Last week we introduced a discussion of self-criticism, and how it can undermine effective coping with your life stressors. We asked you to imagine being at a dinner party and accidentally spilling wine on your host’s table cloth. A simple accident, right? Or, are you one of those people who likes to speculate on possible unconscious motives behind what appears to be a chance mishap. For instance, as you dwell on the spill later, are you likely to consider the possibility that deep down you really dislike your host, and the “accident” was really intentional, although unconscious? That is, your unconscious anger toward the host caused you to reach for your glass carelessly, increasing the likelihood of knocking over the glass.
Here’s a word of caution: If you get into a habit of analyzing your actions as expressions of your unconscious mind – “The reasons for what I do are not what they seem to be” – you’re entering a world of speculation and uncertainty, and definitely not learning how to cope in a healthy way with life challenges facing you. Speculation about unconscious motives can be fun, but it does not help you solve a stressful problem. It is purely hypothetical, leads to one blind alley after another, and robs you of control of your thinking. As such, this speculation can be seen as a form of denial that helps you absolve yourself of responsibility for your actions. And, as readers of this blog know, such absolution may be comforting in the short run, but over the long run it will increase your stress level.