Why is it critical that we cultivate a relationship with ourselves? The truth is, most of us have a blind spot in our self-perception. And when we don’t see the whole picture, we tend to speak to and about ourselves in ways that deepen our shame and damage the one relationship that has the power to heal.
Have you ever noticed that when you criticize yourself, it is much easier to criticize others? Have you noticed that when you feel the most shame, you are unlikely to feel tenderness for others? Have you realized yet that when you are unhappy, you blame others as well as yourself? These are all signs of what Rick Carson calls “Our Inner Gremlin.”
So how do we mend this relationship that is at the root of all of our healing? How can we fall in love with ourselves?
Start small. When you get up in the morning, take note of everything that makes your life a little easier. The toothbrush that freshens your breath; the switch that brings light to a darkened room; the toilet paper that is so much better than a corncob; the pillow that has supported your head all night; the first cup of coffee or tea; running water. Now that you are on a roll, move on to a little self-appreciation.
We are hardwired to pay attention to threats and react by fighting off the attacker or running like hell. When we make a mistake, the threat is to our self-concept. We then start to attack ourselves and our perceived bad behavior. Our focus becomes fixing the problem: Ourselves.
When we do something kind, or if we fleetingly notice our good qualities, it slides right off because there is nothing to fix. When we don’t take the time to notice our strengths, they tend to fade into the background until we lose awareness of them. So let’s start small again:
- Find one little thing that you appreciate about yourself.
- Take a few moments to savor it.
- Now find another and another.
They don’t have to be big; just something that you genuinely like about yourself. Maybe you make great lasagna, or you have pretty eyes, or you get up early every morning. Write it on a sticky note and put it on the wall by your desk.
Starting now, when you find something to criticize yourself about, see if you can find something you can acknowledge and admire in yourself too, and take the time to let it sink in.
Focus on Learning
The next time you “make a mistake,” instead of beating yourself up, reframe it as a learning experience. When reframed, even the smallest mistakes can help you shift from self-criticism to a growth mindset. Just keep asking yourself, “What can I/did I learn from this? How did it help me grow?”
Once you get good at it with the little mistakes, see if you can translate it to the bigger ones. Start to notice if the time it takes you to switch into this new way of thinking starts to shrink. That’s something to celebrate right there. Since we can’t hold two mutually exclusive thoughts in our minds at the same time, eventually, the more positive view will win out.
Remember that you are part of this wonderful group called the human race. Our journey over the millennia has not been punctuated by perfection after perfection, but by mistake after mistake. We are continually learning and growing. So every time you feel like an idiot, know that there are many humans who have done things that are just as silly and idiotic, if not more so.
The thing that makes stories interesting is the flawed characters that inhabit the pages. We are all imperfect! Yes, every single one of us—period. Thank goodness! It would be a really boring world if there were only a bunch of perfect robots running around.
Finally, learn to laugh at yourself. Most of us take ourselves way too seriously and tend to see mistakes and embarrassing moments as catastrophic.
When I was in second grade, we had a washroom adjacent to the class. One day I was going to the toilet and singing loudly with what I thought was my beautiful baritone voice. As I opened the door, the whole class cracked up. I and my beet-red face wanted to sink into the floor. I survived, and now I have this great story to tell.
How often have we been mortified over a moment, only to look back at it with laughter later on? Life is more fun and lighthearted when we can laugh at silly, clumsy humanness.
Loving Yourself is Loving the World
Life can look very different when you begin treating yourself with more respect. It soon becomes clear what an incredibly complex and beautiful being you are, even with your imperfections. And then you get another gift: You start to see all your fellow remarkable incomplete humans through the lens of deep love, care, and compassion.
As Ashleigh Brilliant said in her book by the same name, “I may not be perfect, but parts of me are excellent.”