Why Are We Obsessed With Shaming Ourselves?
I am a person with higher-than-average confidence. I even designed a shirt for my clothing line that says, “I’m morbidly obsessed with myself” and it’s true. By any standard, my personal style is unapologetically bold—but it’s especially so for someone my size. I take a lot of selfies. I express my opinions. In short, I know I am a beautiful, smart, intelligent woman with a lot to say. And although it’s gotten a lot better, as I have learned to love myself over the years, I still sometimes subconsciously shame myself.
The expression “I’m the worst” still flows naturally off my tongue when I’m feeling frustrated with myself. Whether I am running late to meet some friends or taking too long to buckle the ankle straps of my shoes, I find myself declaring “I’m the worst” as a way of acknowledging that I am not doing things in the manner I hoped I could.
Shaming ourselves is a way of acknowledging that failure before someone else does. It’s the reason some people make self-deprecating jokes or call themselves ugly.
In my mind, I expect myself to never be late and to be the type of person who doesn’t need any assistance buckling her own shoes. But when I zoom out, I can see that thinking this way doesn’t leave a lot of room for reality. I am going to run late. And ankle straps are going to be difficult to put on when you have long stiletto nails.
These are just two small examples of the subconscious shaming in my own life. And while these two examples may be minor, that way of thinking can permeate, on a much more profound and significant level, how we think about not just ourselves, but others, too.
So why do we shame ourselves? We shame ourselves because we are told that if we aren’t meeting some unrealistic idea of perfection, we are failing. Shaming ourselves is a way of acknowledging that failure before someone else does. It’s the reason some people make self-deprecating jokes or call themselves ugly. Maybe on some level, we do really believe these awful things about ourselves—or maybe we just fear the worst of what others may think about us.
We are taught that everything about ourselves and our bodies is up for debate and criticism. We are taught that how others feel about us dictates our own feelings. We are held to an unattainable standard over and over again, every day.
We live in a society that shames us for being confident. Women are shamed for everything from using the dog filter on Snapchat to wearing too much or too little makeup. You’re shamed if you care too much; you’re shamed if you don’t care at all. If you proclaim to love yourself, you’re seen as cocky or conceited. The message is that no matter who you are, someone is going to have a problem with it.
The thought process goes: If I say all the mean things about myself that everyone else is thinking, then I have the power. But let’s flip it: How about you say nice things about yourself and tell everyone else to eff off instead?
We are expected to put ourselves down in order to receive approval or validation. Think about the scene in “Mean Girls” when each character is saying something she doesn’t like about herself. The Plastics each say something like: “My hips are huge.” “I’ve got man shoulders.” “My nail beds suck.” But when it comes time for Lindsay Lohan’s character to share, she doesn’t know what to say, because she never learned to do this.
This shaming that we inflict upon ourselves is a learned behavior. We become our own bully; our own personal Mean Girl.
The thought process goes: If I say all the mean things about myself that everyone else is thinking, then I have the power. But let’s flip it: How about you say nice things about yourself and tell everyone else to eff off instead? How you treat yourself not only reflects how you feel about yourself but it also affects how you treat others.
When I started saying nice things to myself, I found myself less likely to criticize others. It’s a process that really needs to go hand-in-hand. When I started to look at bodies that looked like mine and see them as beautiful, it made it easier to see my own body in that same way. And when I started seeing my own body that way, I no longer found myself making comparisons to bodies that didn’t look mine.
Taking away the shame also took away the false sense of competition. If all bodies can be beautiful, it doesn’t matter if our bodies look different. They can look different and still be beautiful. There’s a lot more room for self-love in an equation that doesn’t include shame—and that includes shaming yourself for still being in process.
Self-love and self-approval is a thought process that takes time to develop. Give yourself the space to grow without looking at someone else’s perceived confidence and lamenting that you’re not “there” yet.
When we transform our thinking from shame to self-love, we change from our own personal Mean Girl to our own biggest fan.
When I became more conscious of the messages I was sending myself, I stopped looking for outward approval, too. If the only voice and opinion that matters about my body is my own, and I have the power to control that voice, that gives me a lot more power than relying on the opinions or assumptions of others.
We are brought up in a culture that teaches us how to shame—but that doesn’t mean we don’t have the power to change how we think about ourselves and others. It’s up to us to change our thinking from “I’m the worst” to “I’m a human who will sometimes do things inefficiently, who will have bad days and good days, who is still learning—and I can choose to be kind to myself and others in the process.” When we transform our thinking from shame to self-love, we change from our own personal Mean Girl to our own biggest fan. And despite how society may try and shame you for it, there’s nothing wrong with loving you!