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What would a day look like for someone who was practicing recognizing self-hate, and once realizing it, made a move towards self-compassion? Hmm. What would that look like…

Let’s see how I do in painting this picture for you –

A Self-compassionate Morning

When we’re in the fight to break anxiety’s hold mornings are often the hardest time of the day. We are running with shields down, given that our brains are in some respects not at full power – we don’t have our full mental abilities instantly at our command.

And that’s a time when our fears can really pounce on us. The self-doubts, the what if thinking, the worry about Flight or Fight reactions, can all bubble to the surface and start pounding on our brains before we’re prepared to do battle with them.

This is a great, great time to start in with some self-compassion practice. The first and possibly most effective thing we can do is simply recognize that we’re doing all this in the first place.

I don’t mean get lost in our fears. I don’t mean a self-abuse party where we berate ourselves for being so weak, or so dumb, or so whatever we’re using to abuse ourselves, BECAUSE we’re fighting fear or wrestling with self-doubt.

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No, I mean take a moment (or 10) and see where we’re losing ourselves in what if thinking. I mean take a moment and see that we’re up in the future, or see that we’re abusing ourselves with self-hatred, or both. An act of compassion towards ourselves is as basic as seeing that we’re failing ourselves with fears of failure and loss – just that much is self-compassion.

Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But in fact it’s huge. Remember that anxious thinking is a habit – and just seeing the habits as they start their tired, tedious routine is a step in the right direction. Even when we don’t feel like we have much strength or ability to do much about the habit in that moment (which can be especially true in the first minutes of waking up for the day) means that we’re starting to disrupt and see through that habit.

Of course we can do more. We can not only call out self-abusive behavior, what if behavior – we can also unpack it. We can identify where we are in the future and actively move away from that thinking, not only seeing it for what it is, useless worry and conjecture, useless speculation about our fears, and practice making it back into what it is – a problem, at most.

Sure, it scares us. Of course it does, given how much energy and focus we’ve poured into it. And what’s a great act of self-compassion? Shutting down that pouring, to whatever extent we’re able to in that moment.

One great way to help that process is to just GET UP. Get our happy feet on the floor and get moving. Yeah, I know how tempting it is to just lie there and pour over our failures, or how unhappy we are, or how happy everyone else seems to be, or how unfair it is that we have to do battle with our fears, or whatever we’re caught up in there in our beds.

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Get up. Engage the day. Remember that fear is a mental process, however much it freaks out Flight or Fight and starts physical and emotional reactions. Just the act of engaging our world – taking a shower, making some breakfast, walking the dog, walking ourselves, engaging in some small piece of work – is an act of compassion towards ourselves.

A Compassionate Day

OK. We’re up, we’re semi-clean, we have had our Wheaties – what else can we do to disrupt self-hate, what if thinking, and practice compassion towards ourselves? How about some active blocking of self-hate habit thinking?

One habit we can develop, overwriting older habits of self-reproach, self-anger, self-hurt, is to practice stopping self-hating behaviors. (See the last several posts for the specifics.) Are we calling ourselves idiots as we drive to work? Are we berating ourselves for yesterday’s failures, mistakes or flubs? Are we anticipating all the ways we’ll screw up the day?

Stop. Practicing stopping. This is active self-compassion. Of course it isn’t that easy at the start, and we’ll make it hard for ourselves more often than not. That’s alright. Practice anyway. You don’t need to be whipped, verbally or any other way. You need to figure out what is actually useful in addressing those past failures or potential future mistakes.

And self-abuse isn’t useful. Something that might be useful is to start looking at what is working – where we’re doing productive things, doing things with some skill and ability. We can also start giving ourselves some credit for effort, knowing that skill takes time to develop and strengthen.

Are we bringing in some income? Hey, nice work. Are we getting some tasks done? Excellent. Have we assisted another person today? Well done. Have we stopped, even for a few moments, the stream of angry, frightened self-talk that too often fills our thinking? Kudos – you’re moving in the right direction.

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When we are caught up in self-hating habits ANY kindness to ourselves is a good move, a brilliant move. It’s remarkable what even a few efforts of recognizing and blocking self-hating routines can do for our energy and self-esteem.

Of course the habits push back. It’s useful to remember that we started these habits because we thought they were helping us – keeping us safe, helping us toe the line, not get in trouble or bring down disaster on ourselves in the worlds we learned them in the first place. They won’t just go quietly. They will fight, and we will fight to keep them.

A Compassionate Evening

The end of the day can be a prime time for self-hate to come out and dance around our heads. We’re tired, we’re probably facing down some challenges or what if fears that have been lurking to pounce on us when we dropped our guard – it can easily be a time of self-hating habit routines to power up.

One effective question we can ask is how can we practice some self-care, right now, for ourselves? We who wrestle with self-hate and anxiety can be prone to “never standing down” – never really ending the work day, never really punching our mental timecard and calling it enough for now.

Recognition and blocking are both tools we can employ. And we can up our self-compassion game by also surrendering our special status view of ourselves – i.e., that we can work 20 hours a day, that we must make sure everyone else around us is happy before we can even think of taking a break, or that serious people would work until they couldn’t keep their eyes open.

We can practice self-compassion by actively practicing allowing ourselves to be HUMAN. Humans rest when they are tired. They take time off. They yak with friends, watch silly TV shows, take a bubble-bath, harass the dog, make cookies.

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Self-hating, as I keep saying, is a mental habit. I use the word disruption a lot in this anxiety work. Too often we’re racing down mental grooves we established (with help) long years ago. Part of this work is bumping up out of those grooves, deliberately messing up the old routines so we can establish new ones.

Self-hate is a kind of internal slave-driver. We’re never enough. We never do enough. We are never good enough. Self-hate is at the most basic level the voice of our fears, telling us to try harder, fix everything, make sure we never make mistakes, so we can avoid the terrible futures we predict in our fearful thinking.

Anything that gets us off that hamster wheel is a good move if it disrupts, disputes, moves away from and/or shuts down that thinking. It’s legal, it’s healthy, it’s self-caring, it is active self-compassion.

We won’t stop Self-hatred by Wishing

This dismantling self-hatred work I’ve been addressing these last seven blog posts doesn’t just happen. It takes a lot of work. It means getting feisty with our own thinking, not just rolling over and playing dead when it yells at us, but standing up and demanding different thinking, different ways of treating ourselves and thinking about our world.

To fight anxiety is to, by definition, deal with self-hatred in some flavor or flavors. Truly self-compassionate people are not lost in anxiety. (That isn’t your cue, by the way, to then beat yourself up because you SUCK, because YOU are such a loser that you fight self-hatred and anxiety.) 🙂

I recommend T.I. Rubin’s book “Compassion and Self-hatred.” And if you’re more of a conversation person you can reach out to me – I’m always happy to have a discussion about the work of breaking the nasty habit of self-hatred.

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Self-compassion. That’s been the goal of the last 5 blog posts – a discussion of what a life lived in self-hate looks like, and how self-compassion might look. To do that effectively we have to understand first where we’re practicing self-hate – see the shape and size of that practice.

With that understanding let’s get our arms around what compassion towards ourselves means in a daily way.

What we need to shut down Self-Hate

TI Rubin (I’ve been referencing him and his book Compassion and Self-Hate as the primary source for these last few blog posts) says we have three weapons we need to employ in the diminishing of self-hate and the encouragement of self-love:

Recognition
Blocking
Surrendering Special Status

As I mentioned in my last post step one is seeing that we are doing self-hate in the first place. Self-hate doesn’t carry a sign around that says “hey, notice me! I’m self-hate!” Self-hate runs in the background of our thinking and behavior.

Worse, it comes to seem and feel like it’s vital, crucial, the only thing that’s keeping us from disaster (self-hating self-regulation. So step one is just identifying where and how we’re doing self-hating behavior- recognition.

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Here’s an example of self-hating behavior: invariably defaulting to what anyone and everyone else wants, rather than actually checking with ourselves first to see what we need and want. I know, it sounds like what a saint would do. (More about sainthood later.) But it isn’t.

How could it be? Do your wants and needs really NEVER matter? Are you never entitled to want something or need something that runs counter to what someone else wants or even needs? Of course your needs and wants matter. And of course you’re entitled to express them and even ask for them.

But you’re not there yet. It’s too scary! So start by at least seeing that by shutting those down you’re practicing self-hatred – that’s a great first step.

Don’t want to watch the grandkids this weekend? Really just want to stay home and make salad? Don’t feel like visiting your tedious in-laws? Do really want to spend time at the beach? Guess what? You can at least see that you’re shutting those down automatically, disregarding what you want, rather than pretend that you DON’T want those things. That’s recognition.

And when that self-critical internal voice starts shouting about how selfish and how cruel and how uncaring you are then you’re experiencing self-hate. BECAUSE THERE ISN’T ONE THING THAT’S SELFISH OR CRUEL OR UNCARING ABOUT YOUR WANTS OR NEEDS. (Unless you’re planning to sell guns in Africa – then I have concerns.) 🙂

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When we see that we are free to, at the very least, have our own wants and needs (and the freedom to listen to them, at least take them into account!) then we’re recognizing self-hate as the voice that says we’re selfish pigs to even consider what we want.

Here’s another example: when we encourage and nurture relationships that are less than healthy ones we are practicing self-hate. You know the relationships I’m talking about – the people that suck us dry, put us down, put us last on their priority list, constantly criticize us, take advantage of us and then cheerfully make us feel bad when we try to push back.

You know these people! This is the sister who can’t find anything good to say about you. (Yes – I said sister. Family who we allow to treat us poorly don’t get special status because they are family.) This is the boyfriend or girlfriend (or husband or wife) that refuses to negotiate and has to have everything their way.

This is the co-worker who takes shameless advantage of you. This is the friend who only calls when they need something, and otherwise has no time for us. This is the teenager who eats your food, makes a mess of the house, refuses to get a job and then tells you what a terrible parent you are because you won’t let them do whatever they want.

(Any of these people sound familiar?)

That’s self-hate too. SEEING that for what it is, just doing that one small thing, is a big first step towards a practice of compassion for ourselves. Being able to be honest with ourselves about doing self-hating behavior is fiercely useful in disrupting the habit of self-hate.

Blocking

No, I don’t mean a body tackle – although it might be helpful sometimes if somebody showed up and hip-checked us in mid-self-hate. I mean that we, having recognized self-hating behavior, make an immediate move to stop it, shut it down.

Let’s go back to not acknowledging that we have any needs or wants. Want to block that self-hating practice? Acknowledge those needs and wants. Just that simple step is giant. Notice I haven’t even said yet ACT on those needs and wants. I’m just saying tip your hat to those needs and wants – treat them as important, something to respect.

Hey, you can go a step further. You can SAY OUT LOUD those needs and wants. (I know, crazy, right?) I’m STILL not insisting that you have to demand your way. I’m saying allow your own thinking to get out into the world, gently affirming your right to HAVE needs and wants.

(And, of course, if you’re in a situation where such verbalizing and boundary-drawing puts you at physical risk, well, that’s self-hate too, isn’t it? You may not be able to safely say and feel what you want. Which just means you get to practice scary self-care by getting the hell out of that situation – thoughtfully, strategically, keeping yourself safe but slowly moving towards compassion towards yourself by making a way to get free.)

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Or let’s say we’re talking about those life leeches I was talking about earlier, those people who take shameless advantage of us? Seeing them for what they are is step 1. Step 2 is disengaging those people from our daily routines.

Of course anxiety will rear its ugly head the moment we start even thinking about doing that. We will have thoughts surface like if I get away from this person I’ll be totally alone, or they’ll hate me, or maybe I deserve to have people like this in my life. Ugh.

7 billion people in the world – you’ll find other friends. It may not FEEL that way right now, but trust me – there’s a lot of humans running around on the planet at the moment. The real problem isn’t that you won’t be able to find new people in your life. The real issue is that we’re scared of actually standing up to self-hate, risking another’s anger and frustration.

And as far as them hating you – well, you don’t know that, do you? Maybe you’ll push back and they’ll wake up. Maybe you’ll push back and they’ll take off. But their reaction doesn’t really matter at the moment, does it? This is about you – and doesn’t that sound crazy? Something actually being about you? 🙂

Quick note: using self-hate to try to block self-hating behavior isn’t so useful. You know what I mean. This is when we say “what the hell is wrong with you! You’re an idiot for hating yourself! Cut that crap out right now! Don’t be so stupid!” And useful words like that…

Don’t use self-hate to block self-hate. In this case fighting fire with fire isn’t cool. By all means get a little impatient. Don’t be afraid to use some gentle sarcasm to poke fun at the rules and iron bars of self-hatred. But keep compassion for self at the front of your thinking.

Practicing very basic self-love on YOU is really as simple as first recognizing when we do self-hate, and then stopping that self-hate in its tracks. Recognition, then blocking. The third immediate tool we have in our arsenal is surrendering our special status in our own thinking. What in the hell does that mean?

Our Special Status isn’t so Special

It’s simple, really: when we accord ourselves special status we are, usually unconsciously, working to see ourselves as more than human. This is back to those impossible standards and sainthood status issues I’ve mentioned earlier in these posts.

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It might be said that all self-hatred comes down to expecting ourselves to have special status, more than human or even superhuman status in our own thinking. What are some examples of special status thinking?

Anything that demands in our thinking or behavior that we NOT be human is special status. That includes anything that demands perfection of us. If we believe that we can never, ever be angry with anyone we are according special status to ourselves.

Because, you see, humans get angry. That doesn’t mean they pull out an Uzi and hose the room down – yikes. (Weirdly enough we CAN’T get to that situation, that terribly over-reactive, destructive reaction to anger, if we ALLOW ourselves to be human enough to BE ANGRY in the first place.)

No, it simply means that anger is part of being human, being alive. If we think we can never, ever be angry with anyone then we are fooling ourselves, according ourselves special status, and we’re tilling the ground for self-hate.

Here’s another one: we must be everybody’s friend. We’re friendly people, right? Well, not just friendly people – we’re ALWAYS friendly. We’re never NOT friendly. Yup, that’s us, the world’s friendliest person. NOBODY can say that we are not friendly!

Except that’s not human. It’s utterly unreal. It is an expectation that we cannot meet! Oh, I know some of you are squirming in your chairs as you read this special status stuff. I get it. Self-hate generates a lot of anxiety around this discussion. There is risk, we believe, in actually allowing ourselves to be just human, just an ordinary person, capable of not being friendly all the time…

But we’re NOT friend all the time. Of course we’re not. Sometimes we’re really tired, or very hungry, or we’re just on people overload – we need to be left alone. That’s being human.

Again, I’m not saying we have to be jerks when we don’t feel particularly friendly. I’m saying that we’re allowed to not be Friendly Sam all the time. I’m saying it’s legal to 1) see that we’re being self-hating by insisting that we must be friendly all the time, 2) actually acknowledging that we don’t feel particularly friendly at the moment and 3) disabuse ourselves of the notion that we are somehow above the rest of the human race with our amazing, perfect friendliness. 🙂

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We are not saints. We may call someone a saint, but nobody is a saint – not all the time. Maybe that’s a better way to apply this badly-abused term – that we have saintly moments in our lives. But we don’t live our lives as saints.

Even the notion that we’re according to ourselves special status might come as a shock to some of us. We wouldn’t label, consciously, ourselves as striving for sainthood. But if we’re practicing self-hate then it’s a given that we’re striving for a special, unreal, inhuman status in our lives.

We need to have Compassion for Ourselves

Sometimes when I have this discussion with folks I get back a thoughtful “well, yeah, sure, that makes sense. But you know, Erik, I really do never get angry/really don’t have any preferences about what to do with my day/always am friendly/you name it.”

And many times those lovely, well-intentioned people believe what they are saying – at least on the surface. But the truth is they are deceiving themselves. Sure they are. They are terrified of actually having normal, human reactions, emotions, thoughts. It feels very, very dangerous to them, and was trained into them very early in their lives.

We are human. Any really, any step we take towards disrupting self-hating thinking and behavior is a dang good one – starting with being honest about our own humanity.

The world will not end if we have an honest, human emotional reaction to it. The universe will not implode if we decide we don’t really want to make dinner tonight, or we really do want to watch that sappy romantic comedy (over the protests of our spouse or partner), or we feel a little blue and just want to sit in a chair and watch the world go by for a few minutes.

There is an enormous power, strength and healing in this allowing ourselves to be human. We will discover that we have been expending GIGANTIC amounts of energy in the direction of self-hate, and that energy starts to get freed up, starts coming back to us. It is a remarkable experience.

Every time we decide that we matter, that other people can for the most part take care of themselves, that our wants and needs are at least as important as the people around us and that we are allowed to be human we are practicing compassion towards ourselves. And it is very, very good for us and for the world we live in.

Next up, the last blog post (for a while) about Compassion and Self-Hate.

The last couple of posts have not been made of fairy dust and rainbows. We’re talking about pretty serious stuff – this stuff called self-hate. When I first read Rubin’s book Compassion and Self-Hate it largely freaked me out.

It freaked me out because it was very, very close to home. I recognized a terrible number of self-hating behaviors I was doing, all unawares, to myself. It freaked me out because I didn’t realize just how wide-spread self-hating was IN ME – in my thinking, in how I treated myself, in how I reacted to other people.

But it was exactly what I needed. Sometimes, on this road to breaking the power of anxiety, we HAVE to get freaked out. Facing down fear, identifying the thinking that made us sick with anxiety in the first place, can mean that we have to look squarely at our fears – sit with our fears – before we can do much about them.

That isn’t easy. Lots of people don’t do it. It FEELS safer to run away, hide from our fears. And it FEELS very dangerous sometimes to turn and face our fears.

These blog posts – all the ones with the title “The Vital Importance of Self-Love” are about tools to help identify the primary cause of anxiety – one form or another of self-hatred.

I’ve been talking about what Rubin calls direct forms of self-hatred – chronic self-abuse (mental, physical, emotional), destructive relationships, savage self-criticism, etc. Today’s post is a brief (and by no means comprehensive) discussion of the indirect ways we practice self-hatred.

Understanding both is necessary in our quest to get clear on the thinking that scares us, the behaviors that keep us locked in anxiety, and in changing that thinking and those behaviors. Let’s wade in…

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Indirect self-hate

Indirect Self-Hate can be summarized with 2 basic elements:

Illusions (of one kind or another)
Impossible Standards

Illusions. Illusions, when they are part of story-telling or movie-making, can be brilliant things. They can add reality and dimension, making unreal things look real. That’s outstanding if you’re watching a Star Wars classic. It isn’t, however, so useful when it comes to living life in a healthy and nurturing fashion…

To talk in a helpful way about illusion we first have to get clear WHY in the first place we started generating illusions about life. Illusions serve as self-comforting, self-protective shields in the face of a life or set of experiences that are punishing, even intolerable (especially when we are young, and first learning to deal with the world.)

Illusions buffer us from our world. In the learning about how to cope with the world and other people in the world – the reason self-hate comes into existence in the first place – we can learn that the world is confusing, irrational, unsafe, dangerous, very, very risky. Illusion can give us some breathing room to cope with that pressure and fear.

From that perspective it might be argued that illusion can serve a useful purpose. I won’t argue with that – at least at the beginning. The problem comes when we get to adulthood, get away (hopefully) from that terrible context/situation, and go live in the world ourselves.

So understand that we didn’t set OUT to generate and live in illusions – we did it because we needed some mental and emotional distance from the situation we were in at the time.

Kinds of Illusion

What kind of illusions are we talking about? Let’s start with the illusions we weave around ourselves. One illusion is that we are dependent people – that we can’t take care of ourselves. Weirdly enough this illusion can provide a feeling of safety. We default to other people in the having to manage the world thing, while we retreat behind our helplessness and supposed inability to cope.

This keeps us from taking responsibility for facing our fears – and embracing our dreams. Another illusion that we create for ourselves is that we only exist to make other people happy. Our whole mission in life is to take care of parents, children, husbands or wives, sick friends, our patients, our fellow church attenders – whatever we’ve decided is our sole life focus.

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And this illusion can lead to other illusions. Illusions like we’re nobody, really, except humble helpers, mere servants. And this can quickly turn into being a martyr, a kind of saint, always kind, always happy, never angry… etc.

Ugh! This isn’t human! We’re not dependent children. We don’t only exist to make other people happy. We are not martyrs or saints. We’re HUMAN. We care for other people – but we must also care for ourselves. We are selfless sometimes – and self-caring (at least we need to be) other times. We need help, sometimes – and other times we’re just fine and can manage ourselves, thank you.

When we feed and buy into these illusions of self we’re setting ourselves up and we’re deceiving ourselves. We’re hiding from the world, when what we desperately need (and secretly want) is to engage the world, be in the world.

We do this with other people as well. We make people in our lives perfect – perfectly wise, perfectly innocent, perfectly capable, perfectly intelligent, etc. We put people on pedestals, make them larger than life, generate illusions about them. We make them into saints, make them our safe person, make them our savior.

The Dangers of Illusion

Illusions about ourselves and illusions about other people are, strangely enough, indirect forms of self-hatred. Anything, ANYTHING that gets in the way of honest, clean thinking about ourselves and life is an effort to avoid LIVING life as it actually is – and shuts down the paths to the way CAN BE if we’re engaging in our lives instead of running away from them.

What are some of YOUR illusions? Walk carefully here – these can be world-shaking. You might want to edge up on these, and expect some real Comfort Zone push-back. Our illusions are very dear to us, and they often make us feel safe…

It can be very troubling to start to see the world clearly. I had a moment back in the throes of my climbing out of anxiety (and it was a moment that pivotal in my getting free) when I was taking a shower one morning, and realized (after some conversations in the same direct as this blog post with my therapist) that I had been harboring an illusion.

Here was the illusion: I had told myself for a very long time that other people had great, happy, interesting lives, but it was my lot to live a boring, ordinary, sad little life. Other people got to do interesting work, other people had great weekends filled with friends and adventures – but not me.

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As the shower ran I suddenly had the notion that maybe, just maybe, that was crap. Maybe I had been telling myself this story to protect myself from a life I didn’t want but couldn’t see a way out of, starting as a very young teenager. I had woven this story to keep me from this simple truth: it was up to me to make the life I wanted.

That was scary as hell to me, in that moment. I think that notion had scared me for a long, long time. But on the chilly April morning in Reno in 1995 I found myself frozen in place, my illusion gone. It was up to me. I didn’t know how I’d do it – not then – but that was what was real. I was so shaken, and the thought was so new, that I stood in that shower until the water ran cold.

(I HATE cold showers, btw.)

I finally got out of the shower, but my world was larger and much more connected to reality. And understanding that I had been spinning a story to myself about why I couldn’t get to what I wanted helped me start moving in the direction of the life I wanted. I was scared – but I had also shut down an important piece of self-hating.

Impossible Standards/Unrealistic Expectations

Don’t get me started on this… one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life was when my therapist confronted me on my personal rules for living. When I faced into this exercise and discovered to my horror that I was neck-deep in rules I also learned something else: an enormous number of my life rules were set to impossible standards.

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One rule I had was “never put myself before other people’s needs.” It was bad enough that I didn’t even I was carting this rule around, but it was even more crazy-making to begin to understand that it was literally impossible to fulfill. Never put myself before other people? What if those other people are taking shameless advantage of me? What if what they are doing is damaging or hurting me in some obvious way?

Make no mistake – I tried to meet this standard. And while trying I had the life sucked out of me. I was famous for my giving, caring attitude – and I was in private angry, bitter and exhausted. Erik the Giver was also Erik the Angry – and more importantly, Erik the Afraid. I was afraid of failing that standard, even as I berated myself and beat myself up for not meeting my own standards.

And perhaps most importantly of all, what kind of self-love, self-care, self-compassion can I exercise if I’m ALWAYS putting my needs behind everyone else? Yeah, this is self-hate too. To care for other people, go out of our way for other people, go the extra mile for someone else, that’s all legal – sometimes. But always? Every time? No.

And yes, I know there are people who are reading this exact post and getting scratchy at the notion that they might actually come first sometimes. Sure that makes us scratchy. We learned these rules in an effort to get along in our worlds – literally, for the most part, to keep us safe. This doesn’t feel safe.

Sure, that makes sense. But the feeling doesn’t make it so. And if we were actually at risk for once in a while considering our needs first, maybe it’s time for a change of scenery?

Any standard that sets the bar too high is doomed to fail. And dooming ourselves to fail is an act of self-hatred. No, we didn’t (for the most part) set out to hurt ourselves. But hurting ourselves is something we’re doing if we’re trying to sustain impossible standards.

Maybe the place to firmly plant our flag is the word “impossible.” None of us are idiots. We know when something is merely hard, or challenging, as opposed to when something is impossible to achieve. Let’s agree that when we set impossible standards for ourselves we are setting ourselves up to fail.

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Self-care demands that we moderate our standards to human levels, things that we can actually achieve. To (yes, I know, this sounds crazy) lower our standards into the realm of humanity is to perform an act of self-love.

What are some of YOUR impossible standards? Where are you not meeting your own out-of-control expectations?

Enough with the Self-Hate Stuff!

OK. In the last 3 blog posts I’ve listed out what Dr. Rubin calls direct and indirect forms of self-hate. It isn’t a lot of fun, this discussion of self-hate, but it’s very useful in helping us get some clarity on where in our lives we’re running these automatic programs of thinking and behavior that are in truth hurting us.

As I did at the end of my last post I strongly encourage you to look at the places in your life where you are engaged in self-hating behaviors. I encourage you to do that in pieces. I encourage you to seek out help – a coach or therapist. This self-hating stuff can rock our worlds. I encourage you to journal what you discover, and use that journal to help you figure out where you’re shutting yourself down in an effort to be safe, get it right, not get in trouble – where you are practicing self-hate.

Next up – we’re finally on to the good stuff – compassion.

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Grace. Pretty interesting word. We don’t hear it much these days, except maybe in the way the word means to act or move with a certain style, ease and class. And while that’s one meaning of the word there is another that is something crucial to our fight with anxiety.

Before I launch into this discussion let me give credit where it is due. I’m lifting this idea from a great thinker around fear/anxiety, a guy named T.I. (Theodore Isaac) Rubin. Dr. Rubin wrote a brilliant book called “Compassion and Self-Hate”, and I can’t recommend it enough to you my blog readers.

The idea is this: to find health, peace and the power to overcome anxiety in our thinking we MUST establish a state of grace with ourselves in our own thinking. In other words we have to allow for our own humanness, our own limits, capacities, strengths and weaknesses, or risk continuing to feed and strengthen anxiety in our lives. We have to learn to forgive ourselves for our failings, respect our very real abilities and be willing accept ourselves AS ourselves.

(In case you’re wondering, yes, this post continues the discussion I’ve been having here about the power of words and thinking to strengthen or weaken our fight with anxiety…)

Internal Critic 5

What We Think We SHOULD be Able to Be/Do…

I have said it before here in the blog – anxiety fighters are very, very hard on themselves. We are stern, unforgiving parents to our own soul, and we have incredibly high, even impossible standards that we hold ourselves to in our lives.

Much of that sternness comes from the sense that we HAVE to be hard on ourselves in order to live right, or be good enough, or however we frame it in our thinking. We learn to think along the way that if we’re not constantly evaluating ourselves in that harsh, unforgiving light we learn to cast on our thinking and actions that we’ll make terrible mistakes, or worse, other people will evaluate us and find us less than perfect…

This doesn’t occur in a vacuum – we learn to be this way for specific reasons. We learn this from our family, from our friends, from our community, from our church (I’m sorry to say), from our co-workers, and eventually we learn to enforce this all by ourselves in ourselves.

I was no exception to this rule. I have written before in this blog about some of the rules I acquired for myself and how hard I drove myself to meet all of those rules. And somewhere along the way I developed the crazy notion that it was right and good to forgive anyone and everyone for their various failings (including towards me) but that I should never, ever forgive myself…

Thinking about fear 2

Standards Are One Thing – Self Abuse is Another

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that having standards for ourselves is necessarily a bad thing. It can be a GREAT thing to hold ourselves to what we believe in. But that is worlds away from 1) literally impossible standards that no real person can maintain forever and 2) trashing ourselves when we fail at meeting those impossible standards.

Here’s a classic you might recognize: I developed the belief in my thinking that I was supposed to read other people’s moods and needs perfectly, and that I should do my very, very best to accommodate those needs and moods. If I somehow failed to do that then I was the bad guy, I was the one who had failed, and I was savagely hard on myself for that failure. And when I say hard I mean MEAN. I would yell at myself, get very grumpy with myself and other people, berate myself, punish myself with accusations and put-downs –

All in some effort to get myself to “fly right”, somehow get better at reading people’s feelings and needs, do it perfectly next time. What in the hell? I wasn’t just shooting for “right” – I was shooting for impossible. And my efforts were doomed from the start.

Nobody is perfect. Nobody gets it right all the time. Nobody NEVER fails. Nobody has the capacity to follow ALL the rules we stack up in our heads ALL the time. To make matters worse we burn tons and tons of energy trying, on top of the energy we’re burning fight back anxiety, and just making it through the day – is it any wonder that we’re so tired and frustrated?

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Give Yourself A Break

Recommendations:

1) For the love of Mike, examine the language you use when you talk to yourself. You probably work pretty hard to be kind, caring, compassionate towards other people most of the time. That should apply to YOU too. That’s easier said than done, because, as I mentioned earlier, most of us learned the mistaken belief that being hard on ourselves would somehow make us better at being perfect…

So – no more trashing yourself, no more calling yourself names, no more self-berating for your mistakes. Forgive yourself. I KNOW this isn’t easy. This is really part of the skill I call out as self-care in the fight to overcome anxiety. It takes practice, self-awareness and time.

2) Start seeing yourself as HUMAN. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you won’t master the small handful of skills you need to be free of anxiety in one session either. You can’t do everything at once. You won’t always deliver the perfect meal or be the perfect wife or husband or parent of friend. You will have tired, grumpy, crappy days.

The more we can embrace our normal humanness the more we can start to get away from that perfection thinking, and start really caring for ourselves. It is OK, more than OK, essential, to allow ourselves to be human. Better and worse, up and down, strong and weak, decisive and waffling, hopeful and despairing, full of feelings, slow to learn sometimes – all part of the game.

3) Self-care as one of the four skills to overcome anxiety isn’t in there because I it made a nice round number – self-care is ESSENTIAL if we’re going to overcome anxiety. And that means you have to start taking care of yourself! Take breaks, do things that interest you, actually consider your own interests and desires as LEAST as important as the folks around you…

That’s all self-care. So is facing into our fears of body and mind even when it is easier or less scary to not do so. So is asking for help when we need it. Doesn’t mean we’re guaranteed to get it, but we can still ask! We don’t have to do all of this alone –

Finally, self-care is also just HAVING FUN. Do something you ENJOY. Anxiety is such a joy-sucker. We need, maybe harder than almost anyone else, to go out of our way to be entertained, diverted, amused, distracted sometimes. It’s legal! So sometimes you just need to lie on that couch and be a slug! Sometimes trashy romance novels or watching Castle or making cookies (save some for me!) is exactly the right thing to do.

Not every moment has to be productive. Not every moment has to be work driving towards a goal.

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Grace – It Starts With Us

So if you’re busy yelling at yourself for being less than perfect, knock it off! 🙂 It’s time to show yourself a little grace, a little (or a LOT) of compassion, a little kindness. You (and all anxiety-fighters) are terribly hard workers (I can already hear you dismissing that!) and it’s time you turned some of that energy, in a gracious, kind way, towards yourself.

Next up – more about the language we use to talk to ourselves…

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