“I’m kicking my ass! Do ya mind?” This hilarious line from the movie Liar Liar, delivered by Jim Carey, is a surprisingly accurate microcosm of how many of us act within ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I am definitely my own worst critic. I have kicked my own ass for mistakes, shortcomings and weaknesses until it literally nearly killed me.
I have been known to hold myself to a ridiculous, unsustainable standard; pushed myself to achieve more than I was possibly capable of; and beat myself up over even minor mistakes. If another person were treating me the same way, I would define it as a toxic relationship and emotionally abusive! But because it is just me-on-me abuse, it isn’t seen as anything horrifying. I have tried to numb the emotional pain caused by my own inner narrative with food, alcohol, sex, and drug use. Of course, those attempts to cover my pain just led to increased self loathing. Why? What is it that propels so many of us to treat ourselves so harshly? The first steps in ending the cycle of self abuse is to understand the why and when of our self judgment. So let’s take a look at some of the most common circumstances leading to a long running negative self-narrative.
1. We Do Not Measure Up.
We have this picture in our heads of who we should be and what our life should look like at certain stages and we blame ourselves if the reality is anything less than our expectation. As if we were the only factor involved in where we are right this moment in our lives!
Society has taught us that we should crave success and then defined it for us. We should be good little consumers, working constantly to gain money and status; we should be self-made by “pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps”. The truth is that society’s definition of success may very well not be our definition; or it may be too far to reach given our strengths and weaknesses. Oh, and by the way, no one is actually “self-made”! On every lifted bootstrap there are hundreds of fingerprints of people who have helped along the way, but we don’t hear about that because it is not considered inspirational!
The next time you are tempted to compare yourself to the standard which you and/or society holds for you, remember that success and happiness are two completely different and distinct entities. Would you rather live a happy and fulfilling life or live miserably while amassing a fortune and producing a stream of perfect selfies? If happiness were linked to success, there wouldn’t be so many of the rich and powerful elites struggling with depression or addictions.
We each define success in our own lives. Personally, I view success as a multi-generational goal. I visualize a ladder stretching up into infinity. Each rung is a level of wealth and happiness. We were born on a rung set by our parents. My hope is that I am able to live a life which allows me to end up one rung higher than where I started. Then my children can stand on my shoulders and reach one rung higher still. If I am able to instill the same attitudes into my children, then each generation will be more traditionally successful AND, more importantly, happier than the last. But I am not going to whip myself for not running hand over fist up the ladder at the expense of my peace.
2. When We Believe We Are Not Good Enough, We Operate From A Position Predisposed To Failure.
Perhaps you developed this belief that you are not good enough early in your life, perhaps through parents or other family members, or teachers. Recognize that this belief is not a fact and has absolutely nothing to do with who you are. This type of belief has become somewhat normalized and common because we tend to repeat patterns we experience growing up. But it is a damn dirty lie.
There has never been, nor will there ever be again, a you existing on this planet. How special and amazing is that?! Throughout all of time, the years you inhabit your meat suit are the only seconds that you will ever exist on Earth. You are a one-time offer. You are an immortal soul wrapped in biological matter, not biological matter inhabited by a soul. That is why wasting even a moment of your existence here is an affront to that which created you.
3. We Believe That Perfection Is What Makes Us Lovable And That Any Mistakes Can Lead To a Loss of Love.
A child’s bad behavior is often today met with a parent scolding them and placing them in a “time out” chair, effectively punishing them by withholding affection when we are displeased with their behavior. There is really no mystery as to why we, as we mature into adulthood, are prone to believing that good behavior equates to happiness, love and universal justice. And bad behavior (whether for a good reason or not), will result in the loss of love or friendship.
There are just no two ways around it: some people are just not going to like or accept us unless we meet their expectation. So the key is not to change their mind; not to panic for fear of losing affection. Instead, we need to love even when others do not show us any attention or affection.
4. We Believe That Self-Judgment And Self-Punishment Are Effective Ways To Motivate Ourselves To Improve.
Society and our childhood experiences have conditioned us to believe that improvement stems from punishment. (Bad behavior 》Punishment 》Expectation of improvement).
For me at least, this approach is the exact opposite of how I become motivated. When someone tries to improve me by breaking me down first, my stubbornness kicks in and I immediately regress into a spite-filled “screw you” cocoon. My approach toward motivation has become to picture my “inner child”, really just a visualization of me at about 5 years old. I motivate 5 year old me through care and gentle guidance…which is the type of motivation I respond to now as an adult. So if I don’t make Little Gordon cry, then Adult Gordon should have just become self-motivated to move his ass. Your visualization may be different. Just try to pick someone you would never want to hurt or see cry.
5. We Have Bought Into Social Stigmas That Mental Health Is a Bunch Of Touchy-Feely Bullshit And Addicts Are Just Mentally Weak – Leading Us To Beat Ourselves Up Over Our Mental Or Addiction Troubles.
Questioning social stigmas (socially accepted marks of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person) can be extremely difficult in the modern world. It feels like trying to swim upstream during a flood. You run the risk of being singled out and castigated for holding an opinion opposite the majority. Stigmas come and go from population to population and from time period to time period.
For example, I live in North-Central Pennsylvania. It is a very rural, farming-heavy area where the social stigmas against mental health disorders is very strong. As such, many of the individuals in the area who do suffer from anxiety, depression, bi-polar disorder, etc stay quiet about their issues and attempt to ignore them as much as possible. When the issues become too much to hide, they are usually whisked away to see a doctor in a larger nearby city as opposed to speaking with their local primary care physician. This feeling that a mental health disorder is something to be hidden and ashamed of leads to inevitable negative thoughts and associations for the person suffering; usually they blame themselves for being different or not being under control like everyone else. Although that is not the commonly accepted view or stigma placed on mental health disorders throughout the Commonwealth, nation or world, small social circles often have their own beliefs and social stigmas.
Overcoming a lifelong habit of self-judgment and resultant emotional abuse is not something that is going to happen overnight. It took years to drill the habit into our heads and it will take time and hard work to recognize and replace the patterns. But it CAN be done.
Celebrate your victories, small or large. Learn from your mistakes, small or large. Both are important steps along your journey to joy, happiness and inner-peace. Love yourself – YOU DESERVE IT!