Our double standards

Have you ever noticed the double standard we have for ourselves? I remember before my divorce  I held no judgment for the friends that were divorced, even my parents.  I knew fully in my heart and head that the friends and family that had divorced were better off.  Divorce was OK for everyone else.  But I was ashamed of my divorced status. It meant I was a failure.  In one of my personal writings I wrote; “part of me felt like I had a big D written on my chest. “D for Divorced, D for deficient”.”  I had an absolute double standard, what was OK for everyone else, and what was OK for me. 

A double standard I see frequently from clients is a belief that no one is perfect, and everyone is allowed to make mistakes, everyone but them.  We already know that we are our own worst critics.  Often the little foibles we see in others we don’t even give a great deal of notice to.  The same foibles in ourselves become mountainous warts on our own character.  It may be time to give ourselves a proverbial break.  The standards we hold others to are not light.  And yet we are more tolerant and forgiving of everyone else than we are of ourselves. 

The conversations we have with ourselves tend to be cruel and harsh.  The mistakes we make create an internal dialogue of words like “stupid” and “idiot”, along with many more.  I see someone trip out on the trail around the lake here in Austin and I think; “I hope they’re OK”; I trip and I call myself a clumsy idiot.  And while those are just words, and we all know; “Stick and stones may break out bones…etc”, words do have power.  They create labels, and put us in boxes.  Think of the word “slut”.  “Clumsy” and “Idiot” also create a label, putting us in a box.   Not a very nice one.

For those of you with children, you know when they make a mistake you (hopefully) tell them that their mistakes don’t define them. You hopefully tell them that they are good even when they screw up. Because they messed up, they aren’t screw-ups. We need to start having the same conversations with ourselves. You aren’t a screw-up just because you screwed up. The heartbreaking thing is that our kids will learn from the language we use for ourselves, not the language we use for them. If we tell them they are great even when they make mistakes, but then call ourselves idiots when we make our own mistakes, they know that mistakes really aren’t acceptable.

For the most part we allow those around us a great deal more leeway than we allow ourselves.   This is not to say that we should become lax in our desire to hold ourselves to high standards, to be the best person we can be.  It means that when our life doesn’t turn out the way it was supposed to, or when we trip and fall, we give ourselves the chance to learn from our mistakes instead of making those mistakes define us. 

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About Marissa Engel

I have been in private practice in Austin, TX since 2007. My focus as a therapist is to help clients uncover within themselves the courage and strength to face life with confidence. In my work with clients I am most interested in helping people develop a compassionate relationship with their own experiences that can lead them on a journey of acceptance, self discovery, relief from suffering, and healing of relational disconnects. In my practice I have worked with individuals, couples, families, and groups, seeing adults, adolescents, and children. My scope of treatment has included depression, anxiety, panic attacks, anger and stress management difficulties, suicidal ideation, grief and loss, addictions, eating disorders, and couple/family difficulties.