Last night I finally got around to hanging some pictures that I had been meaning to put up for weeks. As is my tendency, I did a shoddy job and they came out crooked. I could have told you this would happen beforehand. There are lots of things I do well: singing, writing emo blog posts, math in my head, etc. Hanging pictures does not number among those things.
That, of course, is my reflection on last night’s events in the light of day. Immediately after standing back and seeing that my kitchen now looked like a third grader decorated it, I went off the deep end, crying and yelling at myself for being a domestic failure who is destined to live in squalor the rest of my life.
In truth, the last few months have involved a lot of that: beating myself up over little mistakes and disappointments. The tape that has been playing in my head does not say very nice things.
I know that I’m not the only person who does this, so I’m asking all of you, wiser than I, what makes us be so mean to ourselves? Do I yell at myself so that no one else can do it first? Am I scared of being happy? Am I channeling all of my stress into life’s minutia, like hanging picture frames?
Why do we beat ourselves up?
Isn’t calling the blog posts where you open up emotionally “emo” a type of beating yourself up?
I wonder if we beat ourselves up because we can. Because we’re not allowed to beat up anyone else, we’re supposed to forgive others their shortcomings, our standards for others are supposed to be reasonable. However, we’re supposed to aspire and we’re supposed to reach for our goals and if we screw up we’re supposed to hold ourselves accountable. So we berate ourselves harshly because no one is looking, and because we’re not seeing another human who deserves a break.
You got me again! Teasing myself over being emo is not nice.
I have been thinking about your point a lot – why do we talk to ourselves in ways we would never talk to other people?
Well in truth, I tend to think that we would be that harsh on people if we weren’t socialized for forgiveness, charity, etc. We can look into the eyes of another human and feel a kinship and find our way to just let it go. But that conditioning isn’t as prevalent for how we treat ourselves; and in fact we are taught to hold ourselves to a high standard with no margin for error. Because if we can’t meet our own standards, who can?
That means judgment comes naturally and we have to train to give it some kindness. I like the responses below relating the spiritual impatience with believing we can demand perfection of ourselves and attain it without actually accepting or submitting to grace.
Neurologically we do think of ourselves individually as a different sort of thing from others; the I/me perspective works differently in the brain (as opposed to the mind) from the you/us perspective. We can’t help that we don’t think of ourselves like any other person, so in that regard the instinct is hardwired. However, we can conceptualize the truth that we deserve kindness as much as anyone else and thus train ourselves to be more caring all the same.
You know, I think it might be because we are afraid of the power that lies in our own freedom. Not a lack of accountability, but a freedom to know that God lies within us and we have the power to “know” ourselves what is really important. Beating ourselves up with weird external expectations keeps us from really seeing or knowing that. Or it might because we are well trained Catholics…. (which might very well be related).
Imagine the difference if you had stepped back and said “awesome, now I can look at my beautiful pictures.” You would be free to enter into the sacred images that they are for you.
Not that I am judging… I often live in my own similar prisons and can’t quite get the courage to step outside of them.
I think you’re on to something. Although I hate the way I feel after I freak out over something little, there is a weird comfort in it because it is so small and controllable. Intellectually I know it doesn’t matter, and because I am a reasonably well-formed human being I know spiritually that it doesn’t matter either, but I get to have my little breakdown over this and completely ignore the big work that needs to be done of meeting God in myself and other people.
When I go home I am going to say “awesome, now I can look at my beautiful pictures” even if I don’t quite mean it.
What good questions you pose! I like the responses you’ve received, particularly Hope’s comment that God lies within us and informs what we are and what we know. I can only speak for myself, but after 65 years of living, I’ve begun to realize that I’ve spent much of my life beating up on myself in some kind of misguided belief that only I can transform myself into the kind of person who deserves God’s love and regard. My Southern Baptist background taught me that the order of priority had to be 1) Jesus, 2) others, and (if there was anything left over) 3) self. What that ended up meaning, I’m afraid, at least for me, was that anytime what I thought, did, said, etc. didn’t place someone else ahead of myself, I was falling short of the mark that had been set for me. I have lately begun to realize that it is extremely difficult to offer anyone anything authentic and valuable without first being able to love and value one’s Self, which includes being patient, gentle and considerate with one’s Self and regarding one’s God-given Self as a thing of great wonder.
The old habits die hard, and it remains tempting to blame and berate myself for all sorts of things, but when I think about the fact that the Divine resides within as well as around me and is, by necessity, reflected in me, I experience the surprising grace of knowing myself to be a child of God in that very intimate sense. It becomes harder and harder to deal with myself with anything but respect and gentleness. I’ve thought for years about Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves and have often understood that my love for my neighbors was severely limited if I patterned it on the manner in which I was able to love myself. To love someone as yourself means, of course, first genuinely loving yourself. Only then is it possible to have love to draw on to lavish on others. I think our world, and particularly our American society, doesn’t understand or condone self-love and understanding. Just listen to some of the harsh rhetoric coming out of the mouths of many politicians who hope to capture the “American spirit” that emphasizes only hard work, self-deprivation and discipline (until, of course, you’ve magically made it all on your own efforts and can rest on your financial laurels). It makes me shiver, because I’m working so hard to overcome those awful negative attitudes and strictures. I’m making progress and finding a new sense of peace with the knowledge that I am precisely as wondrous a part of creation as any other person or thing ever has been, and that God has never depended on my thoughts, words, standards or actions to bring that miracle about. It has always been a gift freely given, if only I am able to claim it.
I love this line: “misguided belief that only I can transform myself into the kind of person who deserves God’s love and regard”. I sometimes find the same thing in myself, and I think in a way it all comes back to pride – like I’m so important that if I don’t “do” something I won’t be loved. It doesn’t really let God be God, as you mention.
Brenda Chance says
I think it’s growing pains. I hear about this from women all the time. We’re so aware of how we’re not quite yet what we could be. For myself, I get impatient with the pace of my growth. I want God to hurry up and perfect me. Ha, right. One thing I’ve noted in my own life is that when I’m beating myself up I have lost focus on God’s work in my life…and I try to make it my work. I have to keep reminding myself that God knows the best pace for me to grow. You know, the funny thing is that I beat myself up the worst over the little stuff. The big stuff, I am so thankful that God’s got it handled. But little flubs and follies and awarenesses that I’m human–those things make me nuts. Hang in there…it’s all just a sign that you’re alive and you’re growing…and you have a lot of good company. Thanks for the transparency in your post.
Your pep talk and insights helped! I really appreciate it.