Be good to yourself, they say - Tactical Ninja
Mar. 31st, 2016
11:31 am - Be good to yourself, they say
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.