Why are we so hard on ourselves?

Why are we so hard on ourselves?  I find myself asking this question over and over again.

Near enough all the clients I see for counselling will tell me that they show compassion to others – for their mistakes, for their lack of will power, for their misfortunes etc – but when it comes to themselves, they put a huge amount of pressure on themselves.

So what happens goes something like this.  “I upset someone at work today.  She was really upset with me.  I am such an idiot.  I don’t know why I did what I did – I am so stupid.  I feel so bad for upsetting her”

You will notice several derogatory words in that sentence.  So not only does the client feel bad for upsetting someone, he is now also berating himself for getting it wrong. So now he feels doubly guilty, shameful, and probably worthless.

There are several factors here.  Firstly we do NOT upset another person.  Rather we do something, say something, or not do something or not say something, which triggers a negative feeling in the other person.  This person then blames us for “upsetting them”.  But we are each responsible for our behaviour in response to our feelings.  Blaming someone else just lets us off the hook at having to examine our own behaviour, and how we might respond more compassionately.

Secondly, I always ask my clients what their intention was.  Did they deliberately go out to upset someone?  Of course the answer is no.  Intention is so important.  We all make mistakes.  We all get it wrong sometimes.  But if our intentions are sound then we really do not need to beat ourselves up when it does not go quite according to our intentions.  We can examine our motives, perhaps learn from how we handled it, perhaps apologise if this feels appropriate.  Then we need to let it go.  Because if we don’t let it go, it festers.  Then the next time we make a mistake, we add the previous mistake to the new one ……………………………  and you get the picture – more self-berating, name calling, guilt.  And this affects our self esteem.  And the habit of self-recrimination continues, doing us no favours at all.

Just something to think about.


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