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Tiny Wisdom: On Being Hard on Yourself

“When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.” -African Proverb

Sometimes we judge ourselves pretty harshly. We blame ourselves for things we have absolutely no control over. We criticize, berate, and even disparage ourselves, treating ourselves far worse than we’d ever treat other people.

It’s just all too easy to hold ourselves to high standards, and then get frustrated if we fail to meet them. I know I have done this before, and, at the risk of sounding defeatist, I know I will do it at some point again.

I believe that in much the same we will inevitably have conflicts with other people, we will also go through times when we’re not kind and loving to ourselves.

Perhaps the key to silencing the enemy within is accepting that it is there–that we all possess both darkness and light within us–and then learning to create a higher ratio of self-affirming to self-diminishing thoughts. Maybe the goal shouldn’t be to always be positive, but to recognize when we start being self-critical so that we can shift our thoughts more quickly and effectively with each internal struggle.

In a perfect world, we would always know the exact way to think and thing to do to nurture ourselves and honor our needs, and we’d instinctively always do those things. Maybe some people do. But I can’t speak for them, because I sometimes struggle.

What helps me is to focus on progress, not perfection–to forgive myself when I’ve gotten negative, and then start anew from right where I stand.

Today if you get down on yourself, remember: You’re doing the best you can, and you have the power to choose, right now, that your best is good enough.

Photo by Chi King

Avatar of Lori Deschene

About Lori Deschene

Tiny Buddha Founder Lori Deschene is the author of the Tiny Wisdom eBook seriesTiny Buddha's Guide to Loving Yourself, and Tiny Buddha: Simple Wisdom for Life's Hard Questions. She's also co-founder of Recreate Your Life Story, an eCourse that helps you change your life. For inspiring posts and wisdom quotes, follow on Twitter & Facebook.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • http://parentplanet.info Nina

    thank you for this.

    yesterday I got another letter for potential financial obligations I can’t handle, another job rejection, another another another…seems like an avalanche of things I can’t/don’t want to handle anymore. and I felt like I was drowning and then as I thought and wrote about it I decided

    today I decided I am going to let go of the anger about what I think should be…and find joy in what is.

    this post reinforces that for me…holding onto anger – criticizing myself, blaming myself, etc is only hurting me (I know I know this isn’t old news) so to truly love myself, I just HAVE to do it!

     thank you for your emails and insights, I really appreciate them.

  • http://twitter.com/RelationshipCir Bellaisa Filippis

    I call this my inner critic. A great tool I found to deal with this is writing down what your inner critic is saying to you and then writing down why they are saying it to you, what they want you to do to improve, and the fact that they love you and want the best for you. It always seems to make me feel better when I’m getting too hard on myself.

  • Toni

    Thank for the insights in this post. I, too, call this the inner critic. It’s hard to counter because we have a lifetime of conditioning to undo. I’m a big believer in taking baby steps. Each time we can treat ourselves kindly makes it easier to treat ourselves kindly the next time.

    I wrote about a piece for Psychology Today on how to counter this inner critic. It’s titled “Have You Listened to Your Self-Talk Lately.” It starts with a wonderful story that the Buddhist teacher, Mary Orr told at a retreat I was on about how she realized she’d never talk to others the way she talked to herself. If people would like to see it, here’s the link: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/turning-straw-gold/201104/have-you-listened-your-self-talk-lately

    Love your site, Lori!

    Toni Bernhard

  • Greenroom74

    needed this bad, like all my life, thanks very much

  • ApplMuffn

    As per usual — “when the student is ready, the teacher appears” — thank you for this and all your poignant words Lori…

  • Louisa

    “What helps me is to focus on progress, not perfection”.  Wow, I really needed to read that.  Thank you Lori for all of your words and contribution to our lives! :)

  • George Ailts

    Word!

  • Patti_McGee

    thanku Lori:) this thought did cross today…that I’m doing the best that I can :) thanks for the reminder to forgive our slips and refresh from where we stand :)

  • http://www.rebuildyourlifecoach.com Harriet Cabelly

    Great little piece with a lot of big and important concepts.
    I am my biggest critic.  I have high expectations of myself and can be very hard on myself.  I assume that’s why I have high expectations of others, which can be problematic for me at times (when people don’t meet my expectations).
    I’ve also got that little muse sitting on my shoulder all too often feeding me those messages of self-doubt.  We have to remember to flick it off and fill ourselves with positive self-talk. 

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You are most welcome. I have needed this at many times, too, and I’m happy to pass it on. =)

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I know that feeling well! Sometimes it seems like when it rains, it pours. What helps me is knowing that I am not alone–that we are not alone. We all deal with the same struggles, and if we want to, we can help each other with/through them. I’m so glad you enjoy the emails. Thank you for that note. =)

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Yes! So true. I have high expectations of myself, too, and I often take blame for things that have nothing to do with me. I work at it. My new mantra is “I can take responsibility without taking blame.” This seems to help a lot!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You’re most welcome Patti. =)

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I’m glad to be helpful, Louisa! Running this site helps me and enriches my life in so many ways. I really appreciate your kind note!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You’re welcome, and thank you for being part of the community here. =)

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I can relate to that in a big way! Even after years of practice, there are times when I start being really hard on myself in my head in a way I’d never talk to someone else. One thing that’s been helpful for me is to visualize myself as a little girl every time I get into that negative self-talk. It reminds that I am innocent, beautiful, and deserving of kindness.

    Great article, Toni! Thanks for the link!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Wow that sounds like a great, practical approach. Thank you for this!

  • http://mybeautifulobsession.wordpress.com Jade

    this was so inspiring and truly touched me…I know I’m not the only one who needed to read this and I’ll be coming back to read this again and again…thank you for passing this on.

  • Anita

    Jade, have you heard of Andrew Jobling or read his book “Dance Until It Rains”? He is quite a remarkable person (weirdly, he was my Maths teacher when I was 14!). His book is uplifting, his message is simple. While no longer a Maths teacher (!) – after 20 years I met him again and he is a teacher of note. He has a place here at Tiny Buddha – as do I – I just don’t know where yet!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I’m so glad it inspired you, Jade! I need to hear this sometimes, too, so I am happy to pass it on.

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  • msdecember

    man, oh man have i been hard on myself lately. i mean, just truly feeling that i’m not good enough and that’s why i’m unemployed, had a miscarriage at the end of last year (and haven’t been able to get pregnant since), lost a friend that i cherished, etc., etc., etc. i have actually gone as far as to cringe while hearing my dear grandmother sing my praises to everyone that she talks to.

    how dare i? reading this has made me start on the path to knowing that this is unacceptable. i’m blessed, loved by many, and try to be the best person that i can be. i’ve hit a difficult spot (which i know will pass) and i need to truly stop being so hard on myself. i deserve more from ME.

    thank you for this.

  • Anonymous

    You are enough. Always/all ways.

  • Anonymous

    You too eh? Yup, let go and do what you can without judging the process or progress as signs of personal lack. Keep the weekends full of rest as to not get rusty at enjoying them. ;)

    I use such moments as a reminder that I’ve yet to move in a harmonious direction, or, that this is just a sign that change is occurring and to get excited about it. Good stuff only comes as the end result of change, even if we label that change bad.

    My life has a habit of introducing wondrous positive changes while the hard stuff is going on. I feel like a cake. I have to be cooked to taste good. LOL!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You’re welcome, msdecember. It sounds like you’ve been through a lot lately, and I can only imagine how challenging it’s been. Your last paragraph really touched a nerve with me. I think we all need to tell ourselves these kinds of things from time to time. We all deserve our own love and kindness. I’m glad you’re choosing to give yourself yours!

  • Emily

    It is quite paradoxical that often times, we do not validate ourselves until someone tells us that it’s okay to do so. The beauty in this reality is that articles like this truly help people… thank you for writing it.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You’re most welcome. =)

  • Chris

    I only just came across this post Lori and I’m not sure if you’ll read this response because it was posted so long ago.

    I just wanted to say thank you as your last words were something that I needed to hear.

    “Today if you get down on yourself, remember: You’re doing the best you can, and you have the power to choose, right now, that your best is good enough.”

    I made a single mistake at work which had the potential to inconvenience an individual a great deal… When it was picked up, the great team I had around me rallied together and expedited the situation so that the individual was, at worst, half an hour late (after a four hour meeting) and he wasn’t bothered at all at any point even when we realised the mistake.

    I spent the day and the evening being down on myself and apologising to all and sundry (even those not even impacted). Then I read your words and realised that I’ve only been in the role for two weeks and it was my first ‘independent’ day – I did hundreds of things right today but only focused on this one negative… and the one mistake caused me to look at some work which had been completed well as work completed in a negative way.

    I’ve written it down and whenever something like this happens again I will be reading it and remembering that, given my perfectionist tendencies, I am doing my best and that *if* there are any errors, they are inadvertent… not intentional.

    Thank you very much for saying the exact thing I needed to hear right this moment. :)

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You are most welcome Chris! As a fellow perfectionist, it’s something I need to remind myself of often. It sounds like you’re doing great for your first two weeks, despite the one mistake. =)

  • http://twitter.com/LibertyHous David Housholder

    Am writing an essay in http://ThornHeart.com on this topic.

  • http://twitter.com/LibertyHous David Housholder

    Good stuff. It’s my biggest struggle. I’m very easy on others and hard on myself. High self esteem. Low self-compassion. I really like the part about a goal of recognizing when I do this to myself….

  • ZenGuy

    Thanks for your wise words. I always try to think of it in this way: If I’m being hard towards myself it usually spills on the people around me. If I’m great at nurturing myself then I’m happy and have positive energy to share with others. Being hard at yourself is very egocentric in a bad way for yourself and others.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You’re most welcome. And that’s a great point! When we’re kind to ourselves, that affects everyone we encounter.

  • Parselmouth

    My dad was very critical, nothing I ever did was good enough for him and if ever I managed to meet his ridiculously high standards, he would raise the bar. I forgave him and let go of my hatred for him years ago, understanding that nothing good comes of hanging onto that sort of thing. But nonetheless, I still have him metaphorically sat on my shoulder telling me I’m not good enough. I thought I had made progress, but a recent friendship disaster scuppered my sense of accomplishment completely. I feel bereft and lost at times, not sure who I am right now and that’s scary.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. I know how hard it can be to change your inner voice when you grew up in a critical environment. I know you mentioned the friendship disaster shook your confidence. Have you taken any time to write down some of the things you feel you’ve done well lately? That’s something that’s helped me-to regularly give myself credit for progress an all the little things I’ve done that I may not have recognized as things to be proud of.

  • James

    Stumbled across this article while looking for “tips” on how to stop being hard on oneself. For the past months, I have been beginning to be disillusioned on life. With so many problems, personal as well as family, I feel like I won’t hold on much longer and give in to despair. I have many regrets in life, all because I let the past define who I am. No matter how hard I try to convince myself that the past is the past, it is not that easy, it even feels like I am doomed to accept that I am a born loser. I feel so small that I cannot do anything by myself. I feel the need to make people happy; like carrying their burdens for example to make them feel better at the expense of keeping what I hear deep inside of me. I feel that I am left behind, that the chances of me having contentment in later life will be slim. Some days, I just feel and say to myself “It is just a matter of time before I give in to despair that I might eventually take my own life”. I cannot stop comparing myself to others, however hard I try to convince myself that it is futile. People think I am stable because I have been obedient all my life. The fact is, I am not strong. I hold on but in the inside, I am breaking. I see other people happy with their lives. I feel so low. I feel alone. I just want to sleep and never wake up.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi James,

    I just read this and my heart breaks for you. I have felt everything you’ve written here before, and I know what it’s like to feel like you’re at your breaking point. I have something that I think could help. I am going to email you now…

    Much love,
    Lori

  • sweetwill

    Hi Lori,

    Thank you for creating this thoughtful website. I am feeling much like James has described in his post. Would you consider sending me the information that you that you sent him?

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi there,

    You’re most welcome. I sent him an email that was personalized for him, particularly because I was worried for his well-being with the comments about considering taking his life.

    I am happy to help as best I can. What’s going on?

    Lori

  • jx

    excellent point! i never thought of it that way “being hard at yourself is very egocentric in a bad way for yourself and other”. Thanks! ill have to write it down :))

  • Tom

    awesome post! thanks

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Thanks, and you’re most welcome! =)

  • Maria

    I’ve been always so hard on myself, and my negative internal dialogue just makes me so incredibly disempowered, like today, and so fed up with it. When I’m in the midst of it, low and miserable, without a spark of rationality, I don’t see how I can get out of it and feel I’d never smile again – no matter how many times I went through the same thing. Eventually, I always come of out if. My recovery time became just a 1-3 days, which is wonderful, but I keep wondering how many times am I capable of rebuilding myself from my ashes. Big thanks Lori for this affirming piece of writing. It helped me a lot to remind me where I want to head. Also thanks everybody for your inspiring comments. Lori, I read James’ comment; his pain is so familiar to me. I wanted to hug and comfort him. I sincerely hope he’s doing better.