Written By: Dr. Gloria Lee, Registered Psychologist
Many of my clients come from families where they were regularly criticized or shamed for doing something that their parents deemed “wrong” or “bad”. Parents would often explain that criticizing or shaming was how they “taught” their children to do better in life and not make the same mistakes.
Unfortunately, parents have been misguided in their understanding of how to best help their children learn from their mistakes. Criticizing and shaming not only PREVENT children from learning and growing, but more importantly, it increases self-criticism, low self-worth, and shame (feeling that one is deeply inadequate and flawed).
Psych-illogically, the only thing that criticism and shame actually teach children is to hide their “flaws” better, so they don’t get caught next time, as a way to avoid more criticism and shame.
Over time, children grow up continuing to criticize and shame themselves and at the same time, hide their mistakes. As adults, they perpetuate this cycle by criticizing and shaming their partners and children in the same way, in hopes of “helping” them change for the better. But nothing gets better. In fact, things get worse.
This may have been your experience.
One way to break out of the intergenerational cycle of criticism and shame is with SELF-COMPASSION.
You may have come to believe that self-compassion means that you’re letting yourself off the hook or that you don’t deserve compassion because you did something “wrong” or “bad”. Sound familiar?
Ironically, the opposite is true.
When you punish yourself for being bad or doing something wrong, you either start hiding your flaws and mistakes by being perfectionistic, or numb out your pain with distractions, bad habits, or addictions.
You may also project your shame onto others by blaming, criticizing, or shaming them so you don’t have to feel bad yourself. Criticism and shame beget more criticism and shame.
AN ALTERNATIVE TO CRITICISM, SHAME, AND PERFECTIONISM
Conversely, self-compassion gives you permission to be warm and understanding toward yourself when you’ve made mistakes, feel inadequate, or have failed.
With self-compassion, you learn to take responsibility for your MISTAKES (i.e., what you believe are bad or wrong) because you recognize that you are human. And common humanity understands that suffering and feelings of personal inadequacy are part of the shared human experience; meaning we ALL mess up sometimes and feel bad and IT’S NOT JUST YOU.
Self-compassion offers you the opportunity to be mindful and take a balanced approach to negative emotions so that feelings are neither avoided (by being perfectionistic or by soothing yourself with numbing behaviours or addictions) or exaggerated (e.g., I’m terrible, I’m such a failure, I can’t do anything right, everyone hates me, they think I’m a loser).
So the next time you want to beat yourself up for making a mistake, try self-compassion instead. You may be pleasantly surprised at how it actually helps you to truly embrace your mistakes, make positive changes in your behaviour, and most importantly, make you feel better.
To learn more about self-compassion and how it can help with your self-criticism, low self-worth, and shame, please contact us at Brentwood Counselling Centre.