You’ve probably heard the cliché phrase, “We all make mistakes.” You may have been hearing it all your life. Maybe you’ve even said it yourself. But why is it that when YOU make a mistake, no matter how big or small, you have a hard time forgiving yourself or getting over it?
Is it possible you set higher expectations for yourself than you do for others? Maybe you still carry noises in your head from earlier years, perhaps from parents or caregivers who were critical. Or maybe you’re stuck on the notion that every action or choice you make is good or bad, life or death, black or white. As a result, when YOU don’t meet your own expectations, you mentally whack yourself with brutal criticism you’d never even consider whispering to someone else.
Why Are We Harder on Ourselves?
As a therapist, I hear all kinds of stories from people who think their mistakes are worse than ones made by others. The frequency of these stories tells me a lot of people are coming to therapy with feelings of failure or disappointment in themselves. But where’s the rule book that says you have to get it right every time or that you’re not allowed bungles or missteps or to make genuine, heart-achy, even embarrassing mistakes? I don’t believe such a rule exists, and neither should you.
If you’re one of the people I just described, the following tips will help you be kinder to yourself. You—yes, you—deserve that!
1. Don’t get stuck. Staying stuck on that terrible thing you did doesn’t fix it, nor does it make you a better person. Making a decision to do things differently in the future makes you a better person.
2. Remember you’re making progress. Whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re always making some level of progress in your life. Being human demands we grow and change with the experiences and information we gather. Accept each lesson, and try to be grateful you’ve got another one under your cap.
3. It’s okay to have high standards. Remember, going easy on yourself doesn’t mean you’re letting yourself off the hook. Go ahead and have high standards. But at the same time, accept that you’re going to mess up despite your standards. It’s what humans do.
4. Consider the intention. Ask yourself this: What is the purpose of that critical voice inside you? Will it help? Will it right a wrong or keep you from ever making that mistake again? If not, stop it now.
5. Think about what you’d say to someone else. If your best friend was in a similar situation and came to you, how would you respond? Can you imagine offering the same compassion to yourself? Write it down and practice using kind messages with yourself.
6. Change your inner tune. Try changing the self-talk that says you should feel ashamed, humiliated, or punished. Instead, tell yourself, “I am a person who is kind—even to myself.” Post this on your fridge or somewhere you will see it every day.
7. Take a moment to be gentle with yourself. Take a deep breath and imagine wrapping your own arms around yourself in a sweet, comforting hug.
The next time you mess up, keep these tips in mind. They can help you soften the mean voice in your head. Cut yourself some slack. No matter who you are or what you’ve done, being gentle with yourself will help you feel more grounded and confident. That will help you be the better person you want to be.
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