The past year I have been working hard to change a part of me that I had always thought was a good quality, a great tool for growth. One that made me better, stronger and successful in life. It is only as I have gotten older that I realize this quality that I have devoted so much time and energy to, is completely detrimental to my life.
I am relentless in my ability to beat myself up. I can spend hours, days and weeks reaming myself for a mistake that I’ve made. I will call myself every name in the book, clarify to myself why I don’t deserve happiness and I will never, ever give up. I will explain to those around me how awful I am and I will admit the mistake to others so they can join in shaming me, because I think deserve it. I’ve messed up and the only thing that will prevent me from messing up again is to punish myself. No one can punish me like I can punish me and with each mistake, I get better at it.
As an only child I felt a lot of pressure to not disappoint my parents. I think this was a combination of their standards, their example, and my own assessment of what would make them happy. I remember as a child feeling physically ill when my mother would get mad at me. I would beg her to forgive me and during the time when she would need her space, I would beat myself up for causing the situation, regardless of if I was at fault. I wouldn’t let up on myself until she did and I began doing this in all aspects of my life until it got to the point where I would beat myself up before anyone else had the chance to.
I think I also developed this habit to protect myself. Your words truly can’t hurt me if my own words towards myself are ten times worst. I am my own worst enemy, therefore you can’t be. It makes me feel safe, the voice in my head is cruel and evil, she rips me to shreds and enjoys it but I know her. I welcome her and I never shut the door on her. She makes me a better person, right? What better road to self-improvement is there then intense self-critique and self-shaming?
Things changed for me when I first heard the word self-compassion. I was listening to Brene Brown at the Global Leadership Summit and she mentioned this mystical word: self-compassion. After reading Daring Greatly, I had a come-to-Jesus moment. She poses the question to her readers, “Why don’t you show yourself the love you so easily show others?” Brene could have jumped out of that book and slapped me upside the head in that moment and I would have been less shocked then I was by the revelation that I had never thought of this myself.
I have always thought high self-esteem, confidence and self-love were traits of mine. Apparently I was wrong. I was truly shocked. I thought back to all the mistakes I had made; not the little ones, but the monumental ones. The ones that left me crying in shame and convincing those I loved that I was horrible and undeserving of happiness. The mistakes that took pieces of my heart away and left me laying in the darkness of feeling empty and helpless. I thought of those mistakes and asked myself, if my best friend came to me and told me she made the same mistake, what would I have done? “Well, that’s easy,” I thought to myself, I would hug her, look her in the eye and tell her that her mistakes will never define her. I would remind her of all the beautiful things she has done and how everyone makes mistakes. I would reassure her that life goes on and what is important is that she learn something from it. I would tell her I love her unconditionally and that she is a genuine, great, amazing person.
That was a defining moment for me; that realization changed me. I am not saying you should excuse yourself for bad behavior, but you should never let your mistakes take over. You should have an immense amount of self-love because you are your greatest ally. You know your own heart better than anyone, and when that evil voice creeps into your mind telling you you’re worthless, another voice should pop up telling that bitch to F-off because you are worthy of love and compassion towards yourself. You are good.
I have spent my life doing this, and now that I am breaking myself of this habit I feel I am struggling with an addiction, like I am cutting off a relationship with someone I used to depend on. I was so good at beating myself up that the process of letting that mindset go is taking time. Now, when that voice in my head tries to shame me for a mistake, another voice in my head speaks up and says, “It’s ok, you are allowed a few mistakes, you are a great person and that is what matters. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep going. I believe in you and love you”.