Beating yourself up over something that happened in the past doesn't help you live a happier life. However, moving on and accepting the past is easier said than done. How do you stop beating yourself up, then?
Writing down what you're beating yourself up over is the first step. What follows next is a journey of self-acceptance and mindfulness that will help you move on. In the end, you'll hopefully learn to accept that you're only human and that everybody makes mistakes sometimes. Stop beating yourself up for every mistake you've ever made, and focus on a positive future instead.
This article covers some of the dangers of constantly beating yourself up, and more importantly, how to move on and get over these negative feelings.
- The dangers of beating yourself up
- How to stop beating yourself up
- Wrapping up
The dangers of beating yourself up
Sometimes, it's good to be hard on yourself. This is mostly true when you're working towards goals and you need to be disciplined when you can't rely on your motivation. In that case, beating yourself up may help you work towards your goals for long-term happiness.
But you can also be too hard on yourself. If you're constantly beating yourself up over something you've done in the past, it's likely hurting your happiness.
This topic is closely related to rumination, which means to repetitively and passively focus on symptoms of distress and their possible causes and consequences. If you're constantly beating yourself up over something, chances are you are ruminating without being aware of it.
Rumination leads to depression
Rumination is closely related to depression, both as a symptom and a predictor. For example, a 2010 study found that higher levels of rumination were associated with a greater likelihood of experiencing both a current depressive episode and a past history of depressive episodes. The study also found that rumination correlated with greater severity and duration of depressive episodes.
Beating yourself up affects your physical health
Beating yourself up doesn’t just affect your mental health. A 2012 review found that there is a relationship between ruminative thinking and impaired physical health.
For example, rumination may intensify the perception of perceived somatic symptoms or result in genuine biological stress. Furthermore, rumination can also be a predictor and contributing factor to physical pain.
There's some good news underneath all this negative news. Beating yourself up doesn’t have to lead to a psychological disorder or a physical illness. There are things you can do to stop this self-damaging behavior and break the negative cycle.
How to stop beating yourself up
There are numerous things you can try to help you move past rumination and questioning your past actions. If you try these methods, you may find it easier to stop beating yourself up.
1. Write about it
The first step is painfully simple. Just grab a pen and a notebook, jot down the current date, and start writing about whatever you're beating yourself up for.
Ask yourself questions that might seem simple but are hard to answer:
- What are the things that are constantly on your mind?
- When did these things happen, and when did they start taking up most of your mental capacity?
- What could you have done to prevent this from happening?
Try to answer all these questions on paper. By writing about whatever's keeping you down, you'll experience a number of benefits.
- Writing about how you beat yourself up makes you confront those issues.
- It allows you to better deconstruct the issues without getting your thoughts distracted.
- Writing something down can prevent it from causing chaos in your head. Think of this as clearing the RAM memory of your computer. If you’ve written it down, it's easier for you to forget about it and move on.
- It will allow you to look back at your struggles objectively. In a few months’ time, you can look back at your notepad and hopefully see how much you’ve grown.
2. Accept what happened
A part of living in the present is being able to say "it is what it is". One of the best lessons you can learn in life is recognizing what you can change and what you can’t. If something is not within your circle of influence, why would you allow that thing to influence your current state of mind?
The things that you're beating yourself up for are probably outside your current circle of influence. It may be true that they once were within your circle of influence, but if it's in the past, there's nothing you can do to change it.
It is what it is
No one can ever change what has happened in the past. All we can change is how we deal with our current situation while moving forward.
If you look at it that way, you’ll see how beating yourself up won’t actually improve your situation. Instead, you can focus your energy on living in the present and improving your actions in the future.
3. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness has grown a lot in popularity over the past decade, and rightfully so.
According to a 2012 paper, practicing mindfulness is related to greater emotion differentiation and fewer emotional difficulties in young adults. In another study, a short mindfulness intervention was shown to benefit emotion regulation on a neurobiological level – meaning that mindfulness can change how certain areas of the brain work.
But what does mindfulness have to do with you beating yourself up over something? How can you incorporate mindfulness as one of your mental health habits?
By simply taking conscious breaks more frequently. Mindfulness is all about being in the present and not letting your thoughts run amok. Practicing mindfulness will help you stop beating yourself up over something, as it makes you realize that it's completely outside your control.
Mindfulness allows you to focus on what matters, on the here and now.
We published an article specifically about mindfulness and how to get started with it if you’re interested!
4. Try to think positive
We often talk about the preferred version of ourselves:
- "I wish I was 15 pounds lighter".
- "I wish I did better in school".
- "I wish I picked a different career".
Some of these things are easier changed than others, and there’s no harm in wanting to change the things that we can change. After all, we all want to improve ourselves as a person.
But it's important to maintain a positive outlook when thinking about stuff like this. Whenever you beat yourself up over something like this, try to find a part of the issue that's within your circle of influence and work on that.
- Start tracking your calorie intake so that you can lose those 15 pounds.
- Find a skill that you want to improve and take lessons or an online course.
- Explore options to change or improve your current career path.
This type of thinking can really make a difference when you're trying to not beat yourself up over past events. By thinking positively about yourself, you’re actually more likely to trigger a chain of thoughts that leads to positivity.
This last point was confirmed in a fun study by Barbara Frederickson. The study found that a positive mindset can be triggered, and more importantly, that a positive mindset initiates more creativity and an urge to “play ball”.
Basically, when you have a positive mindset, you’re better able to deal with the challenges that life throws at you.
5. Distract yourself with something fun
One of the more interesting studies we’ve encountered over the years is from Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert. The study used random surveys to find that a wandering mind is more likely to be an unhappy mind.
In other words, if you are not busy actually doing something, your mind starts to wander. As a result, you're more likely to beat yourself up over something as you simply have nothing to keep your mind occupy your mind with.
You can prevent this from happening by just distracting yourself with something fun.
Ideally, you want to find something that will occupy your mind and take up enough brainpower so that there’s no more room for dwelling on something negative. Some examples might include:
- Going for a run while listening to a podcast or audiobook (my personal favorite)
- Watching a movie on Netflix
- Solving a crossword or sudoku
- Talking to a friend
- Simple forms of exercise
While you can't distract yourself for all eternity, this method can help you through the most difficult periods. So if you ever catch yourself feeling depressed because you're being hard on yourself, try to simply distract yourself with something you enjoy doing.
6. Be critical of your negative self-thoughts
Everyone has an inner critic. It’s the nagging, negative voice in your head telling you that you’re a terrible person and that you don't deserve to be happy. This inner voice is often the main reason you're beating yourself up. But what actually causes this inner voice to control the thoughts in your mind?
There are a number of causes, and they can vary based on your own experiences. The biggest causes of this negative inner voice are:
- Having been excessively criticized, scolded or yelled at in the past.
- A general lack of confidence.
- Suffering from the imposter syndrome.
- The fear of failure in the future.
If you want to stop beating yourself up, you need to start questioning your own negative thoughts.
While this might sound a little crazy, not all of our thoughts are helpful. So taking your internal monologue with a healthy dose of doubt is perfectly reasonable. In fact, one of the best questions to ask when you're beating yourself up is: “Is this thought helpful?”
If it isn’t, why should you keep repeating it?
Other helpful questions include:
- What proof do I have that this (negative) thought is true or false?
- If my friend were in the same situation, and thought the same way, what would I say to them?
- What are some alternative explanations for this situation?
- Will this matter one day from now? What about in one week, or month? How?
By learning to question your negative inner voice, you're becoming more self-aware. This added self-awareness can help you focus on more positive thoughts in the future.
7. Talk to yourself as if you were your best friend
How would you react when your best friend shared a mistake he made years ago.
For example, if my best friend told me about a huge mistake he made at work that cost his company thousands of dollars, I'd offer him encouraging words. I'd say that everybody makes mistakes and that a single mistake he made doesn't compare to all the good things he's done.
This is the sort of support, encouragement, and love that you should show yourself when you're beating yourself up. Why would you be supportive to your best friend, but not to yourself?
Nobody’s stopping you from talking positively about yourself, so why should you?
8. Talk to a friend
If talking to yourself as if you're a friend is not your thing, try talking to an actual friend. Talking to a friend allows you to make sense of your own thoughts, as you'll be forced to put your thoughts into words. Simply giving a voice to your issues can help you realize why you're unfairly hurting yourself for the wrong reasons.
(This is also why writing about your issues is such a great method that can help you deal with a problem.)
Besides, talking to a friend is a great way to relieve stress and negativity. A good friend will support you in your struggles and will want to improve your mood.
Even if you don’t figure out how to stop beating yourself up, you’ll at least find comfort in knowing that there’s a person out there who cares about you.
9. Seek help
When you just can't seem to stop beating yourself up over something, it's important to seriously take care of yourself.
A therapist or counselor can help you look at your issues from a new perspective. When you’ve been dealing with negativity for a long time, it may seem that you have thought about every aspect of it. In reality, however, there can be parts of the problem that you are unconsciously ignoring and a professional can help you shed light on those areas.
More often than not, these problems are easy to spot for a person that is looking from the “outside-in”, instead of your personal “inside-out” point of view.
Besides the many benefits of therapy, the taboo on therapy is shrinking every day. You shouldn't feel ashamed to admit to seeing a therapist. Your mental health is far more important than someone else's opinion.
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If you keep beating yourself up over something, you'll find it hard to be optimistic and positive about yourself. If that's the case, you need to take care of your mental health by working on accepting yourself and seeking support. I hope the tips in this article will help you to stop beating yourself up, and move towards happiness.
Do you struggle with self-acceptance? Is there something that happened in your past that you blame yourself for and beat yourself up about? How did you eventually grow beyond this? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!