While we all know liking ourselves helps us feel better, sometimes this is the hardest thing to do. Why is that?
Why is it so easy to criticize ourselves and so hard to be compassionate, forgiving, and patient with ourselves?
The habit of attacking ourselves for making mistakes or not being “good enough” starts at a very young age
Young children soon learn not all of their impulses, desires, and behaviors are acceptable. We’re taught what is right, proper, and “good” and we learn to reject, dislike, or hate the parts of ourselves that aren’t good.
Our list of rules of what’s good, right, attractive, and lovable continues to expand as we grow older. We learn from our peers, schools, and the culture at large how we’re supposed to be. How tall, thin, muscular, funny, intelligent, and confident we’re supposed to be. We’re told what we’re supposed to wear, how we’re supposed to speak, and what we’re supposed to think, feel and say.
By the time we reach adulthood, we have a list that’s pages long about how we should be in order to be worthy of love.
To make matters worse, this list usually has dozens of contradictions on it.
For example, I’m supposed to be honest, direct, and forthcoming. At the same time, I’m not supposed to hurt other people’s feelings or say something that makes someone uncomfortable.
This is a double bind, and produces a situation where we cannot do the “right” thing by our rules. No matter what the scenario, we must break one of these rules, which can bring on self-attack.
Self-attack is what we do inside of our own minds when we break a rule. Sometimes you might even say it out loud: “Stupid!” “Idiot!” “God, what ‘s wrong with me?!”
We attack ourselves when we break a rule, just like a parent might punish a child for doing the “wrong” thing. Unfortunately, both research and our own experience show us that criticizing and attacking someone does not produce a healthy shift in their behavior.
In other words, beating yourself up doesn’t work. It doesn’t make you “better” and it doesn’t prevent you from making the same mistake in the future.
The only way out of this painful pattern of self-attack is through self-compassion.
Self-compassion starts with a commitment, a firm declaration that you will not, under any circumstances, attack or criticize yourself.
Check out the next entry on self-compassion to learn more about how to treat yourself with kindness and respect.