Dealing With Painful Emotions: How To Distinguish Between Guilt, Shame, and Embarrassment

GUILT vs. EMBARRASSMENT vs. SHAME: Part One

Let me start by saying that I don’t know about you, but I know about me: over the course of my life, I have had times of experiencing pretty intense amounts of all three of these emotionally painful —although perfectly human—feelings. Fortunately, I have cultivated a set of tools that help me keep all three of these feelings in check whenever they pop up—tools which I plan to mention later on here.

What I want to do first though is to offer a way to distinguish among the three, which may or may not jive with the distinction among the three you many already be making yourself. Let’s start with guilt. I prefer to define guilt as: feeling you did something bad in your own eyes. Then there’s embarrassment—defining that as: feeling you did something bad mainly in SOMEONE ELSE’S eyes. Finally, shame: feeling you are a bad PERSON at the core.

Going further on guilt, here’s two key things to consider. First, guilt is triggered by an ACTION you took—or didn’t take but feel you should have— that you judge yourself as bad/wrong for.

Examples:
1) saying or doing something that hurt the feelings of someone who matters to you;
2) not following through on a promise or commitment you made to someone;
3) messing up on a task or project on the job; and 4) doing something reckless or immoral that doesn’t fit your values and conscience.

Second, I highly encourage a distinction be made between two emotional/psychological types or amounts of guilt: manageable vs. overwhelming. Not just black-and-whiting feeling guilty, i.e., you feel guilty or you don’t. Creating a gray area—MANAGEABLE guilt—can help you keep perspective that while you are feeling guilty yes, it is not an overwhelming amount.

As for embarrassment, again, the focus here is: you’re feeling you did something bad/wrong in someone else’s eyes. The key though is to recognize you are PROJECTING. That is, you are assuming you are being negatively judged for something you did bad/wrong that really reflects your OWN negative self-judgment projected onto someone else. Which means that if you weren’t. Which means that if you weren’t already feeling overwhelming guilt yourself, it wouldn’t upset you anywhere as much if you felt someone else was judging you negatively for what you did. Also keep in mind though that as with guilt, embarrassment can be made manageable, and not remain overwhelming.

The biggest problem of the three is shame. As John Bradshaw brilliantly and sensitively spelled out many years ago in his amazing book “Healing The Shame That Binds You,” feeling shame is psychologically/emotionally toxic to your SOUL. It means you feel at the core that you are a mix of unlovable, undeserving of happiness, and simply a bad person. Unlike with guilt and embarrassment, shame is never manageable–it is by nature automatically overwhelming.

Hopefully these distinctions resonate for you. Now, let’s consider what to do about these three painful feelings.

Guilt vs Shame vs Embarrassment: Part Two

Let’s consider what to do about these three painful feelings.

Let’s start with guilt. Assuming you feel your guilt is overwhelming—or at least pretty tough to manage—you have a couple of options to get your guilt down to a manageable level:

1) Mindfully reminding yourself that your inner bully/critic wants you to believe that you deserve to be PUNISHED for your self-defined transgression, above and beyond you already feeling bad about what you did. So you need to tell your bully/critic you’re not going to tolerate it adding insult to you having injured yourself via your bad/wrong action!

2) Make amends—which I also non-religiously describe as doing a “personal penance.” If say your huge guilt is over hurting someone, you start by sincerely apologizing to them—and I do mean sincerely, never half-heartedly or appeasingly!

Then let them know you want to do something to make it up to them— such as sincerely promising you will never do it again (and obviously keeping your promise!), and then making sure to offer to do something that will remind the person how important they really are to you. And feel free to repeat this amend-making apology and display of specialness a couple of more times in the weeks and months ahead. You can also choose to make amends to YOURSELF.

Suppose for example you are feeling overwhelming guilt that you have totally sloughed off taking care of your body and health by repeatedly sabotaging yourself in your efforts to lose a significant of weight. If you use the words “make amends” or “personal penance,” you go ahead and commit to becoming much more self-disciplined on the food control and exercise fronts—starting today!. Or if you did something reckless that you truly regret (such as driving after having had way too much to drink), you make yourself never drive again if you’ve been drinking.

Now, as for dealing with embarrassment: as I mentioned above: if you get your projected guilt to be more manageable, you are likely to get your embarrassment to be more manageable. Making amends and doing personal penance can cover embarrassment/management too.

But now to shame… If you are suffering—and I mean suffering—from shame, the work you need to do on yourself to make your shame more manageable involves more intensive work than guilt-management or embarrassment-management. That’s partly because shame can be an intrinsic part of the diagnosis of clinical depression, and often enough a complication of PTSD. Two things mainly are recommended. First, you need to build up your core self-worth. That means using tools to build up your self-esteem, such as making a list in one or two word adjectives of your likable personality traits and qualities, and looking at the list for a few moments every day. Then you need tools to build up your self-respect.

This involves two things:
1) making a list of anything you do or have done over the years that gives you at least some sense of accomplishment; and
2) at the end of the day before bedtime, taking a minute or two to give yourself a little credit (I.e., pat on the back) for anything you did that day that took at least some effort, met some goal you had set, took some real self-control, was an act of kindness, or was an act of courage.

But the other thing you really need to do to make your shame more manageable is to seek professional help! Therapy or counseling with the right therapist/counselor for you can help you work through the causes and triggers for your shame, help you become convinced you do not deserve one ounce of shame, help you become convinced you that you have the right to feel betrayed by anyone (especially a parent) who shamed you, and guide and support you into using tools like the ones I suggested in the previous paragraph.

So please do yourself a big favor, and if you recognize you need it, give yourself the gift of guilt management, embarrassment management, and most challengingly of all shame management. On a personal/psychological level, I cannot think of a gift you can give yourself that will be better for your overall mental health and emotional well-being than that!

How are YOU doing on the guilt or embarrassment or shame fronts?

Becoming Your Own Best Friend: Advice On Cultivating Self-Love

So much here online and elsewhere is written about loving yourself, or taking care of yourself, or re-parenting yourself, or being your own best friend. I mainly want to focus here on that last perspective – – the best friend part. To be the best type of friend you can be to yourself would, I hope you realize, be a real gift— from you to you! I plan to share with you some recommendations I have for doing that – – which I guarantee you I do my darnedest to practice myself, and not just preach.

There is something that must be addressed first though. It’s called: your inner bully/critic (I personally prefer the term bully over critic only because I wrote a book with that term in the title; feel free though to use critic or any other term that resonates for you). Specifically, we all need to be mindful of the fact that our innerbully/critic is all about SELF-SABOTAGE. And one of its insidiously favorite ways of sabotaging us is to convince us deep down that we really do not deserve our own best-friend treatment. So when you read over the – – as I will call it–“You Best-Friending You” list below, keep in mind that while you may find it useful, your inner bully/critic is not going to want you to do these types of things – –which I’ll bet you unhesitatingly do for your closest friends!

One more preface before the list. Sticking with the term inner bully for the moment, keep in mind that like dealing with a real bully, you do yourself a favor by recognizing that it is jealous of you! Jealous mainly of all of your positive qualities, and all of the good things you do in your life. With that truth in mind, you need to stand up to your inner bully, to keep it in check to the best of your ability.

So here are my recommendations for a “You Best-Friending You” list:

🔸 at the end of each day, take a moment to give yourself a pat on the back for anything you accomplished that day, including the “little things” that really aren’t little at all in the scheme of things

🔸 be as courageous as you can, whenever you can

🔸 create a “menu” of ways to comfort and soothe yourself when you are in emotional pain

🔸 challenge yourself only in a CONSTRUCTIVE manner, never destructively (squelch harshness and overcriticism of yourself!)

🔸 make sure to get at least one good laugh a day

🔸 make a list of your likable personality traits and qualities, and take a moment to look at it once a day

🔸 take the best care you can of your body, your overall physical health, and most certainly also your MENTAL health

🔸 make sure to engage in acts of kindness— to others but also most certainly to yourself

In closing, of course no one can consistently do all of these great-friend-to-yourself things. But the more of them we do—and the more consistently we do them— The better off we are guaranteed to be on the self-worth and self-esteem fronts!

So tell me: how much of this list do you feel applies to YOU?

Be Courageous: A Soulful Gift, From You To You

Every few months or so, I like to post something about courage. Which I choose to define as: anything you are reluctant or hesitant to do, but you push yourself to do anyway – – because it’s in your best interest to do that!
What’s so great about courage? Two things mainly, if you ask me. One: even though you may be anxious, it gives you an opportunity to pursue something you want , or make something you hope to happen actually happen. Second, even if you don’t end up getting what you want or making that something actually happen, you can always respect yourself for having given it a shot!

As a little aside, there’s a personal reason why I make a point of posting on courage. That’s because, I must confess, only through my adult years did I teach myself to be courageous. I say this because I grew up in an environment of almost no risk-taking and no encouragement of being courageous. So like I say, I had to teach it to myself. And I also learned to remind myself that sometimes you can push yourself into being courageous yes, but that other times, well, you’re just not there quite yet. But it’s always the right thing to do, and always in your best interest.

Or as I feel about it: courage is a soulful gift, from you to you!

Here’s some ways I think of to be courageous, whether you’ve ever done any of them (or anything similar to them) or not:

🔸 go back to school, or take a class, or join an activity group
🔸 if you are socially anxious, initiate a conversation or two at a social gathering
🔸 tell your difficult boss you feel you deserve a raise
🔸 stand up to a bully
🔸say “no” and set a boundary with someone you find it hard to do this with
🔸 express a vulnerable but honest feeling to someone you feel anxious expressing it to
🔸 ask someone you feel comfortable with to give you a hug (or offer to give it to them)
🔸 break off a toxic relationship (especially if you’ve tried to make it work and the effort has gotten you nowhere)
🔸 go for therapy or counseling; or stop ongoing therapy or counseling if you feel clear that the therapist or counselor simply isn’t right for you.

Okay, so what’s one thing YOU have done that took courage for you to do?

For more about courage, check out my most recent webinar on Creating Positive Relationships, which covers dealing with past trauma and healing to move forward. You can view the full webinar here.

Building Your Love House: How To Focus On A Solid Foundation

So, indulge me in looking at the healthiness of a love relationship (or any relationship of significance for that matter) through the lens of the analogy of a house. A house has of course two main components: a frame and a foundation. The frame mainly encompasses what externally and internally looks and feels appealing about the house. So it’s obviously important to have the best and most enjoyable frame to that house you can have.

Yet there is another essential part of a house, which of course is the foundation. The part of the house that holds the frame up and keeps it in place, regardless of how the frame actually looks and feels.

Enough said; you know what a house is composed of!

Now I’ll use the word house as an analogy for a love relationship. Let me actually give a specific relationship example: my own current one. My girlfriend and I have been together for 2 1/2 years. At this point I can safely say to date it’s the healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in. I say this because our “house” has a great frame AND is built on an increasingly rock-solid foundation. Our frame is made up especially of: physical chemistry, lots of laughs, very good communication, constructively challenging each other, taking as-needed “time-outs”, and frequent displays of affection. A very appealing and enjoyable frame that we both feel blessed to have.

But it’s our house’s foundation that counts more. A foundation that has four hugely important pieces, all under the heading of mutual: mutual respect, trust, specialness, and comfort. Now, as very positive as that all sounds, you might wonder if say we argue at all? Yes we sure do sometimes. You might also wonder if there are times we may irritate each other or hurt each other‘s feelings (unintentionally)? Ring up another yes for sure. But fortunately, these kinds of challenges have to date created only very small, temporary cracks in our foundation.

The big four pieces of our foundation overall remain solidly in place. Which we are both totally committed to working on building and keeping in place—including going for some sessions of therapy or counseling if needed!
Moral of the story? Well, let’s call it like it is: a real house can have a beautiful frame to it. But if cracks develop in its foundation, much less the foundation crumbles, then no matter how beautiful the frame may be the house collapses anyway. Same exact thing really of course for a love relationship “house.”

So, if you are currently in a love relationship yourself, or are seeking one out and hope to find one soon, make sure you get as solid a foundation in place as the two of you can. The best of a true future together rides — or, should I say, stands on it.

Coping With Major Life Changes: What Is Transitional Anxiety Syndrome?

I don’t know about you, but I was never a big fan of major change. Or to put that slightly differently, I’ve never been a great role-model of coping well with making major life transitions.   Now, when I say the words “major transitions”—over the course of adult life– I’m especially referring to six possible ones:

  1. Starting a new job or leaving one;
  2. Getting married or at least moving in together, or ending the relationship;
  3. Changing home residence;
  4. Entering retirement;
  5. Having children who are about to leave the nest; and
  6. Making a sexual identity transition ( Becoming more and more relevant in this day and age)

What they all share in common though are two things.  One, there’s plenty of room for anxiety kicking in all along the way, before and during the transition. And two, every major transition involves some significant shift in level and type of responsibility.  Put these two things together, and you get: the more significant the shift in responsibility is after the transition, the higher the level of anxiety that will be triggered.  To the point where if this responsibility shift feels overwhelming, well, guess what: the anxiety can become overwhelming, at least temporarily anyway.

(As a little aside, and true confession: when I made the transition decades ago from completing my Ph.D. program into my first career job as a staff psychologist, I—quite unexpectedly—got so overwhelmed about how much more responsibility I now had that I basically suffered a psychological breakdown.  Fortunately, a year of terrific therapy and a bit of medication got me back on my feet.  And while I certainly haven’t had a breakdown over major transitions since then, believe me, my transitional-anxiety gremlin can still pack a punch when it wants to!)

So, what determines just how anxious you’ll get before and during a major transition? I’ve given this subject a lot of thought over the years, including looking back on my own experience just described above.  

Here are the four variables that I believe play a huge role in determining whether transitional anxiety will be manageable versus overwhelming:

  1. Being a worrier by nature;
  2. Having relatively low self-confidence in the transitional area;
  3. Having relatively low self-worth overall;
  4. Having a limited or unreliable support system.  

Put these four together, and you get: the more you are a worrier by nature, have relatively low self-confidence in the transitional area, have relatively low self-worth overall, and have a limited or unreliable support system, then the more vulnerable you are to your Transitional Anxiety becoming overwhelming rather than manageable.  

Transitional Anxiety Syndrome (TAS) Is the term I use to describe transitional anxiety crossing the line from manageable to overwhelming.

So, what can you do if you develop TAS over a major life transition?  I offer you a little menu of options, at least some of which I used to help myself through my own TAS described above:

  1. Utilize a plentiful supply of mindful meditation and healthy physical outlets like exercise or gardening;
  2. Read up on anything informative and insightful related to your particular transition;
  3. Speak to anyone you know who has gone through a similar transition;
  4. Make sure to give yourself a little pat on the back each day for your courage and any little accomplishments of the day;
  5. Reach out for support, encouragement, and comfort from anyone in your life who you feel confident can provide you that; and last but not least
  6. Certainly keep yourself open, like I did, to options for professional help (therapy/counseling and possibly medication too).

Care to share any experiences YOU may have had with TAS? For more advice on coping with anxiety, check out some of my recent free videos on the subject or one of my books.

How Non-Sexual Intimacy Can Make Or Break A Relationship

Let me begin this post by saying I actually have no idea how many men will read it. I say that because my experience online has been that the likes and comments I get typically come much more from females than males. But I figured what the heck, I’m going to post this anyway.

So, my question for you men out there is: how much does non-sexual intimacy matter to you in your relationship with your special woman? If your answer is anything less than “a lot” (or at least something like “ I know it should mean more, but I’m not sure how to get there”), then I encourage you to hear me out.

In the process, you will end up with a chance to take less time than it took me personally to really “get” how terrific non-sexual intimacy really is with the right partner. Oh, and BTW: in case it isn’t obvious, non-sexual intimacy can be either physical or verbal. Examples of physical non-sexual intimacy include warm hugs, holding hands, and massages. Verbal forms of non-sexual intimacy include expressions of appreciation, respect, gratitude, and specialness, either spoken directly out loud, or expressed through a card or something else you write by hand.

Now if you ask me fellow men out there, there are three great reasons to cultivate more non-sexual intimacy with your special woman:

🔶Number one: maybe you already know this (and if you don’t, give yourself a chance to find out), but moments of physical non-sexual intimacy can be great for stress management (for both you AND her).

🔶Number two: chances are–not guaranteed, but chances are—you will end up with more regular sexual relations (which may or may not become more frequent, but perhaps at least likely more consistent). But here’s the best reason of all:

🔶Number three: non-sexual intimacy can over time heighten the bond between the two of you above and beyond the realm of sexual intimacy, into what can become FOUNDATIONAL relationship intimacy! And that’s the best thing of all for you and your special woman to share!

What do you think? In my opinion, this is a really important subject to explore. Why does most therapy seem to cater to the female demographic only? Why aren’t more men sharing their feelings and being emotionally available (and proud of it)?

I think we have a ways to go as a society to accept that all genders are emotional creatures and erase the stigma of being a “manly man” or not. Men, like women, should be multi-faceted. I explore this idea more in my previous post about what makes a real man; check that out here.

When Arguing, What’s Your True Priority—WINNING OR RESOLVING? [Featuring Four Practical Steps For Positive Resolution]

What follows is for any important relationship you are in, or someone you know is in: romantic love, parent-child, other family members, or platonic friendship.

Let’s suppose you and someone with whom you are in a relationship argue often. Or, you don’t argue very often, but when you do, it can get nasty and contentious. What typically transpires, of course, is that you both go back and forth on the subject of the argument, e.g., money, domestic upkeep, keeping commitments, loyalty, et cetera.  Typical too, though, is the basic underlying message you are each giving each other, regardless of the subject being argued: it’s “I’m right, you’re wrong—and it really pisses me off that you don’t see it my way!”  

Well, ever heard of Newton’s Third Law—you know, the old ‘every action produces an equal and opposite reaction?’  When applying Newton’s Third Law to what l’ll call Human-Relationship Physics, what you can guarantee is happening is that each time one of you is emphatically taking the uncompromising “I’m right, you’re wrong!” position, that’s pretty much reflexively triggering an equal and opposite “No, I’m right, YOU’RE wrong!” position right back!  And round and round can this vicious Newtonian circle go, until one or both or one of you either says something truly mean and things get ugly, or one of you leaves the situation, until the next battle begins, an hour, a day, or a week later.

The question I now ask you is this: by holding on tightly to your “I’m right!” position, what did you win?  Did you get the other person to agree with you? Chances are maybe you forced their hand to agree on a rare occasion, but I doubt anything more constructive than that. Worse, did you and that person do anything at all truly healthy for the relationship? Did you grow together and nurture healthy habits? Obviously not—which is of course very easy for both parties to completely lose sight of during those Newtonian episodes (hey, when you come from an immediate family of quite a few arguers and arguments like I did, you know this stuff all too well, I guarantee you).

So, what can you do to try and nip these episodes in the bud?  Easier said than done for sure!  But, it truly begins with both of you committing to prioritizing RESOLVING over winning.  Practically speaking, resolving can involve the following diffusing steps:    

1)  Listening for what may be some legitimacy in the other person’s position.            

2)  Acknowledging the person’s feeling of the moment, e.g., “Hey, I assure you I see how angry/aggravated you are right now!”             

3) Challenging both of you TOGETHER about how much you’re hurting each other by staying on the attack, e.g., “but hey, can we agree to try and resolve this without hurting each other so much, like we keep doing?”             

4) Deciding together at that moment to either take a self-calming and de-escalating time out, or proceed to have a constructive discussion where intense anger and resentment are kept under control.

Should the two of you—with practice— manage to accomplish that last step, I encourage you to think in positive Newtonian terms of your accomplishment. You together switched the “I’m right, you’re wrong!” action/reaction PROBLEM into the “Hey, let’s really try to resolve this!” action/reaction RESOLUTION!

Oh, and one more thing: try reminding each other that you need to stop acting like adversaries if not enemies, because you supposedly love each other!

Overcoming Emotional Trauma: A Menu For Healing The Hurt That Holds You Back

Growing up, I was emotionally hurt a lot.  Although I was an only child, my parents were so caught up in their own troubles and struggles that I managed to end up not fitting the stereotypes of an only child.  Meaning not only was I not spoiled and catered to, on the contrary: I was outright neglected.  Plus, my parents fought like cats and dogs (on a slightly lighter note, I would describe them as the understudies for the Costanzas on Seinfeld — except in real life, it was anything but funny to regularly witness, as I figure you can imagine).

All that arguing inevitably left me with plenty of core anxiety and insecurity—no surprise there, right? So, that was the essence of my emotional hurt growing up: a mix of deep feelings of neglect (accompanied by feelings of being unlovable), plus significant amounts of insecurity and anxiety; hurt that left me vulnerable to what I came to think of as my inner bully’s “double whammy” of potential self-sabotage.  Meaning: on the one hand, I am aware of my having an emotional core of hypersensitivity and over-reactivity to feeling betrayed and/or rejected. Yet on the other hand, I am equally aware I have a piece inside of me—a piece I learned from watching my parents argue so much—to pseudo-compensate for feeling hurt by all too quickly going to anger.

I tell you all of this for two reasons. First, so I can now follow it up by sharing with you how I know firsthand what the incredible benefits are that you can get from being in the right therapy with the right therapist (it took me quite a while, but I eventually found him, thankfully).  Am I no longer hypersensitive and over-reactive? Certainly these self-sabotaging tendencies are not gone entirely by any means, but I’m clear as daylight that I have come a long way in controlling them—especially, and most importantly, in the face of situational triggers.

Am I no longer prone to outbursts of anger?  I can’t say they never occur, but I can unequivocally and unhesitatingly say they occur a lot less, and manifest much more often than not in an increasingly controlled manner.

So, what’s my “secret” here, to use this overused term?  It’s called HEALING. No, my painful emotional wounds certainly are not 100% healed; some scars do for sure remain. But my confidence in my ability to comfort myself and be resilient in the face of feeling betrayed or rejected, as well as in my ability to keep my anger in check have never been stronger.  And to what do I attribute my healing?  Here’s my “menu” for success.

First, again, being with the right therapy/therapist. Then, add all of the following items: having the incredible good fortune to still love my work, learning self-comfort tools, turning to my robust network of great friends for support (while making sure to give it back to them as needed, too), performing acts of kindness and courage, allowing displays of  vulnerability at the right time to the right people, getting a good laugh a day (and a good cry when needed), and, last but not least, staying as active, healthy, and playful as I have the luxury and ability to be.

So: care to share where YOU are on the healing front?

Learn more about my journey to overcoming my Inner Bully and tackling Self-Sabotage by checking out my two published books, browsing my recent blog posts, and connecting with me on my Instagram and Facebook pages. Oh, and I encourage you to download a FREE chapter from my book: you can find the link to download that here!

Learn to Love Yourself: The Four Components of Self-Love

“Learn to love yourself!” Wonderful and inspiring words, but certainly can sometimes be a challenge to do, right? Well, the way I have come to see it in recent years, if you want to feel more self-love, It can really help if you feel positively about yourself in the following four areas:

  • Self-liking;
  • Self-respect;
  • Self-enjoyment; and
  • Self-comfort.

Let’s dive deeper into each one of those components.

Self-Liking

Self-liking describes the positive, likable personality traits and qualities you see yourself as having.  These could be anything from intelligent, to outgoing, ambitious, kind, a good listener, devoted, energetic, or funny. Self-liking expresses the things you are good at and the good that others may see in you as well.

Self-Respect

Self-respect describes anything you feel you are accomplishing in your life—most certainly including the “little things” you do each day that are worthy of giving yourself a little bit of credit or acknowledgment for.  These can include: making the effort, self control over a self-defeating habit, an act of kindness, something that took some creativity, meeting a goal you had set, and—last but not least—an act of courage.

Self-Enjoyment

Self-enjoyment describes anything you do that allows you to entertain and enjoy yourself.  It could be through watching a funny show, writing something creative, making people laugh or telling an entertaining story, or being out in nature.

Self-Comfort

Self-comfort encompasses anything you do to compassionately comfort and soothe yourself when you are emotionally (or physically) hurting.  This can include things like taking a warm bath, listening to peaceful music or a meditation recording, reading something comforting or reassuring, making a list of what you like and respect about yourself, or—certainly not for everyone, but in my view so worth trying at least once —taking some kind of a furry stuffed animal or person (or even a pillow), holding it in your arms, imagining that it is you, and saying the kind of comforting and reassuring things you would say to a real live person you know who is hurting. 

In other words, in a nutshell, the clearer you can become that there are things you like about yourself, you respect about yourself, you enjoy doing in your own company, and you do to effectively comfort yourself, the more you will know your self-love is where you want it to be. But if you feel you fall short in any of these four areas, at least this can help you identify what you want to work on to get your self-love to that loving place. And if I may just add, a place I am grateful for and is a better place than it ever has been.

Feel like sharing where YOU are on the self-love front?  Leave a comment, or visit my Instagram or Facebook page for more on this subject!

How To Shift Your Self-Judgement: A Technique To Overcome Your Inner Bully

I’d like to share with you something I’ve been practicing lately. Cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT), as some of you may know, teaches us that we can practice challenging our negative thinking—including negative self-judgments—by pointing out to ourselves the irrationalities, over-generalizations, and incorrect assumptions in our minds that are creating and perpetuating the toxic negative thinking. Sometimes that approach works just fine. But in enough instances, I find it doesn’t work so well. For example, suppose you are mired in self-critical judgments like “I’m pretty stupid!” or “I’m fat and ugly!” or “I’m so undeserving of being loved!” These, what I call “inner bully,” harsh self-judgments can be pretty darn impenetrable to internal cognitive challenging, like what is practiced in CBT.


So, let me suggest an alternative strategy to getting control over negative self-judgments like these. The strategy involves switching the focus in your mind off of the distressing negative self-judgment you are caught up in, and onto what you are FEELING at that moment. I think it’s safe to say there are certain feelings that almost always create highly self-critical judgment—feelings like: sadness, anxiety, disappointment, frustration, hurt, or irritation.

The point is: what I’ve been preaching—and practicing—is mindfully shifting a negative self-judgment into one of those honest feelings. For example, suppose your inner bully has you saying to yourself something like “Jeez, you really are pretty stupid sometimes!” What you practice doing at those moments is switching immediately to telling yourself what you are really feeling, e.g., “I’m feeling sad right now” or “I’m feeling disappointed right now”—or anxious, or hurt, or pissed off, or jealous, or whatever. By doing this, you are replacing toxic negative self-judgment with a totally NON-judgmental, totally human feeling, one that exists in your emotional core because it belongs there at the moment.

Try it—and just see if like me, you feel like you are giving yourself a golden opportunity to bypass going cognitive with your negative self-judging; and instead, to cut right to non-judgmental honest feeling!