Photo by Todd Diemer on Unsplash
How critical are you of yourself? It’s not something we stop and think about in the flow of our day, but it is an important question. My Mother would verbally criticize herself (especially when she wasn’t aware we children were within earshot). When there was a forgotten detail, a mishap or a mistake, my Mother would first look to herself to see if she had contributed to the concern in some way, and look outward from there. My Father looked at things more objectively (and with more curiosity), and if he determined he was the cause, you could see awareness cross his face, a lesson learned, but no self-recrimination. This is not the case in every childhood or household. Men are just as capable of being hard on themselves as women are just as capable of being objective and curious, this is not about stereotypes or gender roles, but more about what example was set for you by the adults in your life with respect to the way they treated themselves? Sometimes we unconsciously import that approach into our own lives.
Such was the reality I faced, highlighted by my own child who asked me “Mom, why do you do that?” He was questioning why I was speaking to myself in such harsh terms. It was a very good question (and like my Mother before me, I wasn’t aware I did it, nor that he was listening). In these unconscious moments, caught up in the midst of “getting things done”, we have a little window into how we feel about ourselves, a view into the ever-present standards we hold ourselves to, the expectations of self. What are yours? This is where the hang-up about perfection lives, or where the fear of not being “good enough” makes itself at home in our psyche. This is ground zero of what eats away at our self-esteem and often has us moving forward not from a neutral place, but from a deficit, a lack of belief in self.
Let’s look at this another way to help understand what this does to your self-esteem. Essentially you are perpetually running in successive races where you start from 20 paces behind the “starting line”, while everyone else starts at the line. Compounding this is that when you do well in this “race”, no one else is even aware of the magnitude of what you have achieved, and so the external validation you need to show you are improving and getting more accomplished just isn’t there, because in the eyes of the rest of the world you have just run a normal race like everyone else. Only you will know that you started behind the line; only you will know what you achieved was monumental, yet without the external recognition of your efforts you return to the belief that you simply aren’t “good enough” and return once again to 20 paces behind the starting line, waiting for the next race to begin.
What would you have to do to be able to start at the line with everyone else? Do you have to come from behind and take 1st place, demonstrating to others that you are worthy? What then? How will you respond to the self-pressure to continue to be worthy? Do you have to place 1st in every race to be able to remain at the start line, or if you miss that outcome are you required to begin all over again from 20 paces behind? This is what being self-critical does to each of us, and the enormous amount of energy it takes to keep track of where you are while running successive races where you start from behind the line is incredible. In this scenario it’s no mystery why you may be very tired before you day has even really begun. So how do you release your self from this perpetually self-destructive loop?
The first step is to realize you are in one. This loop may be present over your entire working day (starting in your morning shower and only ceasing when you fall asleep at night) or it may take place in a specific context, like when you are comparing the strength of your work to that of your peers (on their best day…and your worst) to find yourself not “measuring up”. Watch for it; see where it pops up because unless you are aware of something as it is happening you cannot do anything about it. It sounds intimidating to go looking for this, but know that once you see it the pain of knowing is quickly replaced by feelings of freedom because now you have a choice! You can choose to stop participating in the self-doubt and self-criticism and be self-compassionate. You are a good person; you got out of bed this morning to be your best self and along the way you will make mistakes, spill coffee on yourself and stick your foot in your mouth. It doesn’t mean you are not able to be your best, what it means is that you are a beautifully imperfect human being (every one of us is). You are also amazing at what you do, highly qualified, a quick learner and deeply committed to doing your best. Mistakes do not negate all your gifts, talents and abilities, however self-doubt will block you from being able to reach your fullest potential (in a moment or over your career).
Be aware of how you treat yourself - when your inner critic starts to drag you down, hit the mute button. That stuff is old news and not helpful in any way. Focus on how much you care, be empathetic with yourself and take a moment to breath. Feel into all the things that you are and know that you are enough. You are enough because you want this. You are enough because you will keep working on what’s important. You are enough because you keep showing up for this race, only this time you will take your place at the starting line and know that is where you belong.
“Every second that you spend on doubting your worth, every moment that you use to criticize yourself; is a second of your life wasted, is a moment of your life thrown away. It's not like you have forever, so don't waste any of your seconds, don't throw even one of your moments away.” ~ C. JoyBell C.