
- A job you worked very hard to get, maybe even took years and years to get promoted to, doesn’t pan out.
- A marriage you had very high hopes for, and perhaps waited for all your childhood and young adult life, ends in divorce.
- A baby or child who you envisioned would mature a certain way develops an illness or condition that changes the trajectory of your family’s life.
Understanding your thoughts and emotions
Taking responsibility for one’s actions (accountability) is one of the most important attributes a person can have. It’s integral to understanding the law of cause-and-effect, being able to reflect on one’s mistakes, and accepting responsibility when things go wrong. A healthy individual will engage in this skill to maintain wellness, redress wrongs, and prevent undesirable things happening in the future. Holding oneself accountable is a healthy way of thinking and is different from self-blame. Self-blame and self-criticism involve accepting fault with the main purpose of making oneself feel bad or punishing oneself.2Egocentrism never goes away completely but is more common during some parts of the life-span than others.3 As children mature, they begin to understand that not everything that happens is for them, because of them, or about them. It is very typical for a 7-year-old whose parents are experiencing a separation to think that his parents are getting a divorce because of him, whereas a 17-year-old can understand that his parents are getting a divorce for many reasons that have nothing to do with him.
Changing your mind, body, and heart
- Sit down in a quiet and comfortable space alone. Keep your eyes closed.
- Identify where on your body you feel tension when you are engaging in self-blame.
- Begin structured breathing (breathing in for 3 seconds, holding it for 2 seconds and then exhaling for 6 seconds).
- Gently visualize coming face-to-face with one self-blaming thought at a time. Let the thought come to you and challenge it with an opposite statement (Examples: “This is not my fault,” “There is a silver lining to every cloud,” “If I could go back in time and change things, the outcome would still have been the same,” etc.). Repeat this process for each self-blaming thought.
- As you address the negative thoughts, allow the tension in your body to release as you exhale. For example, if you feel tightness in your neck, imagine your negative thoughts and the tension dissipating as you exhale the air out.
- Get a large piece of paper and a crayon, marker, or paint color that accurately expresses how you feel. The color red is commonly associated with trauma, but you can use whatever color you feel best captures what you are feeling.
- Write down all your self-blaming thoughts. Write as messily, creatively, or neatly as you would like—there is no wrong way to do this.
- Pick another color to scribble, color, or paint over those negative feelings. Address your frustration and pain by visually and artistically obliterating all your negative thoughts with this second color. Add positive thoughts or images if you would like.
- Transform your art into something that feels beautiful to you. Add additional colors or images to convert what was once a paper with difficult feelings to something that feels healing.
- Decide what you want to do with the art. You can keep it somewhere safe or discard it if that feels more cathartic for you.
Unique circumstances of complex trauma
Stages of grief
Coping with complex trauma and bereavement
Inspirational hadith and ayat for reflection
A. Unhealthy Thought Dump and Repair Activity:
Master list of coping skills
- Cuddle with a pet
- Go to a park and smell flowers
- Stretch your body for 5 minutes
- Color a mandala or coloring book
- Go for a brisk walk or run
- Do tasbeeh
- Tapping (google emotional freedom technique to learn more)
- Sit outside looking at nature for 5 minutes
- Watch funny videos on social media
- Do something nice for somebody
- Toss around a ball
- Take a warm bath
- Drink tea
- Talk to a friend
- Organize something
- Talk to Allah about your frustrations
- Play with silly putty or play-doh
- Make a craft
- Meet up with friends to play basketball or soccer
- Write in your journal
- Write a poem
- Draw an abstract picture of your feelings
- Listen to nature sounds
- Practice deep breathing
- Practice your affirmations
- Hug a family member
- Squeeze a stress ball
- Take a short drive with the windows down
- Read Qur’an
- Count to 100
- Clean your room
- Read positive quotes online
- Eat a small, healthy snack
- Take a 15-minute nap
- Learn a new skill
- Do jumping jacks
- Do a puzzle
- Give yourself a facial
- Build something
- Make a blessings list
- Do a random act of kindness
- Try progressive muscle relaxation (do an internet search for “progressive muscle relaxation” to learn more)
- Visit someone sick
- Pray a sunnah or nawafil prayer
Case study revisited
1 Gilbert, J. (1895). Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers. New York: W. B. Ketcham.
2 Burns, D. D. (1981). Feeling good: The new mood therapy. New York, N.Y: Penguin Books.
3 Riva, F., Triscoli, C., Lamm, C., Carnaghi, A., Silani, G. (2016, April 26). Emotional Egocentricity Bias Across the Life-Span. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4844617/
4 Riley, T., Adams G. & Nielsen, E. (1984). Adolescent egocentrism: The association among imaginary audience behavior, cognitive development, and parental support and rejection. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 13(5), 401-417.
5 Li, Xingyi (2015). Treating Complex Trauma with Art Therapy from a Neurobiological Viewpoint. (Master’s thesis). Hofstra University, New York. DOI: 10.13140/2.1.4365.3925
6 Preminger S. (2012). Transformative Art: Art as Means for Long-Term Neurocognitive Change. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 6:96. DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00096
7 Kübler-Ross, E., & Kessler, D. (2000). Life lessons: Two experts on death and dying teach us about the mysteries of life and living. New York: Scribner.
8 Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic. [Rev. ed.]. New York: Free Press, 2004.