Stop being so bloody hard on yourself.

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Stop being so bloody hard on yourself.

I love sitting in public places and letting curiosity wash over me as I observe the human condition. People fascinate me, watching the ways we move and communicate with one another never gets old. Recently though, I’ve become acutely aware of the ways in which we diminish ourselves and make our selves smaller and at this time of year, it seems like a plague.

Many want to lose weight and start volunteering, write their first novel and go to yoga every single day, go vegan, travel or save enough money to have some sort of procedure done that will make them more beautiful.

Perhaps it’s your house. You want to get a bigger one or a cleaner one or fix everything in the one you already have that you’ve been putting off forever so that you can finally throw the very fancy dinner parties you think you ought to be hosting. This is just the sort of nonsense that we think about when December’s tinsel-glittering hedonism finally ends, leaving us exhausted, over-indulged and totally guilt-ridden.

I love the idea of new beginnings—that symbolically we get a fresh year spread out before us, pristine as a morning meadow after a heavy snow before we’ve stomped all over it and the dogs have peed on it and before the world has turned it into a messy pile of grey slush. Clean slates are a wonderful concept. Embrace your fresh start this January, but don’t use it as an excuse to beat the hell out of yourself for no good reason.

I’m uncomfortable with the self-loathing that accompanies so many of our New Year’s resolutions. Healthy self-improvement and goal setting, those are great, great things. Each year I hope to be a little better off than the year before: a little healthier, a little happier, a little closer on my journey towards enlightenment. But like most of us, I find myself taking it too far. Often, what begins as a desire to better ourselves turns into low self-esteem’s free-for-all, end of the old year, start of the new, blowout bash.

Can we please stop with all the I’m-not-good-enoughs? This year, beginning now, let’s end the incessant auditing of our flaws and broadcasting them to everyone we know.

There is only one resolution we need to make this year:

Stop apologizing for not being perfect.

Of all our bad habits, this is one of the most insidious awful vices we have. It’s so ingrained, so automatic, so expected that most of us probably don’t even realize how much we do it or that we’re doing it at all.

Don’t know what I’m talking about?

A friend visits and before they get in the door you’re already talking about how messy your house is.

In response to a compliment on your new outfit, your immediate comeback is “This old thing? I just got it at the Goodwill. It was only 99 cents. I think it makes my butt look like the back end of a bus.”

I recently complimented a friend who’s been going through a hard time on his healthy appearance.

“Ugh, I have a cold. My nose is bright red and my lips are chapped. Can you see this massive zit on my forehead?”

As soon as I made a point of noticing, I realized that everyone everywhere was constantly apologizing for not being perfect.

Before a spectacular christmas meal at a friend’s house, my hostess apologized in advance. She couldn’t decide on a recipe. It didn’t turn out the way she wanted. The main course was dry. It probably wasn’t very good. Did I mention that the meal was spectacular?

After yoga, I hear my fellow yogis heading to the showers, defeated sometimes, discussing the shortcomings of their practice.

We apologize and announce our imperfections for several reasons.

Part of it is preemptive.

Because we are so accustomed to cataloging everything we believe is wrong with us, naturally we assume that everyone else is scrutinizing us equally (they aren’t). In response to this imagined judgment, we begin to feel self-conscious, then guilty, believing that we’ve done something wrong. We’re compelled to apologize then for not being perfect.

Our apologies are also defenses. Again, because we believe others are nitpicking us the way we nitpick ourselves, we insult ourselves before anyone else has the chance. People often do this with a self-perceived “imperfection”, lets take weight for example. A persons interior narrative may sound something like…

“I’ve gained some weight in the past year and it’s all in the belly. I hate my belly fat and I feel like everywhere I go people are looking at it. In my mind, this belly fat is the elephant in the room and I feel like people are looking at me and judging my flabby mid-section and I can’t bear to imagine what they might silently be thinking, so I immediately acknowledge the fat before they have a chance to, admitting my shame because God forbid I’d have the nerve to gain a few pounds and not be ashamed of myself. I’m apologetic even for making others have to look at a chubbier me.”

In a culture of self-deprecation, it’s easy to confuse shame and humility. They aren’t the same thing. To be humble is good, but to hate yourself isn’t. In many cases, we may apologize for our successes because we don’t want to seem like we’re bragging or full of ourselves, or worse because we feel we don’t deserve them in the first place.

Make the new year gracious. Give yourself permission to be proud, to be imperfect, to be exactly as you are right now. Let your resolutions focus on kindness and loving what you have rather than criticizing yourself for what you think you lack.

Resolve to stop apologizing for being who you are. Welcome your friends into your too small, messy house without the remodeled kitchen you wish you had. Wear the dress you love, rock your manky jeans that you love and if someone gives you a compliment, don’t try to talk them out of it. All you have to do is smile and say “Thank you.”

About the author

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Jamie Elkon http://shrinkrap.co.za/

The author can be found rummaging through life looking for nourishment in the early hours of the morning. He is slowly going sane by using his actual life and relationships to wake up.He lives in Cape Town with his teenaged daughter, two bassett hounds named Thelma and Louise and Digit... the cat. He hugs trees, has experienced numerous dark nights of the soul, collects incorrect Chinese packaging and tracks curious things to their lair.