I’ve been wanting to write about this subject for a couple of weeks now. It seems fitting that life has had plans for me other than writing over these last few weeks, since this topic delves into being “hard on yourself”. Like so many, I find it challenging to balance all the things that I want to do with the things I must do. And sometimes the word “should” becomes an ever-present part of my inner monologue. So my last blog post was nearly two weeks ago and I got the opportunity to practice being okay with not writing during that time.
Being “hard on yourself” seems to be at epidemic proportions these days. I talk to so many people every day who have mostly negative things to say about themselves. This includes clients, colleagues, friends, and family. We encounter numerous “shoulds” and “shouldn’t haves” throughout every day. It’s a wonder any of us can function at all! The funny thing about self-blame, even when you have truly made a mistake, is that it tends to paralyze us. Or worse, make us more likely to do the things we are trying to avoid. Adding to our already hefty stockpile of negative self-statements only serves to keep us stuck in the same old unhealthy patterns. While mental health therapy often explores & seeks to correct these patterns, yoga does as well.
There are two branches of yoga that speak to the ways we treat ourselves and others: the yamas and niyamas. In fact, these moral and ethical concepts are intended to be studied before one ever practices their first yoga pose. Yamas are universal guidelines for interacting with others and are sometimes referred to as the “Don’ts” of yoga, while the niyamas govern how we interact with ourselves and are seen as the “Do’s”. There are five of each, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and they remind us to think, speak, and behave in ways consistent with our Highest Self. One yama that prompts us to be kind to ourselves and others is ahimsa, or non-violence. You might initially think of non-violence in terms of behavior, but like so many aspects of yoga, it is a concept that also extends to our more subtle sides. We can be violent (or non-violent) in our thoughts and words, as well. Self-blame is one such form of subtle violence toward the Self.
Self-blame is a common contributor to feelings of excessive worry and sadness, two emotions that walk hand-in-hand… Worry may make us put more pressure on ourselves, then when that pressure can’t be sustained, we may feel overwhelmed and begin to isolate ourselves, leading to sadness & loneliness. I see the opposite of self-blame as self-acceptance. Opening your arms wide to embrace all your fears and foibles. What have you said or done this week that you are “beating yourself up” for? Try taking a more compassionate approach to your Self. Identify whether your negative judgment of your Self is accurate or inaccurate. If accurate, think about how you might correct the mistake or do things differently in the future. If inaccurate, identify a self-honoring statement to replace the negative. And remember, just because a thought is accurate does not mean it is helpful to you. In the case of an accurate, but unhelpful judgment, consider adjusting your thoughts to ones that promote self-compassion. This will undoubtedly advance your self-growth far more than any self-blame ever could.
Stay mindful and be well!