Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Being My Own BFF (seriously??)

Recently, someone close to me commented that I try so hard to be kind to others, but am unkind, even brutal, towards myself. That comment (which was spot on) has been on my mind ever since.

If a mum friend is upset about her 2 year old’s behavioural issues, I am quick to sympathize and reassure – ah, the terrible twos; it’s so hard, isn’t it?; don’t worry, it’s just a phase and it will pass soon; you’re a great mum and are doing everything right; don’t beat yourself up.

If my own 2 year old is throwing epic tantrums, deliberately breaking and spilling and throwing things, biting her sister, and generally pushing more boundaries than I knew existed, do I treat myself as I would a mum friend? – take a deep breath and reassure myself that this is perfectly normal and no cause for real concern?

Hell no!

I review my parenting and find every instance of poor performance, curse myself for not being more consistent/patient/effective as a mother, and wonder in all seriousness whether going back to working 12 hour days outside the home, and substituting my parenting with that of a full-time nanny, would be far better for their development.

If I am trying to speak Finnish (the language spoken here in Finland, where I’ve lived for 18 months now), and I hear myself screwing up basic grammatical structures and grasping for words that should be more than familiar to me by now, do I cut myself some slack, thinking “Come on, it’s not an easy language, and at least you’re trying”, or do my thoughts sound something more like, “Oh, you’re pathetic! You know you aren’t putting enough time into learning this language, and you are humiliating yourself and your family with your half-arsed efforts.”

I have always believed in self-discipline and tough self-love, and that I should be my own harshest critic. If I am not there to keep myself in line and administer swift kicks up the backside when necessary, who will be? Without harsh self-criticism, surely I would quickly sink into a big pool of laziness and over-confidence.

The thing about “tough love”, though, is that ultimately it is supposed to be about love. I think about the way I talk to myself, and I realize, I don’t hear any undertones of love here (or even like, for that matter!) I am my own personal Gordon Ramsay. My own Horrible Boss. A person I would never be friends with.


So, how is it supposed to work? How do I keep myself disciplined and efficient and able to see and correct my own faults, yet not be so hard on myself that I am constantly disappointed in my own life performance? How do I learn to be a kinder and better friend to myself?


  1. I think for someone who seems SO hard on themselves as you do, you should psychologically 'give up' the self discipline. To you, what would be 'giving pu' would still be having some to the rest of us (like me!), so it would be a more balanced approach, and you may find yourself giving yourself a break, a day off, laughing at yourself instead of judging yourself.. and all that can only be a good thing! Be gentle with yourself, you deserve it! x

  2. Oh my gosh, you are just too sweet!
    Seriously, you just made my day with that lovely comment. Thank you so much.

    I totally agree with you. We ALL deserve to be kind and gentle with ourselves - I would be the first one to say that - so why would I not include myself in that group?!

    Maybe it's a question of asking myself how possible/essential it really is to me, in my lifetime, to achieve particular things (speaking better Finnish, achieving perfect behaviour from my kids, etc.!) and then just agreeing with myself to let the non-essential stuff slide. And, more importantly, to be OK with letting it slide! - willing to lighten up and laugh as I watch it roll down the hill :)

    Now that I think about it, there really isn't that much in life that is truly "essential". Could it be that I have been putting a lot of time and emotional energy into bogus investments? Hmmm... What would happen if I re-directed all that time and energy elsewhere...?

  3. this may sound odd but I believe the first step is to actually notice when you are being hard on yourself- ie catch yourself out in the act. don't judge just notice. then slowly with practise you can stop yourself mid self criticism and eventually you stop the pattern by noticing just as you are about to be hard on yourself. I work on this all the time...

  4. Did you find yourself being so hard on yourself about your parenting techniques when you were working? I wonder if subconsciously there is something in your mind saying, "now that I am not working and have so much time to focus on parenting I should be able to do it perfectly." I wonder also if your sense of achievement and to some degree self worth is now coming from such a concentrated source relative to before, that that could also be a factor in how hard you are being on yourself. Being aware of things about yourself that you would like to improve is fantastic and is the first step in being able to change. I think it's OK to be critical of yourself but only if it serves a positive purpose. If you were going to give somebody else constructive criticism, how would you do it? Remember to remind yourselves of the things that you do really well as a parent, for there are many. Create a strategy that you will put in place for every time you notice yourself beginning to be overly self critical. Try another perspective.

  5. Thanks everyone for the terrific and carefully-considered advice.

    Sara, you are spot on in your observations about my focus having narrowed. Not only that, but parenting is such an inexact science that it's hard to feel as though I'm ever doing well at it, let alone perfectly! No wonder I am feeling a bit low in self worth. I appreciate your suggestion about highlighting things I am doing well.

    You and The Lake House Writer were both advocates of examining my own thoughts and reactions in a conscious (and non-judgmental) way, and this is something I have started to do. Interestingly, I believe there is a hidden agenda behind my tendency to beat myself up. I think that in telling myself I have failed at something, subconsciously I am telling myself "Hey, you've suffered enough by giving yourself grief about this failure - it's therefore ok not to go the extra mile and work on finding a strategy that will improve the result next time." Therefore, I end up beating myself up about the same things over and over again, but ironically all this berating myself is not causing me to change the way I do things, resulting in the same outcomes (e.g. constantly making the same mistakes when speaking Finnish). When I disappoint myself, I think my thought pattern needs to be more like: "I didn't like that result. Do I want it to be different next time? Is there anything I could do differently that would change the result?" (e.g., "If I really do want to improve my Finnish, I should make a note of this mistake, and spend time this evening carefully learning the correct version until I feel confident that I've nailed it.") Sometimes the answer will be "no, you really couldn't have done anything that would have changed this result for the better" - I will have to be honest with myself in those situations and just accept the reality (e.g., some Terrible Twos behaviour is probably immune to further efforts on my part!) I think I also need to allow myself, sometimes, to say, "Hey, you feel disappointed, but you must admit that this isn't something that is important to you. You just wanted to do it better because you'd like to do everything perfectly. Put this behind you without a backward glance, and keep going. Focus on what's important."