Some of the meanest things we ever hear come from ourselves.
- “You are a failure.”
- “That idea stinks.”
- “If people knew who you really were . . .”
- “You are a fraud.”
These were the thoughts racing through my mind in the middle of the night. Tasks at work and home were pilling up and I felt like I was losing ground.
Everyone gets anxious sometimes, and I am no different.
Honestly, I felt overwhelmed.
I was not sure how I was going to get everything done and I was wasting precious time thinking about how people would react to my inevitable crash landing. This time, these familiar and powerful statements of self-condemnation were completely out of proportion to the reality of the problem.
For years I have heard various people talk about the problem of negative self-talk — that discouraging inner voice that we use to discourage and condemn ourselves.
We would never say such harsh, critical things to people in real life.
The Golden Rule directs that we should do unto to others as we would have them do unto us. That is, we should treat other people the way we would want to be treated if we were in their situation.
- If we messed up or failed, we would want people to extend grace. We should do the same for others.
- If we were homeless and hungry, we would want people to be generous and help us get shelter and food. We should do the same for others.
- If we were trapped in modern slavery, we would want people to come rescue us. We should do the same for others.
The Golden Rule focuses our attention outward toward others.
But what about how we behave around ourselves?
Too often we are hypercritical of ourselves.
We question our own motives and actions and fan the flame of our insecurities. Our sleep and rest is frequently interrupted by a condemning laundry list of all the things that we have left undone.
If a friend were drifting off to sleep, we would never call to remind him of all of his undone tasks. We would not declare him a failure or a fraud.
The opposite is true.
If he called us at night and confessed his self-doubts, we would remind him that hope springs eternal, his struggles are common to everyone, and tomorrow is a new day to keep working hard.
Kicking someone while they are down is culturally unacceptable.
Everywhere except in our own inner dialogue.
Some may imagine that the negative voices are just the unvarnished hard truths about us, without the unnecessary social niceties. Although the underlying issues may contain seeds of truth, the mean negative voices are often laced with deceptions.
Perhaps we need an Inverted Golden Rule for how we treat ourselves. In addition to treating others, as we would like to be treated we should:
“Do unto ourselves as we would do unto others.”
If we would not be willing to publicly say it to someone else, we should not say it to ourselves.
- If we would extend grace to others, we should not condemn ourselves.
- If we would encourage others, we should not discourage ourselves.
- If we would remind others that neither their best nor worst acts define them, we should not label ourselves with exaggerated negative identity statements.
That night I worked to silence my own negative voices and focus on working through my tasks, communicating with colleagues, and delegating where I could. It turns out I did not have a crash landing and most of the things worked out over time.
What would it look like if we followed both the Golden Rule and the Inverted Golden Rule?