Please Stop Mentally Beating Yourself
Comparison is the self-esteem destroyer of our 20s and 30s. For high achievers, like myself, we constantly keep our minds running, reading things, obsessively thinking, and comparing ourselves to other people’s success.
Add to this a society that has glorified million-dollar success stories of entrepreneurship, and you have a recipe for a life of unhappiness until you make your first million.
But it does not have to be this way.
We can make the effort to not beat the sh*t out of ourselves for not quitting a great job in search of an “amazing job”.
We can stop comparing ourselves based on arbitrary metrics or status games.
More importantly, we can be softer, kinder, and more loving to ourselves — not pushing ourselves to the point of exhaustion or breakdown.
But it’s hard after 30-plus years of training to be a critical thinker.
That’s why, after four years of struggling on my own, I sought professional help.
Seeing a psychologist and taking medication
Originally, my doctor prescribed me pills to help with my sleep. My mind is excessively active at night leading, which causes excessive REM sleep (a.k.a. I dream too much and wake up tired).
I decided enough was enough and I decided to see a psychologist. And for the first time in my life, I found some scientific insights about my personality, thinking, and psychological state that made sense.
For example, I found out I had PTSD. Not a big surprise for me as an army veteran.
I also found out that I take on lots of responsibility, which combined with my excessive thinking habit, led to a certain amount of anxiety.
Most importantly, I found out that people enjoy being around me. That was a relief for a self-conscious introvert like myself. However, it was also a point of tension because I also need my space. I feel overwhelmed then get down on myself for being human.
And that’s where the medication came in.
Sometimes you cannot make the change you want to make entirely on your own. You need help getting over the hump. In my case, the medication was just enough to slow me down by limiting how hard I could push myself.
The Ways We Beat Ourselves
This isn’t the route for everyone who struggles with beating themselves up. There are many ways we beat ourselves up.
For our first example, your habit of beating yourself might be as follows:
When the internal critic puts you down using such comparisons, here’s how it operates: First, it selects a single, arbitrary domain of comparison (fame, maybe, or power). Then it acts as if that domain is the only one that is relevant. Then it contrasts you unfavourably with someone truly stellar, within that domain.
– Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life (p.87) Kindle Edition
Maybe it’s your friend who’s great at business. Or, maybe, it’s a random podcaster or blogger you admire.
Whatever your point of comparison, what you don’t see is the team of people that goes into making stars who they are. This doesn’t mean they have not done something stellar or admirable. On the contrary, they have.
However, they have not done it alone.
A second way we beat ourselves up is our beliefs. In a capitalistic society, which, of course, glorifies capital (wealth, money, land), one of our beliefs might be that our pay determines our worth.
We look at our small sum in our 20s and judge ourselves as unworthy of our own love. Somehow, we gloss over the potential we have if we continue our course for 5 to 10 years, applying ourselves and trusting that life is unpredictable and that just might be a good thing.
Whether we admit it or not, we all have beliefs. And those beliefs translate into values (i.e. working hard or having a job). Those values translate into actions, which in turn yield results.
This past year, for example, I had to re-examine my relationship with my emotions. I had to stop believing that the presence of negative emotions, such as disappointment, meant something was wrong.
I had to stop mentally squeezing my brain to make it perform as if adding more weight to a squat bar would help me lift it faster.
Based on studies reference in The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety, fighting negativity, and attacking the problem can actually make things worse. Which leads to my last point.
The last way we beat ourselves up is our failure to accept our limitations.
Whether I like it or not, there are only so many things I can do in a day.
Some days, like yesterday, I have to work until 8 pm because I have a presentation my team is presenting to our European Zone President. Other days, like today, I find myself with no more work to do after 3 pm.
On such days, I have to remember that it’s okay to let myself rest, relax, be human, and write a random Medium post.
Sure, I could find more stuff to do. But, in all honesty, I don’t need to do that.
Instead, I have to let myself be the limited, slightly lazy human being that I am from time to time.
Know the good news? No one cares.
Moving Forward in a Hopeful Way
The first advice I would give to anyone who struggles with this habit is doing a deep-dive into your beliefs.
Simply pull out a piece of paper and reverse engineer your action and results. Figure out what drives your value for hard work. Understand the motives. Then decide whether that’s what you truly believe.
Another option is to seek professional help and talk about it. Professional psychologists have 500+ question psychometric tests that can help you understand your personality and inner compass on a deeper level.
Additionally, they may provide you medication, which can help build some distance between yourself and your problems. This, of course, isn’t a cure. But it can help lower your barriers so you can face the problems you’ve been hiding from (i.e. “the shadow self”).
A final recommendation from me would be to making sure you find a job and have a community. This helps eliminate a lot of unknowns — financial stress, how you will spend your time, who you will spend your time with, and who lives you are impacting (for example, volunteering at church).
The bottom line is there’s not a single solution to our habit of self-imposed pressure, stress, vanity metrics, and, ultimately, self-made prison of unhappiness, but you can take steps each day to follow the path of self-love, self-acceptance, and, ultimately, a peaceful and happy inner life.