One of the passive destructive behaviors measured by the Conflict Dynamics Profile (CDP) instrument is called Self-Criticizing. This occurs when one obsesses over something they may have said or done in a conflict. The CDP measures how frequently a person uses this response to conflict. A little reflection about how you handled a conflict can probably be helpful by enabling you to learn from your mistakes. At the same time focusing on your mistakes by going over them time and again in your mind can sap your energy and prevent you from moving forward. How can you find the right balance?
No one is able to handle conflict perfectly all of the time. At times we all make mistakes, get angry, forget to consider the other person’s perspective, avoid talking with the other person, or say inconsiderate things. We are human – it is natural. So, it can be very helpful to review your actions in conflict setting. Whenever you want to improve your performance in any situation it is helpful to assess or evaluate what you did and how well it worked. When there are things that didn’t go well, you can identify them and work on improving the next time. In conflict there will always be a next time so you don’t have to worry about getting practice.
So a little bit of reflection can be quite helpful. The problem comes when reflection turns into obsession. Many people have a hard time letting go of conflict and moving on to new things. Sometimes this comes in the form of being overly self-critical about how they handle themselves in the conflict. They may think over and over about something they said or something they forgot to do. In effective, they beat themselves up about not managing a conflict well. This can prolong the emotional distress related to the conflict.
Psychologists describe this process as rumination. Cows and other animals that chew their food over and over and called ruminates. People who in effect “chew” over their conflict performance time and again are ruminating on the issue.
Recent research by Kevin Ochsner at Columbia University (Ochsner, 2005) has shown that using reappraisal techniques can help lessen the distress of ruminative thinking. Rather that focusing on all your mistakes, take a fresh look at th conflict interaction to see it in a bigger context. What things did you do well? How did the other person seem to react to your positive behaviors? With respect to things that you believe you could have done better, in what ways would you improve your responses next time? What strengths do you have that could support your use of more constructive approaches.
Taking a new look at the situation, one that emphasizes more positive interpretations of what happened and seeks to build improved responses in the future, rather than wallowing in perceived deficiencies in the past, will help you overcome overly self-critical thoughts.