When things don’t go our way and we feel as if we screwed up or failed, us humans can be pros at kicking ourselves when we’re down. This is especially so when we struggle with our self-esteem. We invest heavily in self-criticism and self-judgment when what we really need is self-compassion. We need a willingness to understand what we truly need.
Sometimes we fume at ourselves for ages. For some, this might be weeks, but for others, it’s months or even years. A part of us wants to move on, but the other part that exploits even the smallest of missteps wants to persecute us with images of our wrongdoings.
We keep reminding ourselves, for instance, about what we did or didn’t do in a relationship. How we should have had the boundaries we now realise were missing. How “if only” we’d foreseen the future, we could have done X and totally changed the outcome. We imagine that they’re having a laugh at our expense. That they’re cackling round the happily-ever-after cauldron with their new flame that, of course, is getting the perfect version of our ex.
We repeatedly rub our face in our embarrassment and humiliation lest we 1) are vulnerable and move on or 2) make the same mistake again. Next thing, a breakup or work issue that, for instance, could have taken us a few weeks or months to shake off has gripped our life for a year or few.
Self-criticism leads to character-assassinating ourselves for our perceived failures and mistakes without acknowledging something crucial: we wouldn’t have acted as we did if we weren’t trying to get or avoid something.
Our criticism and judgement are expressing an unmet need. They’re our response to using an [unsuccessful] shortcut to meet it.
The more acute our need(s) is the more intense our self-criticism and judgement.
All humans, not just those of us who keep persecuting ourselves for being not “good enough” (because we think it’s the reason we’re not getting what we want) act based on needs. It’s why we strive to get along with others.
Everything we do is our attempt to meet our emotional needs. These include safety and security, intimacy, connection and status, amongst others. This makes our ability to get along a critical life skill.
When we don’t feel as if we’re getting along in life (prospering, advancing) or that our efforts are leading to the relationship(s) we want, we assume that we’re failing as a person.
What we neglect to recognise, though, is that we’ve all been socialised to meet our needs. And not everything we’ve learned is beneficial to that aim. That’s why adulthood is about unlearning all of the unproductive and downright harmful messages and lessons that we’ve learned.