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I’m Severely Critical of My Thoughts and Ideas

20 March, 2017
Q I have a problem dealing with my thoughts and ideas. I always feel they are not good enough and that they have to be developed. I feel they still can’t be released to the world until they become complete. I don’t trust my ideas. Inside myself, I feel they are good and useful, but I’m not sure that they are good enough to be presented to other people, or I still need some time and experience to have the right to present them. Even I suspect if anyone praises my ideas, they say that out of courtesy or to encourage me to do better next time. Also, whenever I do/write/think of something, I have to take people’s opinions and get influenced by them. I’m also very harsh in criticizing myself. In my point of view, I have to be perfect and that nothing wrong or imperfect should come out of my mouth, although I don’t apply this on other people. The problem is that I know that this is a deficiency in my thinking, but I still can’t get rid of it.



Salam ‘Aleikom, 

What is most likely happening is that you have a very strong melancholic or phlegmatic personality type which tends to be extremely self-critical. People of the melancholic type tend to criticize others as well as themselves and hold everyone to an extremely high (and often impossible to attain) standard. People of the phlegmatic temperament, on the other hand, tend to be self-critical in this modern day and age because the way they function in life is not currently the popular mode of functionality. Since you have indicated you are not very critical of others, I would surmise you are of the phlegmatic type or you have a strong phlegmatic side to your personality.

Today’s world is fast-paced and a person’s worth is often measured by their accomplishments and titles. People often ask each other how much they did or what they did each day. Emphasis in modern society is on rapid and frequent achievement – no matter what area the person is working in. Students, mothers, workers, wives are all held to the same high achievement standard. If we look back in history, this is not how it used to be. However, this is what is valued in today’s modern world.

But this is not how a person of the phlegmatic temperament functions. A person of the phlegmatic temperament flows through life as a river flows. They flow through and with those things around them. They can be slow but steady and often appear quiet on the outside (like the surface of the river) but can have a lot of depth or action on the inside (like under the surface of the river). This type of person accomplishes things in their own way. They enjoy taking their time doing each thing and making sure they get it “right”. They are often creative and take the time to hold a higher standard to their actions rather than just “rushing through” to get things done as many people do. They make good loyal friends and are often patient and careful enough to do tasks that other people would not be able to finish or take enough care with.

The problem, however, is that these skills are not as valued in today’s society as they once were. So, the phlegmatic person often encounters a daily dose of discouragement when they see others working so quickly, the world moving so quickly, others chasing accomplishments. And, of course, people questioning them as to why they are working more slowly, why they aren’t talking as much or why they didn’t do as much as another sibling, worker, or friend. It may also be discouraging because you may take two weeks to come up with an idea and then, when you share it, it may take the other person only two minutes to come up with many opinions on that idea. With this constant barrage of questioning, it is hard for the phlegmatic to focus on their inner world of peace, flowing and creative design. However, it is in this world that you will find your power and strength.

The more you focus on your own intuitive and creative ideas, the more you will feel confident to bring these ideas to the outer world. The more you focus on comparing yourself to others or listening to the evaluation of others, the less you will accomplish. The phlegmatic must be strong in their vision and be confident in their methods even though they may be different than those around them. For example, if you have an idea for a project you need to focus on your idea and not look around and other people’s ideas for the same project or what other people think of your idea. You have the ability to form ideas over time. So your initial idea may need some more time to form. Have confidence with where it is going and follow your path through.

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Also, be sure to use your strength of time and patience. You are most likely best suited to projects that take time and not as suited to “quick thinking” ideas and thoughts that may jump around the table at a staff meeting or in a classroom. Other workers may be tossing around ideas quickly at a meeting. However, you would be better at taking your time to think and then making a private meeting with the manager later to discuss your ideas. Other students in a college class may be raising their hand every ten minutes with active questions, but you would perform better after you take some time to think and then perhaps meet with the teacher later to talk, after class.

Another thing to remember is that ideas always need more work. This is one reason we bring them out into the world and share them with others. No matter what your age and experience are, you can always benefit from the advice and feedback of others – when you are ready for it. People of the phlegmatic type are often most comfortable when they are able to bring fully formed ideas into the world and have them be functional and accepted from the moment they are shared. However, this is not always the best thing for an idea. Ideas need the opinions, sharing, input and advice of others. Once you have a formed idea that you are slightly comfortable sharing, you need to practice putting it out there. Once you put an idea out there, practice collecting the data that it gathers and then bring it back into your inner world to work on it more.

Even the most educated and famous authors do this. Look at one of your favorite books. What edition is it? Most books have many editions and each edition is slightly different from the one before it, because each time the author and/or publisher adds or changes something. This does not mean the book was bad when it was published. It just means that the author is being responsive to the needs of his/her audience. And s/he would not have known those needs if s/he had not put the book out there to begin with. It also means that the author has grown and learned new things since the book was published, and perhaps they have even changed their mind about some things or figured out better ways or organize or communicate their thoughts.

Instead of thinking of ideas as something that need to be “finished”, think of your ideas as being as alive as you are. They grow, they are shared, they grow some more and they never stop growing. Practice sharing small ideas at first to get used to this way of looking at things. Over time, it will become easier and easier.

As for compliments/praise, keep in mind that when people compliment/praise, it is often more about them than about you. As humans, a lot of what we do is based on our own needs. When a person gives you a compliment, you should not see it as a reflection of you, but rather a reflection of the other person.

People often make the mistake of thinking that compliments reflect how well they are doing. However, they don’t. Compliments can only reflect how the person, who gave the compliment, is receiving what you did. If you asked ten different people what they think of what you did or said, they would all have a different opinion. You should evaluate your work and ideas based on what you want to accomplish with them. Was your idea or work created to please people or help them? Then you need to listen carefully to what others say so you can modify what you have done. Was your work created as a self-expressive art-form? Then you need to listen to your inner self to know if it is “done” or not. Was your work done to please a teacher or manager? Then their needs are the ones that matter the most.

When people give you a compliment or praise, it makes them feel good when they know they have given you something and you have enjoyed it. A compliment should be accepted and embraced on the outside. The compliment is based on the point of view of the person giving the compliment. If they enjoyed your idea or thought or action, then you have made them happy in some way, and that is a gift you were able to give them. You may have wanted to give a larger gift. Perhaps you wished it could have been more. Or perhaps you had intended something better. However, that is YOU. If they gave you a compliment that is them and they are happy. The best way to accept praise is to say “I am so glad you liked it!” (or some variation).

By not accepting or trusting their compliment/praise, you are saying “I don’t think your standards are good enough. You should not have liked/enjoyed what I did/said” and this is not what you want to convey. Their standards may be different from yours. Perhaps you are not as easily impressed, or perhaps something that seems common and easy to you seems mysterious and complicated to them. Everyone is different so if someone communicates an appreciation for your work, then it is coming from their own needs and values.

A compliment can also be an insight into other’s needs. I remember when I first started consulting, I would give people twenty pages of information after their consultation. I never felt like it was good enough. However, I started to notice that even when I didn’t give people twenty pages, they were very complimentary and some people whom I did give twenty pages indicated that it was a bit overwhelming. This bit of feedback helped me realize that although my standards were quite overwhelming, that what people actually needed from me was an evaluation that was long enough, but not twenty pages long.

So, a compliment can be many things; it can be an insight into another person’s standards, but also an indication of their needs for future reference. It is rarely something that should be discarded in any way. It has many uses and should be embraced! However, it shouldn’t be used as a method to evaluate our own self-worth, ideas or actions within themselves. Those can only be evaluated on an inner level.

Hope it helped,


Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general and purely based on the limited information that was provided in the question. In no event shall AboutIslam, it’s volunteers, writers, scholars, counselors, or employees be held liable for any direct, indirect, exemplary, punitive, consequential or other damages whatsoever that may arise through your decision or action in the use of the services which our website provides. 


About Dr. Karima Burns
Dr. Karima Burns has been counseling as a Home-path for over 9 years. From the U.S. she is a doctor in Naturopathy, a Master Herbalist, and teaches with inspiration from the Waldorf school. She uses art, health and education to heal others.