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Be good to yourself, they say - Tactical Ninja

Mar. 31st, 2016

11:31 am - Be good to yourself, they say

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I was asked the other day why I'm so hard on myself, and it's got me thinking about what  being hard on yourself actually means.


When I was a kid, I was a little shit.  I was a brainy kid with big emotions that I didn't know how to handle. I was prone to tantrums that arose mainly from frustration - the frustration of not being able to shape the world to the way I thought it should be, whatever that meant to my tiny brain.

My folks spent a lot of time training me to control my emotions - nobody likes a kid who has tantrums, nobody likes a kid who sulks.  Nobody likes a kid who's so giddy happy and confident that they back-talk teachers and distract the other kids either.  Basically, nobody likes a kid who does any of the things that my emotions led to if I let myself express them as I felt them.

Nobody likes a brainy British kid either, but nobody told me that one, I worked it out for myself.

Anyway, if I ever wanted anyone to like me I had to learn to control my emotions.  It didn't mean I stopped feeling them, just that I stopped expressing them, because I wanted people to like me.  It worked. It continues to work.  I still want to have tantrums when I'm frustrated, sulk when I'm depressed, give cheek to people in authority, and change the world to suit myself - I just keep that side of myself sternly under control because if I didn't, I'd have no friends.

So there's this thing where we're supposed to be nice to ourselves, to treat ourselves the way we'd treat our best friend, be gentle with ourselves, etc.  It's supposed to be part of self-love.

But the thing is, if I weren't so self-disciplined, I'd be an arsehole.  I am not a gentle person - I'm naturally aggressive and have to discipline those tendencies in order to interact socially without alienating people.  So being nice to myself in that respect is not doing myself any favours, it's more likely to lead to long term hurt than to long term happiness.

Another example - I really like ice cream and fish and chips and would happily live on them - except doing that would do things to my body that are not actually good for me. So in order to be nice to myself (by staying healthy) I have to be hard on myself (by not allowing myself the things I want).

There's probably a whole lot of stuff in there about my admittedly fucked-up relationship with food and why I don't see eating healthy as a treat in the same way I do ice cream, but there you have it.

I'm also not particularly compassionate.  While I have empathy, that's not the same thing. Empathy is feeling other people's feelings, kind of catching emotions like catching a virus.  Compassion is being able to see things from another person's perspective *and assign value to that perspective*.  I know it's a good thing to be compassionate, but compassion doesn't come naturally to me.  When I hear someone's had something unfortunate happen to them, I have to think about what that must feel like and carefully formulate an appropriate response. Other people seem to make this leap intuitively but for me, it's a series of steps to appropriate behaviour rather than something that just happens, and I've learned this through observing how other people do it.

To be honest it could be that everyone's going through this series of steps, I have no way of knowing - but it seems to me that some people just automatically respond with compassion but I have to go through the equivalent of 'stop, drop and roll' to get there..  In order to do this I have to nurture the voice in my head that admonishes me to behave in certain ways and not others.

The voice that tells me to do these things is the same one that's hard on me.  It explains honest truths to me in pragmatic terms that I understand even when in the grips of emotions that I struggle to control.  It persuades me that the spinach is better than the ice cream because it's a better way of getting a fit healthy body, that being calm instead of having a tantrum will be better for maintaining my social support structure, and that getting off the floor and trying again is better than giving up because I want to be able to do XYZ.

That voice is how I've managed to achieve so many things that are supposedly really hard -  being the first in my family to get a degree, earning a living shearing sheep, getting results in drug reform, being able to military press my own bodyweight at 45.  Every single one of these things is a direct result of a voice in my head that says:

IF YOU WANT THE WORLD YOU LIVE IN TO BE A CERTAIN WAY, YOU HAVE TO DO CERTAIN THINGS. SOME OF THOSE THINGS ARE HARD ON YOU BUT IT'S EITHER BE NICE TO YOURSELF OR ACHIEVE THIS THING. YOU CHOOSE.

I'm pretty sure that voice is called Drive.



So yeah, basically, if I wasn't so hard on myself, I'd be an arsehole with no friends, no achievements, and a very unhealthy body. In fact I'd probably be dead.

Naturally, if there is a way of achieving this without being so hard on myself and you know it, I'm all ears.

Comments:

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From:clevermanka
Date:March 30th, 2016 10:38 pm (UTC)
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OH MY GOD YOU'RE ME
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From:tatjna
Date:March 30th, 2016 11:04 pm (UTC)
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I'm not sure I've articulated it all that well, but trying to put it in one sentence is hard.

I don't feel like I'm a very nice person on the inside - I'm selfish and lazy and aggressive and a bit manipulative, and the thing that makes me a nice person on the outside is that I recognise that about myself and am really hard on myself in order to overcome it.

Or something like that.
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From:clevermanka
Date:March 30th, 2016 11:21 pm (UTC)
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Edited at 2016-03-30 11:21 pm (UTC)
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From:fbhjr
Date:March 31st, 2016 01:15 am (UTC)
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An excellent statement!
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From:warriorsavant
Date:March 31st, 2016 01:49 am (UTC)
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There's a difference between "being in touch with your emotions," and hitting other ppl over the head with them. The former is called insight & mentally healthy. The latter is called asshole.

Drive is good. People with drive make the world go 'round.
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From:tatjna
Date:March 31st, 2016 02:04 am (UTC)
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Not Being An Arsehole is a fairly major driver in my psyche. However, there are few classes in how to not hit people over the head with your emotions at school - mostly you're just told not to do it or else.
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From:ms_hecubus
Date:March 31st, 2016 05:04 am (UTC)
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Compassion is more of a intellectual response for me than an emotional one. I understand how people must feel, but I don't share the emotions. Delia does. She empathizes deeply, and it's instinctual with her. I've never been able to do that.

I also don't think I'm that nice of a person. Not on the inside. I know how to fake it though.
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From:meathiel
Date:March 31st, 2016 05:27 am (UTC)
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I think this is also what we call living in a civilized world or being grown up. If we'd all let our emotions run wild ... just imagine what the world would be like! I myself am a very impatient and yes, also aggressive, person and I have to constantly remind myself to not let this side of me show (too much).
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From:kotturinn
Date:March 31st, 2016 05:55 am (UTC)
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I wonder how and when 'be good to yourself' got quote so strongly tied into equating with behaving in a way that is really in the long term good neither for oneself nor others. I thonk that 'know yourself', in the way you do, is a far better way of being good to yourself. To me the 'be good to yuorself' thing is more like accepting that at times a 'being an arsehole' aspect will escape but that when it does you can haul it back in, deal with consequences and get on with life without going into full-on 100% self-flagellation (internally or externally). I suspect I've not expressed that as well as I could have wished!!

FWIW, I too feel that I have to keep bits of me on a tight rein. I have been known to summarise it as "I wouldn't want to live with me!".
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From:wildilocks
Date:April 5th, 2016 12:06 am (UTC)
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I wonder how and when 'be good to yourself' got quote so strongly tied into equating with behaving in a way that is really in the long term good neither for oneself nor others

I think the rise of capitalism is largely responsible, with the concomitant sophisticated marketing required to convince you that you are a special unique snowflake and you are "worth it".
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From:dreadbeard
Date:April 2nd, 2016 03:21 am (UTC)
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> Naturally, if there is a way of achieving this without being so hard on myself and you know it, I'm all ears.

A lengthy conversation around reframing some of your internal definitions of nice, and hard, etc, to allow some more wriggle room.
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From:fushia_darkness
Date:April 2nd, 2016 04:10 pm (UTC)
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Amazing entry, thank you for this! I've become so used to suppress myself under layers of niceness/kindness and compassion I've in some ways lost track of myself. We are very alike <3 I'm very manipulative if I allow myself to be, very selfish and lazy. I think the main thing I've bridled is being manipulative, I strive to let people be as they are and not to push them in any direction. And still people say I'm someone they listen to, follow, someone who says what she thinks and stands by it, someone strong. I fear they think I'm too strong and yet I hold back like 99% of who I am. It hurts. And no one understands this. If I ever get a remark it's that I'm too strong, too driven. How much must I cut back myself to please others? How much until what's me disappears entirely?
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From:wildilocks
Date:April 5th, 2016 12:12 am (UTC)
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We are all largely products of the society we are raised in, with caveats and allowances, but on the whole I think most humans struggle to greater or lesser degree with these same issues. It's why Allie Brosh strikes such a strong chord (some of us have a muuuch harder time being hard on ourselves in healthy ways) and I sometimes wish I was better at both empathy and compassion, as I believe I'm particularly crap at both. Self awareness and reflection I think are the best tools to try and improve though, even if it takes us a lifetime.

Edited at 2016-04-05 12:35 am (UTC)
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From:thewronghands
Date:April 27th, 2016 11:26 pm (UTC)
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I've spent a lot of time thinking about this post since you wrote it, as someone who is also pretty harsh to herself, but for different reasons. I am default compassionate and full of empathy, but I have a cheerful double standard in that I'm way harsher on myself than I am on other folks in almost all arenas. (Exceptions for "is someone going to die if you fuck up?" situations... there's just not ROOM for letting people have educational fuck-ups, or I-feel-sorry-for-you-so-we-will-all-pretend-you-didn't-just-fuck-up fuck-ups. Some situations, it *has* to be effectiveness above all else. The rest of the time, I'm nicer to others.) But for me, most of my achievement has come from not accepting that I can't do something or stopping when it got hard or uncomfortable or discouraging. So when I have a setback and people tell me to be kind to myself, a lot of the time, what is needed for success is to revisit the situation and work harder. That's not to deny the need for self-care... knees give out, sleep must be had, one athletes better on a healthy diet than on a bottomless pizza and root beer float combination. I try to set myself up for success in taking care of my body well so that it *can* perform. But a lot of the time, "be kind to yourself" is what people say when they mean "be comfortable", and there's a lot more achievement outside of comfortable than there is inside it.

Thanks for writing something thought-provoking!
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From:tatjna
Date:April 27th, 2016 11:30 pm (UTC)
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Yes, exactly this.

I think maybe the takeaway from the 'be kind to yourself' thing is related to the compassion you show others. Like, my internal voice is pretty harsh (on me as well as on others), but for other people I temper it because I am aware of how badly I could hurt them if my thoughts were unfiltered. I don't get the benefit of that filter, so I experience my harshness in all its judgy glory when I apply it to myself.

Maybe a good question for those of us who are hard on ourselves might be "Would I express this thought to someone else, and if not, how would I modify it?" Maybe that's what being good to yourself is - offering yourself the same compassion you offer others.
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From:thewronghands
Date:April 27th, 2016 11:51 pm (UTC)
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With other people, I think I do an internal-to-me assessment of whether they want sympathy, or whether they want to achieve their goal. I often phrase this to them as "Okay. Do you want sympathy or advice?" and then respond whichever way they have indicated that they want support. In a lot of cases where they pick advice, I try trimming off all the judgment and just going for next steps. "So, in order to $goal, sounds like you need to $achievable_but_important_next_step, is that right? Let's talk about ideas on how you can get there!" So it's pretty positively spun, but it doesn't minimize how much work is going to be required in order to get there. So I still express a bunch of the same thoughts that I do to myself, but they're filtered for sounding nicer, heh.

A lot of it is work that they have to do for themselves, though. It's one of the things I really like about SAR's culture... they try to encourage a positive atmosphere, because they know EVERYBODY is going to experience a lot of times where they're cold and miserable and this basically sucks. So if you have a culture of complaining about it, you can draw everyone's attention to how uncomfortable and miserable we all are. But if you focus on the mission and what you need to do, that helps keep everyone else going too. There are places where the body just gives up, but there are just as many places if not more where the body can do it just fine, the person just doesn't *want* to enough. For my friends, I try to let them make that judgment call themselves, rather than my saying "well clearly if you gave a shit you would have tried training for this" or something accurate but unhelpful. I'll invite them along with me on my training hikes/runs/whatever. But if they keep saying no, I leave it to them to come to the conclusion that they didn't want that thing enough to put in the work. For myself, I have somewhat of a "plan + work == results!" framing, if one is lucky. (Sometimes you have a good plan and you try hard and it still doesn't work out for you. But no plan and/or no effort has far poorer results, heh.) With other folks, I try to lead by example there rather than beating them over the head with it. Sometimes this works. Other times, they are more interested in whining than working, and I step back from willingness to help them because I don't think my help is particularly wanted, heh.

I tend to be pretty forgiving of myself if I tried my best. Doesn't always mean anything in measurable results, but I have some sense of absolution in "well, that's what I had to give, it wasn't enough, but I could not have done any better than that this time". Optional rider, depending on how much I care about the goal, in "so, After-Action Report style, now that I know what I have learned here, is it possible for me to modify my plan and do any better next time?". Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But having given it my all is encouraging. And unfortunately, that's hard to judge in other people... sometimes they really are trying their best and it just looks like hahaha nope.
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From:tatjna
Date:April 28th, 2016 03:34 am (UTC)
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Yeah, I'm not too bad on being good to myself over physical accomplishments, but I know that I browbeat myself for things I would be more charitable about with others - especially behaviours and mistakes. Someone else does it? They're having a bad day, made a mistake, only human, etc. I do it? I AM EVIL INCARNATE AND IRREDEEMABLE!
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