The gift of self-criticism

"You shouldn't be so hard on yourself."

As someone who tends toward perfectionism, I've heard that message a lot. And I don't like it.

For one, it feels shaming and judgmental. Who is anyone else to say how I should or shouldn't relate to myself?

Even more than that, though, I think it is bad life advice. Because sometimes I really mess up! And sometimes self-criticism is exactly what is called for.

If I think I'm not supposed to be hard on myself, I'll be afraid to even look at those areas of life where I may not be doing a good job. I won't want anyone else to point them out either, so I'll be hyper-defensive. I'll see myself as weak and fragile. And any problems I'm creating will just get worse.

I know this because I've seen it play out in my life, and it's something I want to change. 

I want to remember that it is okay to be hard on myself, that self-criticism is not the same as self-hatred, and that being honest with myself about the ways I mess up can be a huge gift.

To that end, here are some reminders that I wrote for myself earlier this week, which I share in case they resonate with you, too:

You have permission to be angry and disgusted with yourself for choices you make out of fear and laziness. You have permission to feel ashamed for living irresponsibly and ignoring your impact on others. You have permission to feel regret for the ways you've betrayed your values and blamed others for your unhappiness. You have permission to hate being human.

You also have permission to offer yourself love. You have permission to forgive. You have permission to let all these feelings go. You have permission to re-commit to your values, to set new goals, to try something new. You have permission to ask for help. You have permission to change. You have permission to live.

Have a wonderful week!

You don't have to fix it

I'll be honest. I've been struggling lately to practice what I preach. There has been significant upheaval in my family and home, and it has been overwhelming my ability to cope.

I can't tell you how annoying it is to have collected all this knowledge about creating joy and connection -- and to know that it's possible under any circumstance -- and yet be unable/unwilling to put it into practice.

In the back of my mind, I keep finding myself thinking, Something's wrong. I have to fix it! This makes me anxious and keeps me from seeing clearly and acting wisely. And it's not even true.

The reality is, I can't fix it. Because the "it" is Life itself, including things that have already happened, and things beyond my control.

In the big picture sense, there is nothing wrong with Life. It just contains a lot of things I don't like and don't understand. 

Stepping back like this eases the anxiety. It gives me space to remember who I am and see more clearly what I might do to create more joy and connection right now.

It also reminds me how much I love talking to people about life, and how much I've missed teaching and facilitating these past few months.

I look forward to getting back into that soon, but in the meantime, I am available for 1:1 conversations, and would love to talk to you. See details on Pepperlane.

I wish you love and happiness, no matter what your life is like right now!

Why it's hard to ask for help

I've been finding myself feeling very needy lately.

Is that as uncomfortable a feeling for you as it is for me?

Never mind that I teach classes with titles like "The Art of Receiving" and confidently tell people that one of the best gifts they can give is to accept another person's help. It can still be hard to put into practice.

One of the things that makes it hard is that it can take me a while to recognize my own neediness. It feels scary and uncomfortable to admit I'm in a situation I don't feel equipped to handle, and so I pretend it's not true. At those times, it doesn't matter how many people are out there able and willing to help me: as long as I'm resisting being needy, I simply won't accept it.

There is a cost to that resistance, though, which is that the neediness starts coming out sideways, as things like impatience, defensiveness and criticism. It feels awful to me, and to the people around me. And it will keep getting worse until I finally say, "Help!" and admit I don't have things handled.

At that point, the thing that can make it difficult to receive help is just the opposite: rather than denying my neediness, I identify with it, and start wallowing in self-pity. "Save me, I can't do this" is the message I broadcast. But when people do try to save me, I resent it -- because the truth is, I don't actually want to be powerless. I don't want other people to live my life or make my decisions for me.

What I really want is to find my own answers. But sometimes I need help figuring out what they are. 

From that awareness, it becomes a lot easier to both ask for help and to receive it. It's just a matter of figuring out the right question(s): What is the situation I'm dealing with? How do I feel about it? Where am I stuck or conflicted? What do I need to know? What do I actually want? What might I do? 

I can ask these questions to myself, to God, to other people... I'm not sure it matters. What matters is my willingness to receive answers that feel good, and get the help I need, so I can be available to others when they need me.

May you, too, recognize your neediness, embrace your desires, find your answers, and be there when others need you.