You grow up thinking there is something wrong with you. As years go by you develop the endless habit of reminding yourself of your inadequacy. At school and at home you begin to believe that there is something defective in you. The big secret however is that you are not inadequate and there is nothing wrong with you.
The process of socialization teaches us:
Socialization and growing up does not tend to teach us:
So by the time socialization is complete, most of us hold an UNSHAKABLE BELIEF that out only hope of being good and effective in life is to punish ourselves when we are bad. This is what Freud called our superego - our inner mental Judge that punishes us continually for our misdemeanors. We come to believe that without punishment our badness would win out over our goodness. Without constantly criticizing ourselves for our failures we would become slothful, lazy, and deteriorate into the mud of mediocrity.
The thing is: None of this is true! If we were to move from self-punishment and self-rejection to self-encouragement and self-acceptance we would thrive.
To be encouraging and accepting of ourselves we must learn to befriend our glorious imperfection. To realise and accept that in our ordinariness we are most truly human. To be utterly compassionate toward our self, to be tolerant of our inadequacies, and to allow ourselves to be the same as everyone else we take a first giant step towards selflessness. We get a glimpse of what it is like to be free of self-judgement and we begin to flow.
The battering cycle of Domestic Self-Violence, for want of a term, starts with the pressure we place on ourselves to be perfect. This leads to stress which results in coping behaviours such as competing with others, giving ourselves a hard time, trying to motivate ourselves, drinking or overeating, etc. All of this allows us to feel better for a very short time followed by feeling a whole lot worse. This results in our punishing ourselves again for being inadequate, imperfect, or for failing. So what do we do? We decide to be perfect again, to set new standards and start with a clean slate and new goals. And the pressure and stress to be perfect kicks in again. This is a cycle of battering in which we abuse our selves.
Personal development does not begin until these beatings stop. In counseling what people tend to find most helpful is having a time during which you stop battering your self.
To stop battering and punishing yourself takes is as much a spiritual task as it is a psychological one. To become a person who is compassionate toward oneself takes a meditative almost prayerful disposition. In psychology we call it mindfulness. In Buddhism they might call it meditation. In Christianity it is encountering the sacred within.
The only way out of a life of daily irritation with oneself is through the doorway of compassion. The skills and discipline needed to counteract the automatic irritation you feel about your imperfection must be practiced with an open-heart and a determined will. Forget about your Carbon Footprint - What is your Compassion Footprint?
Dr. Colm O'Connor is a Cork Psychologist. You can find more articles by Dr. O'Connor in the Evening Echo every Wednesday.