Most people think that to beat yourself up is to grow and improve.
They think that by inducing enough amount of guilt, they’ll, somehow, change their situation.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Actually, this guilt and beaten-up attitude can be nothing but a way to avoid responsibility for your actions and the results you get, let alone that it’ll destroy your self-esteem.
In a previous article that talks about handling failure and mistakes, I mentioned that many people, when they fail or do something stupid, beat themselves up, consciously and unconsciously.
Of course, that’s a wrong method to handle your own mistakes and failures. I stressed that beating yourself up will never help you recover from failure. It will never help you pick yourself up. It’ll just destroy you.
So, let me give you, in this article, some real reasons for why beating yourself up is a very bad idea.
It’s NOT guilt; it’s shame
Guilt is a useful emotion. When you do something that violates your values, you feel guilty. Your brain is telling you not to do this again.
As soon as your brain believes that you won’t do that thing again, the thing which violates your values and how you see yourself, it’ll stop the feelings of guilt.
Shame is a destructive feeling. When you’re ashamed of yourself, you look down at it and you believe that you’re inferior. You believe that you should be punished.
Guilt is treated by taking actions that convince your mind you won’t violate your values again. Shame is responded to by beating yourself up and punishing yourself by negative self-talk.
So, simply put, whenever you find yourself beating yourself up and indulging in negative self-talk, know that shame is the underline root cause.
The shame of your problems, mistakes, failure, and flaws.
You feel bad about yourself because of having these things. And “bad” here doesn’t mean guilt; it means shame. You’re ashamed of having these problems, mistakes, failures, and flaws. You hate yourself because you have them.
Beating yourself up sounds like a good option here.
So, those shame feelings lead you to beat yourself up. Beating yourself up leads to more shame feelings. And it’s a freaking cycle.
In other words, you don’t beat yourself up because you’re feeling guilty or because you want to “judge” yourself. No, you’re beating yourself because you believe that what you’ve done is shameful, that your failure is shameful.
Say that you’ve failed an important test. You’re feeling like a loser and an idiot. You’re feeling worthless; all your peers have passed but you. You believe that your future is at risk and you’ll be broke for the rest of your life.
You’re not feeling bad because you’ve actually failed the exam. You’re feeling ashamed of yourself because you’ve failed the exam. You’ve lost your self-worth because of failing this exam.
If these feeling of shame hadn’t existed, you wouldn’t haven’t indulged in self-pity.
And the problem with shame is that it will cripple you. You’ll be left with no self-esteem (we’ll talk about self-esteem in seconds). You’ll be left with feelings of inferiority.
Under no condition can you feel these emotions and be able to take action to change, or improve, your situation. Because, in the end, you need to do something about your failure or mistake in order to feel good again. And with shame, that’s almost impossible.
Break this cycle and never feel ashamed of having problems, flaws, mistakes, imperfections, or failures.
Realize that having these things doesn’t make you less of a person. And that feeling ashamed of them and beating yourself up because of them is the most dangerous thing.
This is a fundamental belief that takes time to be internalized, but it’s a belief that will make a big difference in your life. It’ll enable you to grow from failure without having to go through shame or beating one’s self up. Just a healthy amount of guilt that will move you to action. And after taking action, you’ll start feeling good again.
Self-esteem and beating yourself up
We can sum up the first part of this article by saying: beating yourself up will result in a lower self-esteem and feelings of inferiority. These feelings will prevent you from taking action and fixing your situation, which will result in more beating. The cycle repeated.
However, while beating yourself up will result in a lower self-esteem, people with already low self-esteem tend to beat themselves up more.
A person who already believes that he’s bad and worthless will usually not be merciful towards himself when he fails.
With no enough self-esteem, one can’t get up and do something about the situation.
Yes, some people suffer from chronically low self-esteem. And they beat themselves up over the smallest failures and mistakes, resulting in even lower self-esteem.
And this low self-esteem will result in more beating and even lower self-esteem. A freaking cycle again! Combine this cycle with the cycle of self-esteem and shame above (more shame=less self-esteem) and you have a disaster.
Simply put, the lower your self-esteem is, the more likely you’ll beat yourself up (and lower your self-esteem even more).
But here’s the thing, we all, from time to time, hit lows with our self-esteem. Self-esteem isn’t constant, it can change from time to time.
Usually, after failure, our self-esteem gets affected negatively. If it’s already high, it’ll become low. If it’s already low, it’ll become even lower.
And it’ll stay at this new level unless new actions were taken. But remember, with shame and low self-esteem, taking action is near to impossible.
That’s why it’s extremely dangerous to beat yourself up when you fail or make a mistake. It’ll destroy any chance you have to get back on your feet again.
Your self-esteem will become low, and with beating yourself up, you’ll make it even lower and increase the feelings of shame. And in the long run, this will damage the way you see yourself and damage your self-worth a lot.
Putting this together
We can analyze these 2 cycles mentioned above and come up with few methods to break them.
Before that, let’s sum up why you should never beat yourself up: simply because of your self-esteem.
Feeling ashamed of your mistakes (and then beating yourself up with all these feelings of shame) will destroy your self-esteem. Shame is not the same as guilt. Shame is destructive.
And when you already have a low self-esteem, this will become even worse.
And when your self-esteem is destroyed, you’ll never be able to take action and fix the situation.
After all, in the article about handling failure I’ve said it’s all about taking action. You need to do something to convince your mind that you’ll improve, you need to respond to the guilt; not to the shame.
Now, let’s suggest few solutions to this problem of beating one’s self up. Realizing how dangerous it is can be very helpful, but let’s expand on this and explore a few helpful tips:
- Shame and problems: we often feel ashamed of having problem, and this is very dangerous. A shy person would feel that something is wrong with him because he’s shy. A person who doesn’t know what to do with his life is ashamed of that. But we don’t realize the fact that we’re all broken and wounded somehow; we all have our own problems and issues. We all have few wounds and scars here and there. Never feel ashamed of having a problem; it doesn’t make you less of a person because we all have issues somehow. The feeling of shame of having problems is what will make your problems grow bigger and left unsolved forever. (Read: 4 Facts About Your Life Problems That Will Help You Solve Them.)
- Perfectionism: we’re living in the age of madness and greediness. We want to always succeed, always improve, always do great things, always be funny, always make no mistakes, and always he happy. Cut the crap, please! This tendency to be perfect will just destroy you. It’ll breed feelings of shame when you fail to live up to those perfect standards. It’ll lead to disappointment and frustration. The fact of the matter is that the normal progress for all of us is to go out there and screw up few times (and every now and then) before we get it right. It doesn’t make us less of humans, no, it makes us perfectly humans. It’s pretty normal to do a good job sometimes and do a poor job other times, don’t beat yourself up because you’re not always killing it.
- Take immediate actions: now you should be aware of the consequences of beating one’s self up. And also you should be willing to stop doing that. But anyway, remember, your mind needs solid evidence that you’re willing to fix the situation. Only actions can do that. I learned that taking immediate action, no matter how I feel like, is very beneficial. It’s more beneficial than sitting in a room alone beating the hell out of myself. Sit down, see what you’ve screwed up, and take immediate, no matter how small, actions to fix it. I promise you that you’ll feel better the next few days (given that you’ve taken action consistently).
Last but not least, I’m not going to leave you there yet.
I’m committed to making you pick yourself up instead of beating yourself up. I know how it feels like to beat yourself up and I know how destructive it can get.
As a last piece of information, here’s an excerpt from my book The Art of Change:
It’s not black-or-white. It’s not all-or-nothing. It’s not always-winning. And, of course, it’s never no-failure.
I’m not here to justify making mistakes; I’m here to remind you that you can make mistakes and still be good if you handled your mistakes correctly.
I’m not here to give you excuses to do a poor job, I’m just here to be that little spark of light that shines through the darkness of your rock bottom and tells you that there’s hope somehow.
I’m here to make sure you don’t give up on yourself.
As soon as you slip and fall, no matter how hard, I want you to take few actions immediately to make sure you fix what can be fixed and to not repeat the mistake once again. Immediate actions! That means right away. Use that guilt right now or it’ll beat the hell out of you tomorrow.
Guilt upgrades itself. It never stays the same. If neglected and not acted upon, it’ll intensify itself and become bigger. And, for your records, there’s no such thing as “big guilt!” There’s only guilt or shame.
Shame is an unhealthy amount of guilt. It’s guilt that has ran out of control. With it, you don’t just feel guilty about doing something wrong, you no longer differentiate between the wrong that you’ve done and your own self; you believe that you’re the wrong.
Guilt is good if used correctly. Shame is never good. Shame will destroy you. It’ll make you unable to take any step forward because, after all, you think that you don’t really deserve anything but being punished and looked down at.
Check out the book here: The Art of Change