Suggestions for not beating yourself up?

I’m really bad about being hard on myself - way harder than I am on friends or acquaintances, and, if I’m being really honest, way harder than anyone deserves. Does anyone have suggestions on breaking that self-shame spiral after doing something that is … hmmm … let’s say medium-stupid?

I mean things like: dropping and breaking an expensive object, forgetting about a check and getting overdraft charges, getting a ticket at a known speed trap, forgetting the name of a Big Cheese at your job, losing your car keys, sitting on your own glasses, etc. Stuff where, on the one hand, yes that was a boneheaded move but on the other hand, nobody died and occasionally shit happens.

ARGH! One of the above items on that list is on my mind today and I am so royally pissed at myself for being boneheaded PLUS thoroughly irritated with myself because I’m aware on some level that I’m being too hard on myself. The two just feed into each other and I need to STOPPPIT!

  • pant * * wheeze * * pant *
    Any suggestions or advice for just getting out of my own head when shit like this happens?

The first rule about not beating yourself up, is don’t talk about not beating yourself up.

I can relate to this struggle, and the reality is we tend to have way higher standards for ourselves than we have for other people. I often ask myself ''What makes you so special that you’re not allowed to make mistakes?" It’s like a sneaky kind of arrogance to assume you’re supposed to be better than others.

One thing that really helps with this is having a lot of things going on at once. Have a career, a social life, a healthy living plan, hobbies, other goals, so that when you screw up at one thing, you at least have the peace of mind of knowing you’re not a screw up at everything.

One thing I really like to do is take a mistake to its worst case scenario. You sit on your glasses, and what’s the worst that happens? Your glasses break, you can’t see to drive to work, you lose your job and end up homeless… eventually you begin to realize it’s really not that big of a deal, because even with the worst of consequences we can always do things to improve the outcome of our lives. A lot of times I say to myself, ‘‘That was stupid. I’m stupid. So what if I’m stupid? There are happy stupid people all over the place, it’s hardly anything uncommon.’’ Give yourself permission to identify with the names you call yourself.

Because that’s the worst fear, isn’t it? That deep down you ARE that horrible thing. If you let yourself be that horrible thing, only as a thought exercise for a few minutes, you realize it’s not so bad. You realize that even if it were true, it changes absolutely nothing.

When I start with the bad self-talk (and like you, I’m really really GOOD at negative self-talk), I imagine that instead of me, it’s my (imaginary) 16-year-old daughter who messed up. How would I talk to her? Would I call her stupid, useless, etc? Hell no, I’d let her know I was pissed in proportion to the error, and remind her not to do it again.

That helps.

  1. Thinking of it in the third person: If a friend was doing this, how would you advise them? Do that.

  2. Sectioning: Everyday, set aside 30 minutes (say, from 8PM to 8:30PM) to think about how you’ve messed up and how it makes you feel. Now, whenever you get a thought about having messed up, tell yourself that you’re allowed to think about how you’ve messed up and beat yourself up, but only from 8PM to 8:30PM. Any other time of the day, you don’t, you keep it for that section of the day. If you forget to do it from 8PM to 8:30PM, you’ll just have to wait until the following day.

As soon as you get these thoughts, check if it’s 8PM to 8:30PM. If it isn’t, tell yourself you’ll do it at 8PM. Do not argue with yourself. You’re allowed to engage in these thoughts, but only in that section of time.

  1. Emotion vs cognition: When I mess up, there are two things I can get out of itit. One is emotional and focused on blame. The other is cognitive and focused on lessons learned. The former is harmful, the latter useful.

Remember Oscar Wilde: “Experience is the name we give to our mistakes.”

  1. Talking about it: Talk about it with someone and get your feelings out. Talking about it with someone can help you understand what you’re feeling and why. If you do this with a man, you should explicitly tell him that this is an exploration of your behavior and feelings and an exercise in understanding and relating, not a search for solutions.

That part really hit home. I gotta let this percolate through for a while.

Thanks, everyone.

As a small child, the larger kids would often suggest that I stop hitting myself. Alas, I was often unable to take their advice.

Think of it as a learning opportunity. If nothing really bad happened and you learned something, in the long run it’s a net positive.

Sit down, and write out a list of all your good qualities. Err on the side of generosity.

As others have said, it’s always good to think about your mistakes and how you can learn from them.

But if you start getting into too much of a self-critical spiral, mentally refer back to this list, and remember that there are far more good things about you than bad.

I do this, too. I’ve had some success with making a detailed mental map of how the mistake happened (this teeny blunder caused that small mistake led to that medium-sized fuck up); then I commit myself to memorizing the pattern so I will recognize and be able to avoid similar negative outcomes in the future. At that point I can treat it as a learning experience, stop blaming myself, and let it go.

For example, a couple years back I decided I was going to blow through a bunch of tolls in Illinois and just go through the Open Road Tolling overhang without an I-pass (mistake #1). Because I hadn’t updated my address with the Secretary of State (mistake #2), they mailed the violations to my old apartment. Because I didn’t set up mail forwarding after I moved (mistake #3), I didn’t get the violations until there were SEVERE PENALTIES attached (fortunately at that point, the current tenant found a way to contact me and let me know what was happening). In the end, I paid hundreds of dollars for something that would have cost less than $20 if I’d just paid the tolls in the first place. So, what lessons did I learn? I don’t skip tolls anymore, I always set up mail forwarding when I move, and I always update my address promptly when I move. It was an expensive lesson and a really dumbass thing to do, but it’s firmly in the past now. No amount of wishing can change it!

Alternatively, you could just bask in the glow of being less stupid than me. :stuck_out_tongue:

Sometimes these anxious concerns (“HOW could I be so freaking STUPID?”) resurface when my defenses are low–when I first wake up, in the middle of the night, in my dreams, etc. But nothing short of brain damage or amnesia can stop that.

I’m reminded of a Peanuts comic strip where Charlie Brown is at Lucy’s Psychiatric Help 5 Cents booth and he’s complaining about the very same thing you are. Lucy advises him to re-frame his goals–and I’m sure I’m paraphrasing–“See if you can walk from here to there without falling down.”

That Lucy’s advice, while funny, was also sound makes me think that the proper thing for you to do is move your self-evaluation from “How was I not perfect today?” to “What did I do right?” I, personally, have gotten great satisfaction at times from dwelling on something small that I did well, from a poem I wrote to making a really tasty burrito (I also saved a busload of people from Godzilla and won twenty-five gold medals at the Olympics, but as I said, I like to dwell on the little things.)

The truth–which we don’t admit to ourselves, as a rule–is that we are incompetents, fools, and fuckups. Our brains are surprisingly blunt and inaccurate instruments, and their software is riddled with cognitive biases. Rather than dwell on our mistakes, therefore, we should celebrate when we, for instance, make a grilled cheese sandwich without killing ourselves.

So don’t be so hard on yourself–you are running crappy software that would shame Microsoft on a computer that a Commodore 64 could run rings around. As are we all.

Tolstoy had the answer: the expectation of continual happiness is unrealistic, but the continual belief in the possibility of happiness is what carries us.

And what is better proof of that than a sense of humor?

There are binaural beat meditation CDs which can help you change your brainwaves, you can find a lot of them on amazon.

One of the CDs is called ‘gamma meditation’ which is supposed to help create 40hz gamma waves in the brain. I wasn’t expecting this, but I have found when I use that CD for 2-3 days in a row, I notice the critical inner voice is quieter. It doesn’t show up as often or as loud. I have no idea why either. It tends to come back within a week if I stop listening to the meditation CDs, but that works.

Another thing you can try is visualizing the critical inner voice. Likely it is a very vulnerable part of yourself that sincerely believes if it doesn’t beat you up you will make mistakes, ruin your life and nobody will love, respect or support you. So visualize that side of yourself and imagine forgiving it, knowing it doesn’t know any better and realizing that is just a side of yourself that is lashing out due to being overwhelmed and scared.

Supposedly shifting the inner voice so it is critical in the second person (calling you you instead of I) then responding with I statements can help too.

I can quiet mine a bit with the above techniques. But I can’t shut it off. I don’t know if I can ever truly shut it off. Sucks.

I have to write quick, so please excuse my tone:

Say it in words and then write it down. See if you can express your feelings in one short summation. Rather than talking and talking, imagine you have to present your case to a judge and jury. Instead of going on and on about all the worthless traits you have associated with sitting on your glasses, get to the point and then write it down.

An example: “Like an idiot, I broke my favorite glasses and now I’ll never find another pair and I’ll probably get macular degeneration.”

There’s something called the three-column technique… IANA therapist, but it is a simple, concrete approach.

You essentially switch sides in your case, and approach that same judge and jury with the other side of the issue at hand.

Objection! Idiot is a meanigless label. Saying you’ll never find another pair makes a relatively small occurance into a catastrophe; every gas station and lemonade stands sells a wide variety of sun glasses.

In the third column, you present the case for the defense.

I didn’t mean to break my glasses, it was an accident. It might be nice to get a new pair, maybe a better pair. If people’s intelligence and overall worth were decided by minor missteps, there wouldn’t be even one worthwhile human being on the planet.

Do this on paper, not in your head. The lawyers in your head will make Johnnie Cochran look like Lionel Hutz! :smiley:

Thank you much, Slithy Tove. As hilarious as that skit was, it really sort of spoke to me!

Fight back! You’re only beating yourself up because you’re a bully and you know that you won’t stand up for yourself. The way to deal with a bully is to stand up to him. You’ll back down when you realize that you’ll fight back.

And I am serious. When you start beating up on yourself, fight back, try it.