At some point in their lives, most people have felt mistreated by someone else. But sometimes the greatest cruelty we face actually comes from within ourselves. When this happens, we often aren’t even aware we are treating ourselves poorly.
That’s why we might benefit from living by a new “golden rule”: Treat yourself the way you want others to treat you. Before we perform actions or engage in thoughts directed towards ourselves, we should stop and consider whether we would appreciate that same treatment if it came from someone else.
Of course, each of us has unique desires regarding how we would like to be treated, so the way we should act toward ourselves may also differ. But the following guidelines might be a reasonable place to start. After each “don’t” is a happier, alternative “do.”
Don’t criticize yourself too harshly: No matter how much we wish it wasn’t true, we all have less-than-perfect moments. When we make mistakes, we often fling mental insults at ourselves. Sometimes we are so good at this that we manage to convince ourselves we really are terrible people. But I think most of us would feel abused if another person tore us apart over our failures that way. So, we should be careful to show ourselves compassion, even when we are disappointed by our imperfections.
Do praise yourself: Compliments make us feel good, and we like it when others notice and express positive things about us. We can extend the same courtesy toward ourselves by acknowledging our personal successes and valuing our strengths.
Don’t Make Excuses For Yourself: While it is important to avoid being overly critical, we should not go to the other extreme of allowing ourselves to get away with everything. Almost anything we do wrong can be justified somehow, and it is tempting to accept questionable justifications to avoid the pain of admitting a mistake. The problem is, doing that means being dishonest with ourselves (which is treatment we wouldn’t want from others). It is better to acknowledge our errors, forgive ourselves, and try to do better in the future.
Do Encourage Yourself to Grow: Moments of imperfection can be great opportunities for self-improvement, if we take the time to analyze them and correct whatever went wrong. Rather than feeling bad about mistakes, or pretending they don’t exist, we can take on the challenge of bettering ourselves by not repeating them.
Don’t Punish Yourself: Sometimes feeling bad about ourselves escalates into a belief that our shortcomings are so severe we don’t deserve happiness. We end up undermining relationships, missing opportunities, and denying ourselves satisfactions because we feel unworthy of them. But the natural consequences of our mistakes are punishment enough. After all, if we accidentally spilled tomato sauce on a friend’s shirt, we would hope the friend would simply allow us to pay for a new one, rather than seek revenge by attacking our own wardrobe with grape juice.
Do seek enjoyment for yourself: When other people take the time to do nice things for us, it generally makes us happy. So, we should take the time to do nice things for ourselves, too. This could mean indulging in a favorite dessert, taking a day off from work, going for a long run, planning a day with friends, or engaging in any other activity that brings us pleasure.
Frustrating as it is, we can’t always control the injustices inflicted on us by others. But we can avoid mistreating ourselves, and we even have the chance to create some extra happiness in the process.