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Self-Criticism: Am I Too Harsh to Myself?

16 November, 2021
Q I started praying again about five years ago. I wanted to pray all my prayers on time with full khushuu from the beginning. This caused me to be too self-critical, which caused me a lot of pf stress.

I am not as self-critical or as harsh as I was, but I find a lot of fear in myself from experiencing any emotions while reading Quran or praying salat. This causes me to stop progressing in this part of my life.

I do pray, but I still don’t know how to benefit from prayer without becoming self-critical and over-emotional again. The same goes for the Quran. I know that my whole life will be different if I read it regularly, but I hate the idea of reading the Quran just for reading it because I heard many times that reading the Quran just for reading it even without understanding is not the goal. I won’t really benefit if I did not understand it.

I still don’t know how to read the Quran or to pray appropriately (with no speeding, while knowing what I am saying) I don’t know how to solve the problem and I am being hesitant. Should I talk to a counselor about this problem to solve it over a few sessions?

Answer

In this counseling answer:

Sister, start a journal to focus on your good points and reduce the negative criticisms you hold.

Seek out and assessment and counseling.

Focus on releasing emotions when you feel them, let them flow, then let them go.

Pray for ease and healing.

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Continue to make salat and read Qur’an knowing that Allah loves you and that it should not be “fast” nor necessarily nor “perfect”.

Accept your wonderful self-right where you are-but keep going knowing Allah swt is guiding your steps towards Him.


As salamu alaykum sister,

I am sorry to hear you have been experiencing critical and harsh thoughts about yourself. These thoughts have become so prevalent and strong they are inhibiting your ability to read Qur’an and pray. Additionally, you are experiencing fear of emotions.

Possible Origins of Harsh and Critical Self Concepts

Sister, you state that you have experienced a lot of stress due to being self-critical and harsh with yourself. I am wondering if you were raised in a family or were around people who criticize you a lot, or if you were bullied in school.

I kindly ask you to reflect back when you were growing up to determine if these were the types of messages you were given as a child and/or young adult.

Often times when constantly criticized as a young person or bullied, one may assimilate these criticisms into the concept of self. Sadly, those who have been overly criticized or bullied may begin to believe these criticisms are true.

Examining Other Situations

Sister, I kindly suggest you also look at self-criticism in other situations. In other words, are you self-critical or fearful when you are studying for school, doing a task for work, doing a chore at home, interacting with others socially?

If you are finding that you are experiencing self-criticism and fears in other areas of your life on a regular basis,

you may be suffering from common mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, OCD, or panic disorder.

Assessment and Counseling

If this is the case please do seek out counseling in your area so you can be assessed to determine why you are thinking and feeling this way. Once diagnosed, regular ongoing counseling will insha’Allah help with fears, self-esteem issues as well as teach you how to deal with uncomfortable emotions.

Starting a Daily Journal

I kindly ask in sha Allah that you start a daily journal and write down all of the criticisms you have heard about yourself from others throughout your life and from who. You may also want to note how long that person has been giving you these negative messages.

On the next page, I want you to write down all of the wonderful things about yourself. This is from what others have told you, what you yourself have observed, and what Allah has blessed you with as attributes.

Sources of Chronic Criticism

After you are finished working on your positive attribute, I would like you to look at the criticisms page and ask yourself are really true. When parents and others who are close are always critical-that can really hurt as we love them. In fact, critical remarks from parents may have a bigger impact on self-esteem and self-concept than those coming from a relative stranger.  I can imagine that 90% of the criticisms you have received and those which you impose upon yourself are false.

Lack of Positive Reinforcement

When children/people are not built up with positive reinforcement as to their good qualities, when not encouraged, and recognized for their positive points, the points which may need to be worked on can be overblown and identified more in terms of self-concept and self-esteem.

This is unfortunate because everybody has things to work on but it is also important to focus on the good qualities that we have and to assimilate those into our concept of self as well. This may help prevent the feelings and fears you are experiencing now.

Fear of Emotion

Sister, I would like to ask that when you are finished analyzing any criticisms you have repeatedly received in your lifetime including self-critical and harsh judgment which you impose upon yourself, that you please do look at the page where all of your find points are listed.

Inshallah, read those every day to reinforce and build up your true sense of self and your internal locus of control which is the degree to which you believe that you have control over your life—and emotions.

Fear of emotions can stem from many causes-and reasons. Some people are taught that emotions are bad or that they should be avoided if they cause hurt or pain. However, just the opposite is true. By facing emotions, feeling them, and acknowledging them, becomes empowering.

When hiding emotions or avoiding them, we are just allowing them to build up, kind of like steam in a kettle that keeps getting heated.

The emotions don’t go away, they keep resurfacing causing further discomfort and maybe even anxiety, panic, or depression. By facing fears and emotions and by working through them, one can be set free from “the pressure cooker” like a whistling kettle about to bubble over.

In this willingness to address emotions we find ourselves insha’Allah more in control and empowered. This may help to decrease the stress, emotions, and worries that is being associated with reading the Quran and praying

Praying, Reading Qur’an, and Emotions

Sister, one of the most blessed gifts is praying and reading the Qur’an. In both of these acts of worship is healing. Before you pray or read the Qur’an, make duaa and ask Allah swt to grant you ease, to remove your fears of emotion, and to make it easy for you. Trust in Allah that it will be.

If while reading or praying you to begin to feel emotions, let them come and trust in Allah that they will wash over you and be gone.

Do not give them any of your energy. Oftentimes praying and reading Qur’an is emotional!  And that is okay….sometimes it is Allah’s way of reaching our hearts…often we are overcome by Allah’s mercy and love for us.

Conclusion

Sister, insha’Allah start a journal to focus on your good points and reduce the negative criticisms you hold. Utilize positive reinforcement daily to build up your confidence and self-esteem.

If you feel that your emotional state of fear and self-criticism affects your life in other areas, please do seek out an assessment and counseling.

Focus on releasing emotions when you feel them, let them flow, then let them go.

Pray for ease and healing.

Continue to make salat and read Qur’an knowing that Allah loves you and that it should not be “fast” nor necessarily nor “perfect”.

Accept your wonderful self-right where you are-but keep going knowing Allah swt is guiding your steps towards Him.

We wish you the best.

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Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general. They are purely based on the limited information provided in the question. In no event shall AboutIslam, its counselors or employees be held liable for any damages that may arise from your decision in the use of our services.

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About Aisha Mohammad
Aisha has a PhD in psychology, an MS in public health and a PsyD. Aisha worked as a Counselor/Psychologist for 12 years at Geneva B. Scruggs Community Health Care Center in New York. She has worked with clients with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, panic disorder, trauma, and OCD. She also facilitated support groups and provided specialized services for victims of domestic violence, HIV positive individuals, as well youth/teen issues. Aisha is certified in Mindfulness, Trauma Informed Care, Behavioral Management, Restorative Justice/ Healing Circles, Conflict Resolution, Mediation, and Confidentiality & Security. Aisha is also a Certified Life Coach, and Relationship Workshop facilitator. Aisha has a part-time Life Coaching practice in which she integrates the educational concepts of stress reduction, mindfulness, introspection, empowerment, self love and acceptance and spirituality to create a holistic healing journey for clients. Aisha is also a part of several organizations that advocates for prisoner rights/reentry, social & food justice, as well as advocating for an end to oppression & racism. In her spare time, Aisha enjoys her family, photography, nature, martial arts classes, Islamic studies, volunteering/charity work, as well as working on her book and spoken word projects.