How being too hard on yourself is psychologically damaging.
We each have a natural tendency to question ourselves when we make a mistake. This is precisely how we learn. Setbacks, failures, and mistakes are painful opportunities for growth. If we were to ignore our shortcomings and mistakes, then we would not change or grow as individuals. Self-correction is a healthy habit which is the stepping stone to learning something new. We must be very cautious however, when reflecting on our own mistakes. Without proper care or boundaries, disciplining yourself can get out of control and cause more harm than good! We know ourselves better than any other person on Earth. Meaning, we each have the potential to become our own worst enemy. This is because we are the only ones who are vividly aware of every flaw, every nook, and every cranny of our own character. This is how self-correction easily turns into self-deprecation. Without regulation, your mind has access to every single flaw of your character, and every mistake you have ever made. Self-deprecation can lead to low self esteem, a damaged ego, anxiety, and many other issues. So, the question becomes, how can you lean to discipline yourself in a healthy way that does not cross the line into self-destruction?
Why do we judge ourselves more harshly than others?
First, we must understand why we judge ourselves more aggressively than other people in the first place. The most obvious reason is that we know ourselves best, therefore have more evidence to use as ammunition. Another reason for being hard on yourself is as a response to a situation. We often fall down a rabbit hole when we commit a massive mistake where we act extremely harsh toward ourselves in order to “match” the punishment with the mishap. The problem with this mode of thinking, is that it opens the door to more and more aggression toward yourself by weakening your boundaries. Unfortunately, self-correction only works to an extent and any further force than needed does nothing but damage the self-esteem. Another downfall of being extremely harsh on yourself is that it bleeds over to the people around you. The measure in which you judge yourself is also an accurate measure of how you treat others. Think of your mind like a pond near the ocean. If the pond is used as a toxic sewage dump. Once it rains, that toxicity will drain over into the nearby ocean, polluting the surrounding environment.
How to discipline yourself in a non-destructive way: The parent-child method.
The healthy method to self-correction is to think of yourself as a ‘parent’ and a ‘child’ simultaneously. When you make a mistake, only correct yourself to the extent that a parent would correct their child. If you saw a parent berating their child and calling them worthless, you would be ready to call child protective services. You must not treat yourself in such a way either. This mindset also means that discipline is necessary and healthy when required. Learn to discipline yourself like a parent disciplines their child. This is not to say that you go stand in a corner of the house for an hour until you ruminate on what you did wrong. What I mean by this, is that you should use similar tactics in the level of intensity to the discipline. If a parent responds too harshly on a child for a small mishap, they could risk damaging their mental health. Learn to correct and discipline yourself appropriately for the situation. Not too aggressive so that you hurt your ego, but also not so light that you do not learn your lesson. This parent-child mindset also means that like a parent, you need to have unconditional love for yourself (i.e. the child). No matter how bad you mess up, you absolutely must forgive yourself and show genuine compassion toward yourself. Next time you are being too hard on yourself for a mistake, think deeply to determine if a ‘good’ parent would treat their child in a similar way. If the answer is no, you may need to rethink your actions.
Coming to conclusions…
Judging yourself too harshly is damaging to not only your own mental health, but it also bleeds over into the people around you. Harsh correction of the self or anyone for that matter should be used sparingly and with caution because it can damage a person’s self-image. In order to reverse a mindset of incessantly beating yourself down, you must show unconditional love for yourself as parent would their child. You will then learn to correct or “punish” yourself like a parent would their child. Discipline is healthy, but only to the extent at which change is produced. Any further disciplinary action beyond what is appropriate for the situation does nothing more than damage the individual on the receiving end. It’s up to you to find, and not stray beyond the fine line between disciplinary action and self-abuse by comparing yourself to a parent disciplining their child.