Don’t Take the Payoff: Developing Compassion for Ourselves

Harville Hendrix, one of my mentors, once remarked that self hatred, or a lack of compassion for oneself, is so deeply entrenched for most people that moving to a true love of oneself is extremely difficult. It follows that compassion for others will be equally challenging if we consciously or unconsciously hate ourselves at a deep level. We may hold this contempt for self because, no matter how hard we try, we can not change behaviors that we KNOW are destructive to ourselves or to our relationships.

A little known secret about developing compassion for ourselves is what I refer to as “refusing to take the payoff.”

Here is what I mean.

When we beat ourselves up for “screwing up yet again,” whatever the ugly behavior might be, we are actually reinforcing that behavior rather than changing it. Beating ourselves up actually “feeds the beast” (the detested behavior) rather than eliminating it! The way it works is that beating ourselves up for our bad behavior keeps the negative loop going and reinforces and sets up the next round of the same behavior we want to change. Punishing ourselves is the “payoff.”change blvd and same old street

When we decline to beat ourselves up, we refuse to take the payoff and act more compassionately toward ourselves. It’s not that we are condoning the problem behavior. It’s just that we are no longer willing to punish ourselves, and therefore are less likely to punish others.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

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