“There is luxury in self-reproach.” When we blame ourselves we feel no one else has the right to blame us.” – Oscar Wilde
I recently had one of those rare, free days, with nothing scheduled and no obligations. I had planned to go for a walk, write in my journal and block time to work on an upcoming workshop on Positive Psychology. But I had the whole day ahead of me and told myself it would be OK. I would work in something fun; maybe even a movie or some shopping.
After perusing Facebook, checking email, and paying a couple of bills online, I decided to take myself someplace nice for a (late) breakfast. I was seated next to four rather loud senior patrons and overheard every word of their political opinion discussion where both parties were represented. Their conversation transitioned to the Medicare donut hole, term vs. whole life insurance policies and how IHOP was less expensive but the food isn’t as good and the ambiance not as pleasant. I was wishing I’d followed my initial instinct to ask to move to a different table.
Upon arriving home, of course I got back on the computer and found random interesting articles and videos on Zentangles, mandelas – hmm, coloring one would be peaceful, meditative even – but there were dishes in the sink and laundry to be done. I called to reschedule my son’s orthodontist appointment.
I knew my day was spinning out of control. By now the self-critical inner voice was gearing up to let me have it. You know the one – she says things like, “Look at the time. My haven’t we been productive today!” (That Stupid Sarcastic Witch.) “You’re procrastinating. You need to focus.” I really can’t say where the rest of the afternoon went, because she wore me down and I took a nap to shut her down because I felt so tired.
Some days, I talk back. I justify my actions and tell myself it’s OK because I don’t have days like this very often. She tells me I’m rationalizing. Other days, I effectively pat her on the head and send her on her way, or even embrace her, because “resistance is futile.” This inner voice is just trying to help, in its own seriously twisted way.
One solution to Self-reproach is Self-acceptance.
“The more willing you are to like yourself, the more you increase your chances to be happy,” says British author Dr. Robert Holden. “Self-acceptance is the experience of seeing yourself as you really are, without any criticism or attack, and without any demands you should be something more, better, or different.” Curious, I took the self-acceptance quiz on his website and was a little disappointed to score a 74%. The results suggested, “Increasing your commitment to practicing self-acceptance now will help you take accountability for your life, play to your strengths, and open you to a new level of inspiration and happiness.”
Psychologist Leon Selzer describes it this way:
“With self-acceptance, we’re just – non-judmentally – affirming who we are, with whatever strengths and weaknesses we possess in the moment . . . only when we’re able to give ourselves unqualified approval by developing greater self-compassion and focusing much more on our positives than negatives – can we at last forgive ourselves for our faults, as well as relinquish our need for others’ approval.”
As a strengths-based therapist and coach I’ve learned these things help us deal with self-reproachful thoughts:
Awareness – noticing the self-critical voice as quickly as possible means you can address it before you start feeling too badly about yourself.
Acknowledge – the purpose the self-critical voice serves in the moment. It is often fear-based and self-protective (ego). Sometimes it helps to know whose voice it really is or where it comes from (i.e., family member, significant other, former boss).
Acceptance – separating out who you are as a person from your behaviors and actions. Accepting in grace that you are human and possibly doing the best you can and learning and growing every day. The Serenity Prayer assists us in accepting responsibility for our choices, daily.
I anticipate more days like the one I described. I just try to learn from them and over the years, the inner witch and I have almost become friends. I’ve spent a lot of time in her company, so I know her secret – she’s more fragile than she lets on. We tolerate each other. But I have healthier friends in my support system now; they are less judgmental, far more positive and absolutely more fun to be around. I wish the same for you.
Resources for deeper learning:
Robert Holden’s suggestions on cultivating self-acceptance
Leon Seltzer, Ph.D. – blog entry on self-acceptance