Why So Harsh On Yourself?
Recently, I was chatting with a friend, and she told me that she has been feeling a lot of chaos recently. She reflected that she has a lot of expectations for her life and for other people. When those expectations are not met, she feels stressed, and other people feel uncomfortable too.
I asked her if she has a lot of expectations for her parents.
She paused and looked at me for a moment, so I explained, “How we treat our parents is our true selves. We can put on a show towards others because they are far away from us. We can put on one image to our coworkers, another image to this group of friends, another image to that group of people. But our parents have known us our whole lives. We can’t fool them, so we don’t try. If you are very harsh on yourself and others, I bet you are harsh on your parents too.”
She reflected, “Yes, actually I do have a lot of demands for my parents.”
I said, “Alright, it’s great that you can recognize this. If you want to stop being so demanding towards yourself, first stop being so demanding towards your parents. After all, we owe the most gratitude to our parents. Without them, we wouldn’t have our life, our education, our health, our job, everything. Even though they weren’t perfect, and nobody is perfect, but they did their best for us. How can we be so demanding towards them? That’s quite shameful, don’t you think?”
She nodded. So I asked, “Let’s start with your dad. How are you demanding towards him?”
She said, “Well, my dad is really busy. He runs a big company, and he also took care of all his siblings and their children. I felt a little bit resentful that he would give those people his limited time but not me. I guess I always wanted him to give me more time while I was growing up.”
I replied, “Yes, that’s totally understandable. My mom was super busy when I was growing up too, and I wished for the same thing. But let me ask you this, whenever he did have free time, did he give it to you? I mean obviously he has to work to support the family, and he helps his siblings because he has a strong sense of responsibility. But when he did have time, did he give it to you, or did he do other stuff like go out and play?” She said, “No no, he did not waste his time like that. Whenever he did have free time, he spent it with me. He did try his best.”
As she said this, I could see her starting to tear up a little. I told her, “So often, we judge people based on their actions, but what we should be doing is judge people based on their intentions. Even though it might seem like your dad does not care about you because he spent little time with you, but actually, he gave 100% of his free time to you! That’s full intention. If another father spends 2 hours a day with his daughter, but he has 4 hours of available time, that’s only 50% intention. So if you want to repent for being so demanding towards your dad, then you should call him soon and apologize for not seeing his efforts in the past, and then tell him how grateful you are for him now.”
She replied, “Yes, I was just thinking that I should call him after our chat.”
I said, “Awesome. OK let’s talk about your mom next. How are you demanding towards her?”
She said, “Well, I think sometimes I just wish my mom was stronger. But like, she is already so amazing, and I already admire her so much. I guess I expect her to be like superwoman, which is totally unfair to her.”
I said, “Hmm… Sounds a lot like the way you treat yourself, no?”
She said, “Yeah, totally.”
I said, “OK, obviously, you love your mom. I want you to put yourself in your mom’s shoes. Does your daughter need to be like superwoman to deserve your love?”
She replied, “No. In fact, my mom always tells me that I don’t need to be doing so much to prove myself, that I am amazing the way I am already.”
I said, “OK, but you see your daughter demanding herself to be like superwoman, being so harsh on herself, how would you feel?”
She said, “I guess I would feel quite sad.”
I said, “OK, so you love your mother, do you want her to feel sad?”
She said, “No. I see what you mean now. I really don’t need to prove anything to anyone, especially not my mother who loves me the way I am.”
I said, “Yes, but that doesn’t mean your mother does not want you to improve. Imagine an infant learning to walk. We don’t harshly demand the infant to be able to walk right away. We know the infant will fall and make mistakes. When that happens, we’re there to encourage the infant. We have hope for the infant. We’re not going to tell the infant, ‘Oh it’s okay, you don’t need to learn to walk. I’ll just carry you for the rest of your life because I love you.’ No loving parent in their right mind would do that! We want the infant to reach their full potential. That’s called hope. Hope is positive energy. Demands are negative energy. Have hopes, not demands.”
She laughed at my infant analogy, which meant that she understood. So I asked her, “How can you repent for being so demanding towards your mother then?”
She said, “I will talk to her and tell her I’m sorry for being unreasonably demanding before, and I love her the way she is, and going forward, I will love myself the way I am, but also have hopes for myself to reach my full potential.”
I said, “Awesome! You’ll find that once you let go of your demands towards your parents, you will naturally start letting go of demands towards yourself and towards all other people. That will reduce a lot of the inner chaos you felt before. You’ll come to appreciate others more, and you’ll see how everyone is trying their best.”
I also told her that I have the same problem as her, and I’ve been working on it. Like her, I used to be very demanding towards myself. I realized that part of the reason is because my mother would often criticize me before about my mistakes, so I always felt like I needed to be perfect and not make any mistakes. Then I would criticize her back about all her mistakes. Maybe subconsciously, I was thinking, “You’re not perfect either. You should be perfect first if you want me to be perfect.”
But actually, my mom’s intention was not to demand me to be perfect; she was simply worried about me making bad decisions. She is a loving mother. How do I know? Because she told me that when I was in her womb, everyone urged her to get an abortion because the family was not ready to have a child yet. But she said, “I don’t care what you guys say, I am not going to kill my own child. Even if I become a homeless person on the street, I can sell apples and raise this child.” Whenever I think of this, I get teary. How could I be so harsh and demanding towards my mother?
Once I stopped being so demanding towards her, and instead started appreciating all the hardship she went through for me, I naturally started being less demanding towards myself and others. I also started having big hopes for myself. I realized that everyone is trying their best to be a good person, whatever their idea of “good person” means to them. Some people have incorrect ideas about what it means to be “good”, which leads to their suffering, and that’s so unfortunate. I was like that in the past, so I hope now I can spread wisdom and help people gain real joy through wisdom.
- Are you demanding towards anyone, including yourself?
- How can you let go of demands and have hopes instead?
Originally published at https://www.weeklywisdomblog.com on July 15, 2022.