Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sticks & Stones - A Follow Up - Pt 2 - Beating Yourself Up

Yesterday, I began typing the prior post (Sticks & Stones - A Follow Up - Pt 1 - Self Esteem) in response to a comment I had received on my June 30th post.

I began the Pt 1 post:

My post Sticks & Stones from June 30th really struck a chord with folks. It's currently the fifth most read post of all-time on my blog.

Today I received a comment that struck me:

Why is it so hard to believe a compliment someone gives us,and so easy to believe the hurtful things other can say? I admittedly have Self Esteem problems. I have severe depression and a tendency to self harm (generally more mentally than physically) I beat myself to a pulp all the time. I don't need anyone else to do it for me. How do I stop letting it effect me?
This comment set my mind off in several different directions (and based on how long I typed on the second direction, it will clearly also, set me off on several blog posts, too).

So this Pt 2 is a continuation of the earlier post.  (I'm guessing labeling them Pt 1 and Pt 2, you may have already figured this out??  Maybe..)

The next part about this comment that struck me and I wanted to talk about was the element of beating ourselves up.

Raise your hands if you've beaten yourself up... Yes, that's what I thought.  So, the first thing I want to ask you is NOT to beat yourself up for having beaten yourself up when I now tell you to quit beating yourself up.  Okay?  Okay.

Quit beating yourself up.

In the early nineties, Saturday Night Live began a series of bits called "Daily Affirmations" with Stuart Smalley, played by Al Franken.  (If you want the full history and all the facts you never wanted to know, including that the first episode this appeared on was in 1991 and hosted by Kevin Bacon, feel free to read the Wikipedia article.)

His catch-phrase at the end of it was "Because I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me."

And I admit that I did watch many of these bits "live" (yes, from New York) when they first aired, and I was amused by Stuart.  He is a character that has remained with me since then.  Yes, he is a caricature.

But, nonetheless, we can learn from our friend Stuart. 

My commenter bemoans a point I made in the original post about how we hear the negative things 10x louder than we hear the positive things.  It may perhaps be most true of what we say to (or hear from) ourselves. 

In Pt 1, I wrote:

I know who I am and I am comfortable with who I am. I know I'm not perfect, and I'm happy with that. I know that I am human. I know that I will make mistakes. I know that I will hurt people, even though, for the most part, I try very hard to be supportive and not hurtful. I know that I do the best I can, and I try not to beat myself up too much about the things where I fall short where I want to be, and instead, try to learn from those experiences and do better next time.
It's not the first time in this blog that I have admitted (despite the jokes about collective, etc.) that I am human.  I even have had a tag for it over there on the right - go ahead, when you're done here, click it (I don't remember what comes up, but have fun).  I also have a tag over there for inconsistency.  If you knew me in real life, than at some point, you've heard me say, "I'm wrong.  I've been wrong before, and I'll be wrong again.  That you can count on." 

The first thing you need to do, then, to work on building your own self-esteem is to recognize that NONE of us is perfect.  NONE of us.  Not the Pope, not Mother Theresa, maybe (although this actually feels blasphemous to write) not even the Dalai Lama (although he's damn close!).   Not you.  Not me.  Not your significant other.  Not your parents.  Surely, from what I hear from you guys, not your kids.  Not your teachers.  Not your priests or your bishops.  Not your Rabbis.  (I could try hard to be inclusionary, but let's just pretend I listed every potential religious kind of leader, and move on).  Certainly there are many out there would agree not our politicians, or our political leaders.  Not our friends. 

NONE of us is perfect. 

So tell me something, then, if none of us is perfect, why do *you* expect yourself to BE perfect??  Isn't one of the key ways to achieve success is to begin by setting realistic goals?  (I just made that up, but it sounds good, right?)  So why do you set yourself up for disappointment and failure by expecting yourself to be perfect? 

Accept that you are not perfect, and that you never will be.  Not in your mother's eyes, not in your teacher's eyes, not in your spouse's eyes.  Guess what?  Everyone, including yourself, WILL FIND FAULT with you, because none of us is without fault. 

Wow. That sucks, doesn't it? 

Alright, stay with me now.  Don't curl up into that depressed ball and give up.

That's actually the good news.  Really.  Because if you can TRULY believe that you're not perfect, and that there is fault and all that does is make you JUST LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE, then you can begin to stop being so hurt by these simple truths. 

Now, to be clear, I do not use the fact that I am human to absolve me from blame.  Nope, in fact, you'll remember up there, I said we all have faults, and we are, therefore, sometimes at fault, too.  It's not an excuse to just give up and do nothing, and just go, Oops, well, I'm human, what can you expect?  No.  That's not the message.  

The message is once you shed the basic things that first slow us down when someone "attacks" us or "criticizes" us, or we even beat ourselves up for being imperfect, then we can take time to focus on the true content of what is being said or observed or reflected.  And then figure out whether there's anything we can gain or learn from it.  And I'll talk a little more about that in Pt 3 when I get there.

But next time you find yourself beating yourself up, stop.  Figure out how productive that is.  Figure out why you are upset at yourself.  Are you upset because you're not perfect?  See above and get over it.  You're not alone.  There's no use being upset about something you can't change.

One of my good friends is 4'8". She's short. She knows she's short. She used to teach, and has been mistaken, from behind, of being one of the kids. We frequently make jokes about her being short today, even though she's 75+ years old. And she often participates in the jokes.  What she doesn't do is get upset about it.  You want to know why?  Because she IS short.  And she knows it.  She's accepted that this is part of who she is.  Why be upset about something she can't change about herself?  What purpose does that serve?

So, next time you are being attacked - particularly by yourself - for not being perfect, say, "Yep.  I'm not" and move on.  Don't get stuck here. 

But do move onto Pt 3 which is will address how DO we find something productive in all the noise around us.  how to incorporate this understanding into something positive.  Pt 4 (may) address how to find something productive in all the noise around us.. that's the problem with publishing as you go!! ;)


  1. according to Eva Mendez , perfection is unattainable, and to strive for it makes you boring. I'm perfectly content to be really really interesting.

    1. Sounds like you got it! You can skip Pt 3, then! ;)