Love, Always

Why is it easy to be nice to other people … but so hard to be nice to ourselves?

“When you know better, you do better” — Maya Angelou.

Have you ever noticed that it’s pretty easy to be nice to other people — to smile, to offer a few words of appreciation, to extend a helping hand, to say “you look beautiful” or “you’re doing an amazing job!” — but much harder to be kind to yourself?

Many of us say things to ourselves — mean things, nasty things — that we would never say to anyone else.

Many of us treat ourselves in uncaring ways — unhelpful ways, disrespectful ways — ways that we would never treat anyone else.

It’s unfortunate — but very common.

As a clinical psychologist & professional life coach over the past 29+ years combined, I’ve spent thousands of hours working with people who have held themselves to a different set of standards than they assign to other people.

They’ve often thought & said things like:

“I go out of my way to please other people … but I never think about pleasing myself.”

“I’m able to forgive others (sometimes) … but I have a tough time forgiving myself.”

“I can excuse another person’s mistake … but when I make one, I beat myself up.”

“I can admire someone else’s beauty + appearance … but I pick apart how I look.”

If you’re nodding, recognizing yourself in those words, you might be wondering:

Is there some scientific reason why are we are often our own harshest critic?

Is it just human nature?

Or simply a mystery?

In my opinion, the answer comes down to one thing:

Fear.

Fear of being judged. Fear of being shamed. Fear of not being loved.

All for “messing up” in some unforgivable way.

And that fear? It’s NOT something we’re born with.

It’s something we learn.

We are born with a predisposition for a certain type of personality — but essentially, when we’re born, our mind is like a “blank slate.” Ready to be shaped by our early childhood experiences, and later, by our own choices.

As a child, we might have experienced the pain of being judged, shamed or un-loved, because of something we did … or didn’t do.

The experience might have been subtle — like not getting a parent’s undivided attention + approval, because of a less-than-stellar report card.

Or, it might have been more blatant — like being spanked or made fun of in front of our siblings, because of that same report card.

Either way, we learned — through experience — that “not being perfect” could have painful consequences. In our childlike mind, that became “the rule.”

So over time, we developed clever “techniques” to protect ourselves from those consequences.

One of the biggest protective techniques?

Holding ourselves to unrealistically higher standards.

But as you’ve probably realized, setting the bar so unbelievably high comes with its own set of consequences. Like never feeling “good enough.” And always worrying that we’re going to “slip up.”

But whatever we’ve learned can be unlearned + relearned a better way.

As the late Maya Angelou (Oprah’s favorite poet + personal mentor), said: “When you know better, you do better.”

Scripts & rules that we adopted while growing up can be replaced with a kinder approach.

Instead of:

“Gotta clean the house because the neighbors are coming over.”

Try:

“What people think of me [or my house] is none of my business. If I clean my house, it’s because I want to do that for myself.”


Instead of:

“Why can’t you get it right, stupid! What’s wrong with you!?”


Try:

“It’s alright to make mistakes. That doesn’t mean I’m stupid. I am learning + growing.”

Ultimately, the most healing thing you can do is set realistic standards for yourself.

Attainable standards.

Fair standards.

Standards with room for mistakes.

Because everyone is human — and deserving of unconditional love.

And yes, that includes you.