One of the common sayings around my house, when I was growing up, was “if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.” The purpose was to keep us from talking badly about people behind their back. It shut us up since we usually didn’t have anything nice to say about the person that moments before we were lambasting.
It’s a shame we don’t practice this same wisdom with regards to ourselves. Too often we treat ourselves with a fierceness, a condemning spirit that we would never consider leveling against a good friend. Internally, we berate ourselves over our weaknesses, insecurities, failings, and overall inability to measure up. In fact, we set such an impossibly high standard that we never reach the place where we are satisfied with who we have become.
The problem comes in that we don’t see an alternative.
We ask, “how will we grow if we lower the standard we set?” Besides, we know ourselves, and we know that we have fallen so very short of an acceptable standard.
Perhaps we should begin to look at our shortcomings through different eyes. Instead of believing that beating ourselves up is a healthy form of honesty and humility, we should realize that beating ourselves up is deceptive and counter-productive.
• Beating ourselves up is actually a hidden form of pride – I only get mad at myself when I fail at something that I think I am capable of doing. Sometimes I even say to myself, “you’re better than that.” My pride at believing that I am too good to fail causes me to be unbearably hard on myself. Humility, on the other hand, accepts weakness as unavoidable occasionally and simply moves to do better the next time. In this sense, humility helps us improve more than a false sense of greatness which wastes time and energy feeling bad and discouraged.
• Beating ourselves up takes our eyes off of others– A person can’t focus on two things at once. When we beat ourselves up, all of our focus is on ourselves and our shortcomings, and consequently, we are not looking at others. As C.S. Lewis says, “The humble person doesn’t think less of themselves, they think of themselves less.” We intuitively are attracted to the person who isn’t self-absorbed by their own faults, who is able to give their attention to others. This is a gift that is not available to the person who continually beats themselves up.
• Beating yourself up keeps us from moving forward– I have this image in my mind of the basketball player who misses the easy layup and is so upset with himself that he doesn’t run back down the court to play defense. The other team scores easily. Bashing ourselves derails the process of moving forward. Beating ourselves up stagnates us in the past. Negativity and self- condemnation are no way to move forward into healthy growth. Ironically, one of the most self-destructive things we can do is to criticize ourselves continuously. It is a bottomless pit that is hard to escape.
What is the alternative?
Admit that you, like me, continuously fall short of who you would like to be. That is true now, and it will be true ten years from now. So, get over it and get on with it. Pick yourself up and move forward with your efforts to grow as a person. Remember, you can’t give to others what you won’t give to yourself. If you won’t extend yourself encouragement and grace, how will you offer it to others?When you fail again, which you will, pick yourself up again and move on! Too many people need your encouragement and your grace to waste another moment in unproductive, groveling self-criticism.