Today we’re going to talk about how to stop beating yourself up. Whether you made a stupid mistake, lost your cool with someone you care about, or you’re just a perfectionist with imposter syndrome, it’s easy to get sucked into the toilet hole of beating yourself up.
And then you do this ridiculous thing, which I’m going to call “the self-exemption bias,” which keeps you trapped in the cycle.
Beating Yourself Up
So you messed up. You just yelled at your kid, or you blew up in a meeting, or your girlfriend broke up with you. Or, on the other hand, you’re a perfectionist: you work your tail off, but you can’t fix everything for everyone every time.
So then you start beating yourself up. “Why am I such an idiot!” you say to yourself. “I’m the worst parent!” Or “Why do I have to have such a big mouth!”
You stress yourself out — “I’m probably ruining my kid for life!”
You threaten yourself — “I deserve to be fired for sure!”
You criticize yourself — “I can never do things right!”
You filter out memories of the good and only highlight what’s wrong. Don’t believe me? Would it be easier for you to write a list of your flaws or your strengths? That’s mental filtering.
You believe you’re broken, defective, never good enough, and on and on you go.
We imagine that if we just beat ourselves up, that’s going to motivate us to fix something, to improve, to not mess up next time, but instead this technique backfires. It leaves us feeling helpless, overwhelmed, and unmotivated.
When this technique is overused, we’re essentially turning a short-term motivator (fear) into long-term chronic stress, which damages our nervous system and makes some people slump into an exhausted depression. (1)
How the Self-Exemption Bias Leads to Beating Yourself Up
And here’s the ridiculous thing: Would you ever talk to another person the way you’re talking to yourself?
Would you ever call someone a loser, unlovable, or an idiot?
Most of you are highly sensitive people. You internalize things. You’d never treat another person the way you’re treating yourself.
This is what I call the self-exemption-bias, where for some ridiculous reason you believe that you’re the exception to this whole kindness thing, that everyone else out there deserves gentle understanding, second chances, and a listening ear, but you’re the only person in the entire population of 8 billion people who deserves to be treated like crap.
You really value it when your friend opens up about their struggles, but if you share then you spend the next day beating yourself up for oversharing.
And all this beating-yourself-upping can lead to depression, anxiety, and giving up. It’s just not helpful. (Deep breath.)
How to Practice Self-Compassion
You can practice self-compassion with these simple techniques:
- Choose a situation that led you to feel bad about yourself.
- Imagine a good friend going through that same situation and beating herself up over it.
- Write a letter to comfort your friend, making sure to express your care, compassion, and understanding. What does compassion sound like? It’s not positive or negative judgment. It’s not saying that what you did was right. It’s not mental arguing. It’s admitting that everyone, with all their flaws, yourself included, deserve loving kindness.
- Tell your friend about their goodness too.
- If you want, you can give a little advice about just one action to take.
- Now read the compassionate letter toward yourself. Put your name in the blanks.
Let’s practice with an “anonymous” example.
Imagine that you’re a parent, and you’ve been stuck at home with three little kids under five all day, and you were up half the night with a sick baby, and while cooking dinner your pasta was boiling over and you had raw chicken on your hands and your 3-year-old needed your help to poop and your 5-year-old was trying to do her homework and needed your help and you finally got dinner on the table and now your 8-year-old is refusing to eat the food you cooked for her and you lose your temper and yell at her.
(This has never happened to me, by the way).
And you say sorry and make repairs and snuggle and talk, but then after all the kids go to bed, you lay in bed wondering if you’re a terrible mom and if they’ll hate you and tell their future therapist how much of a hypocrite their therapist-mom was. And down the toilet of beating yourself up you go.
Here’s what the letter-to-a-friend technique might look like in this situation:
Okay, you messed up. You should not have yelled at your kid.
I know that’s not who you really are, who you want to be, but you lost your cool.
But you still deserve compassion.
It’s normal to make mistakes.
We’re all just pretending that the back of our hospital gowns aren’t flying open.
Everyone makes mistakes and they still are worthy of compassion.
Beating yourself up doesn’t make things better.
It doesn’t make you a better parent.
The fact that you regret your action shows how much you care about your kids.
You are worthy of love. Parenting is freaking hard.
You were tired, exhausted, burnt out, you haven’t been able to take a poop by yourself for a week, it’s hard to shower or do self-care, but you’re still trying really hard to raise good kids.
You got this.
You don’t want your kids to beat themselves up over and over about their mistakes, do you?
You’ve got to model for them accepting vulnerability and making repairs.
In all real and close relationships, things get messy.
You’re not beating your kids, you’re keeping them warm, fed, clothed, and you show them love.
What you did wasn’t ideal, but it’s not going to ruin them for life either.
Stop being such a perfectionist and get back in there.
You’ll have lots of chances tomorrow to connect with your kids again.
Emma, you’re doing a fine job. Stay courageous.
It won’t always be this hard. You’re okay. You’re kids are okay.
I love you.
You have a beautiful heart.
You got this. Love, Emma.
So that’s what I call the friend-advice technique.
Go give it a try, I hope it helps you get better at feeling.
Thanks for watching, and take care.
The impact of stress on body function: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579396/
Dr. Kristin Neff on treating yourself as you’d treat a good friend: https://self-compassion.org/self-compassion-treating-yourself-as-youd-treat-a-good-friend/