Every person on our planet has their worst critic. Someone who makes their lives miserable with constant negativity, insults, doubt, guilt-tripping and does nothing to help said person’s mental health. Often times that person is a close family member or even a “friend”.
More often than not though, that person is YOU. So many people are so hard on themselves. Many of us tend to hold ourselves to impossible standards to achieve or to stay at if we’re already doing above average or excelling. We do not often treat ourselves the way we deserve to be treated. And that’s a damn shame.
Where does this come from? How do we end up in this miserable place? Has it always been this bleak and miserable for so many of us? And what can we do to remedy these terrible feelings of self-loathing and help ourselves turn things around? Let’s discuss causes, effects, and a game plan to fix things.
There are a number of factors that cause so many of us to treat ourselves poorly and be overly hard on ourselves. There’s a no bigger influence on us in our earlier years than our own parents. So much of this negative self-deprecating behavior that we find in ourselves originates from our first set of people in our lives. Our immediate family.
Think about your own immediate family. Let’s take mine for example. We had a young father who was almost 24 when I, the first child, was born. A young mother who was 21 years of age when she had her first baby boy. Then my younger brother made his appearance when I was just 2 years old.
That was the blueprint of the Provencio family. My father was a young pastor by trade, my mother was a stay-at-home mom once I was born until my younger brother was in high school. What can be learned about Jason, and the way he treated himself as a teenager, then as a young adult, and finally as a middle-aged man?
He was hard on himself. He was emotional. His father was somewhat of a bully and not-so-nice of a guy much of the time. Perhaps it was his own abusive upbringing in a home with 5 other siblings by a father who was physically abusive? Jason learned that he had to do things better, quieter, and more under-the-radar to avoid the cross-hairs and belt of his bible-thumping father.
Being called a dummy, dork, and being told not to be stupid made Jason tentative. He became overly cautious to a fault, which is still very much with him at age 47. He learned to be sneaky and to cover his tracks if he was doing something he knew his father wouldn’t approve of. This also didn’t serve him well as an adult at times.
Jason tended to believe some of those things his father said about him, growing up. He knew he was book smart and excelled in school, but wasn’t very street smart or wise about how the real world operated. Jason and his brother were heavily controlled in their home life and we weren’t allowed to go places alone without their parents. Sleepovers were non-existent. Even with cousins. It was that strict.
Jason developed a bad habit of thinking to himself how goddamn stupid he was when he fucked up at something. There were times he spoke this out loud, angrily talking to himself and berating himself. He’s probably lucky he managed to mainly do this when alone. His Bride certainly didn’t approve of him being an asshole toward himself.
My mother was a sweet lady. She was the parent I loved to be around. I’d sit with her and read on the couch, she’d turn her legs bent sideways, and I’d tell her I was going to “Sit in the basket”. We could read for what felt like hours together. She’s still very soft-spoken and kind.
My father and I have become closer since I grew up and quit putting up with his bullshit when I needed to stand up for myself. Sadly, I probably inherited his potentially explosive Italian temper. I get a lot of my charisma and personality though from him. He can be a really funny, entertaining guy. We all have our demons we try to keep at bay, I suppose.
I knew I didn’t want to treat my daughter the way I was treated growing up. I would not yell at her, spank her, or make her feel dumb for making mistakes or not knowing something. I went a complete 180-degree turn from my upbringing to hers. We’ve been nothing short of best friends for almost 17 years now and she’s been a dream to parent.
She was still affected by my genetics and dysfunctional upbringing. She has been so hard on herself for much of her young life. She’s a super-intelligent, wonderful human being. But she was so sensitive as a young child through grade school. She’d get upset about making mistakes on her homework and her giant blue eyes would leak with tears over something so small as a misspelled spelling word or two.
My Bride is a counselor by trade. She’d observe poor Avery just so distraught and she taught her a lesson during those grade school days when she first noticed that she’d cry if she made mistakes.
“Avery. Why are you crying?”
My daughter: “I don’t knowwwww.”
Mai: “Avery, you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. You’re learning.”
Avery: “I knowwwwww.”
Mai: “I need you to be nice to yourself.”
Avery, getting a bit more upset: “Okkkkaaayyyyy.”
Mai: “Avery, relax. You’re doing great. You’re learning, you’re smart, and you’re human. We make mistakes and learn from them.’
Mai: “Now apologize to yourself, please.”
Mai: “Come on. I want you to say, ‘I’m sorry, Self.”
Avery, looking skeptical and still upset, but willing to try: “Okayyyy, I’m sorry, Self.”
Mai, giving her big hugs: “Ok, Self. Avery is sorry. Forgive her now.”
Avery, starting to laugh: “I forgive myself.”
Mai: “Ok, good. Now don’t fuck up again.”
Ok, I made that last line up, just to be silly. But the point was made. Avery learned that it was ok to make mistakes and that it wasn’t the end of the world when she did. She was better about not being so hard on herself most of the time. Sure, she had her moments after that, but her second mama was always close by to remind her to be nice to herself, and to tell herself that she was sorry.
This melted my heart. I thought about how it related to me and the way I was raised. It made me see the pathology of how I became the way I was. I was mean to myself. Borderline abusive even, at times. I had anger issues and just because I didn’t direct them toward my Bride and kids, didn’t mean they didn’t need to be dealt with.
I started following Mai’s advice to Avery. I tried to be at peace with my mistakes. I tried not to let minor inconveniences boil my blood. I tried to avoid being like my father, in those situations. I had forgotten how poorly he had reacted to minor inconveniences growing up until I saw the reflection of him inside of me when I was annoyed by something.
I did better. I apologized to myself when I’d catch myself being an asshole toward myself. It’s an ongoing thing. I’m usually pretty good about things like that anymore, but I still slip up periodically. We’re human and always still learning, like Avery was with her spelling list in grade school.
Another bad source of being terrible toward ourselves is guilt. Many of us have a hard time shaking guilt from mistakes from our past. I know I do. I feel that the few things I truly still feel guilt about in my life would pale in comparison to some things that people have in their past to contend with. But that doesn’t bring a lot of reassurance all of the time.
Guilt to me is one of the most useless emotions. To me, it feels like an enemy waging psychological warfare against our minds. Trying to fool us into thinking what we’ve done in the past was the absolute worst thing imaginable. That we don’t deserve forgiveness for it. That there was no excuse for it happening in the first place, even if we were much younger, under the influence of something, or our brains weren’t even fully formed yet.
Guilt can go fuck itself. When you feel guilt about things gone by in your past, change the channel. If you start to see guilt creeping up in the back of your mind, squash it back. Call security, and have that douchebag escorted off the premises.
I’m serious. And apologize to yourself. Guilt is an asshole. Guilt is a liar. Guilt is not what you are about at this stage of your life. You’re moving forward, not letting guilt rent space in your head retroactively. Hell no.
We all make mistakes in life. Most of us have a number of things that we’d go back and change if we could fire up the DeLorean to 88 miles per hour and travel back in time. But we’re not Marty McFly. There is no Biff to go back and deal with. We have to choose to move forward and not dwell on past mistakes and disappointments.
I tell myself that for every occasional regret I have that I start to feel guilt about, I’ve done hundreds of other really good, kind, caring things. That those positive things outweigh the handful of truly disappointing moments I’ve had as a human being. Most were many moons ago. Most did not affect the future in any detectable way. All of them, I’m sorry about.
When you feel guilt starting to sneak up on you, call security. Lock the doors to your brain and protect it. And apologize to yourself. Tell yourself you’re sorry. Give yourself a big reassuring hug.
Know that you are a good person doing the best job you know how to do for yourself in a very tough, unforgiving world. And stop being an asshole toward yourself. I like you and I won’t be happy if I hear you’re being mean to yourself. Do the same for you. Big hugs. &:^)
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