Sally does not like her financial situation. She scowls, frowns, or cries as she speaks about where she is now and how she finds herself here. Although she is clearly working towards changing her situation, she is unfailingly miserable.
Why is this?
Sally refuses to be kind to herself.
Sally once compared the road out of her current situation to a winding highway on the side of a mountain range. She believes that her critical self-statements are like the railings, keeping her on the road and away from danger.
Here is how Sally talks to herself, both out loud in and her own head:
“How could I have been so stupid to have ended up here? I should have known better. I can’t believe I’ve been such a failure—I’m nowhere near where I should be, compared to other people my own age. Honestly, I wouldn’t be willing to date anyone who has a situation like mine—two pathetic losers together—what a joke!”
Sally is utterly opposed to my (repeated) suggestion that she consider being kind to herself. I suggest that she can take responsibility for her life without abusing herself; she disagrees. Sally believes that, without self-critical statements, she will lose all forward momentum. If she doesn’t tell herself that she’s been a pathetic loser, she believes she’ll quit showing up and working hard.
I observe that kindness, like cruelty, always leaves a mark.
Sally behaves as if she can be critical, demanding, cruel, and disrespectful to herself every day for years…and then, on the day she finally reaches her goal, she imagines she’ll be instantly transformed into a loving, peaceful, joyful human being.
Many of us behave as if berating, shaming, abusing, and humiliating are a first-class ticket to professional achievement and personal fulfillment. We act as if vigorous and frequent acts of self-harm will someday lead us to self-respect and self-love.
Shame, cruelty, and humiliation often leave people feeling dispirited, discouraged, and unmotivated—none of which makes goal achievement easier. Even if Sally is disciplined enough to shame herself into reaching her goal, why does she imagine her shame will disappear upon arrival?
Martin Luther King, Jr. commented, “The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”
I invite you to turn Dr. King’s comment into a personal inquiry:
If self-criticism is supposed to make you accomplished and peaceful, why hasn’t that approach worked yet?
Is beating yourself up the only way you know to motivate yourself to action?
Do you believe acting from kindness and acting from shame will have the same results in your life?