I was in therapy a good deal in my twenties and thirties.
Most of the work had to do with shame.
Someone along the way suggested I read a short, little book called, “How To Be Your Own Best Friend.” Its format was easy — a conversation between two therapists about growing out of your childhood and becoming an emotionally mature person, who is supportive and loving toward themselves. I imagine whichever therapist it was realized that I very easily slipped into a harsh, critical place in my head, hearing a shaming voice that told me almost constantly what I could’ve done better — how I should be thinner, nicer, more successful.
My own critical thoughts were often my worst enemy.
Reading that simple book turned on a lightbulb in my head that is still glowing brightly.
“You mean, I don’t have to keep a thumb in my back to be happy? Constant shaming and questioning of myself isn’t necessary to be a good person? I can trust who I am innately?”
No. No. And Yes.
Shame can often have a significant role in classic depression. Having feelings that things you’ve done or said that you regret have seeped into how you think of yourself, and in your own mind, you’ve become a bad person. You don’t believe in your own worth.
For someone with Perfectly Hidden Depression, it’s a little different. You’re constantly evaluating yourself, and not living up to who you believe you could be. Even if you’re successful, or have accomplished things very difficult to accomplish, you’ll focus instead on what could be better. There’s rarely a time when you relax, sit back and enjoy whatever it is you’ve created.
It goes way beyond drive or high expectations.
Nothing for you is ever quite as good as it could be. Your focus is on what isn’t, instead of what is.
At the same time, this shame you feel — you hide. You look to others as if things are great — that you’re quite satisfied, while inwardly chastising and demeaning yourself.
What shows outwardly doesn’t reflect your own inner criticism.
Often, this voice you hear belongs to someone from your childhood — your father, mother, grandparent or a bully at school. Maybe you don’t hear that voice any longer — but your own voice has joined in chorus, and taken over where a harsh parent left off.
Let’s face it. Sometimes, we all need to be critical of ourselves. You could be hurting someone else, not realizing the impact of what you do on others, or just being an all-round jerk. Obviously, having a conscience is important, and empathy for those around you necessary to enjoy quality connections with others. Holding yourself accountable is important.
Constantly nagging yourself? Opening your eyes first thing in the morning, and having some kind of negative thought about yourself?
It’s a waste of your life.
So how do you stop shaming yourself?
Here is a magic question. “Is this thought helpful to me today?“
Let’s say I’m thinking about someone who I know is undergoing cancer treatment. I texted last week, brought food in weeks past, but I haven’t contacted her in a few days. I remember this with a start. Here’s what comes for someone with PHD. “I can’t believe I didn’t make that a priority. I feel awful.” Here’s what comes for someone who is being their own best friend. “I’m glad she came to mind, and I’ll put that on my priority list for today.”
Is it helpful to beat yourself up for something you can’t control or affect now?
Only if it’s helpful for today. Only if it’s going to lead you to do something positive — today. Only if it’s guiding you to be a better person — today.
And only if it lasts a few moments.
It’s definitely not helpful if it’s a way to drag you down, and give your inner demons a workout.
Those demons don’t need any more fuel. They need to be quieted, tamed into submission.
Here’s how to do just that.
- Recognize how you started initially shaming yourself.
- Catch and challenge the painful habit you have of continuing that pattern.
- Replace the shameful thought with one that is more realistic and self-compassionate.
Those demons that love to whisper hurtful thoughts into your ear are accustomed to having free rein over your mind and heart.
They can be softened, even silenced.
And you can live a more productive and satisfying life.
You can now listen to my new podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret. Learn more about PHD by heading over. Just click here.
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