Why can’t I just be kind to myself?

I have always been hard on myself. My dad always told me that I was a go-getter; I wasn’t someone who would just give up. I would push, and push, and push until I would succeed. And I used to see this dedication and persistence as a quality I should be proud of. But now times are changing, I am not sure anymore.

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I was a great student in high school; I got good grades, was nice to the teachers, did my homework on time. I was on top of the class. And I loved being good: being the best in something made me feel so good. I wasn’t used to exceeding in things. My twin sister was always better in everything. She won medals with gymnastics and I didn’t. She went to a better high school than me. She had a boyfriend long before I had. So, I was so glad that for once I knew that I was better than the people in the classroom that I entered every day. But after my classmates noticed that I was getting good grades and studied a lot more than the cool kids did, I got punished for exceeding. And that made me feel terrible. I was pushing and pushing to be the best in just something, and when I finally got to the top, I got punished for it!

I remember that my German teacher used to read out the grades in class. I got a bad grade, lower than normal, and there were a lot of cool kids who got a better result than me. People were celebrating: „Yay! I got a better grade than Renée!“ People were laughing at me because even person X managed to get a better result than me. I felt terrible that day and made a promise to never fail again. So, since that day, I have been pushing myself to be my best self every single minute of the day.

A couple of years later I am still – unconsciously – pushing myself. Not to get good grades or win a gymnastics competition, but to be constantly busy and productive. As I already mentioned in another essay; I like to be busy. Well I actually force myself to be busy. And I just can’t seem to stop it.

Last summer things went wrong: I got overworked and needed to rewind myself mentally. I needed to take a break from my self destructive habits of putting pressure on myself, and I needed to get a healthy balance between work and free-time. And it was hard to quit the patterns I got so wind up with, and to challenge myself to sit back and relax instead of pushing myself to achieve.

And luckily I succeeded, because right now I am feeling well and healthy. But there is one thing that hasn’t changed: I still can’t be kind to myself. I plan out every day of the week in my bullet journal, and I feel terrible if I don’t finish my to-do-list. But I guess that everyone likes the feeling of completing something, right? The thing I struggle most with is that I can’t find peace in relaxing. When I choose to spend an evening watching reality tv, I always feel guilty afterwards.

I have read tons of articles about self care, and saved a lot of tips for unwinding, but somehow I can’t be kind to myself. Now self care becomes more important, I find it really frustrating that I just can’t enjoy having a night off with face masks, scented candles, fresh flowers and a good book. The idea sounds so lovely, but there is something holding me back from actually planning such a night in. Is it the pressure by society to use my ‘free’ time during the lockdown wisely and make the most of it by achieving new things? Maybe, yes. But it’s also that I can’t convince myself that such self care is necessary and needed by my mind and body. Even though I love the idea, I just don’t see the necessity to do it right away. And that’s where I am wrong.

„Would you tell your best friend the same things you tell yourself?“ my therapist would say. And I would shake my head and feel embarrassed that I have been so hard on myself. I would never push my friends to write articles till 11 p.m. or convince them to go work-out even if they have the worst period cramps. Ironically, I give my friends the best self care advice. I tell them to have frequent breaks from working on their laptops, to go for a walk when they have a writer’s block, to eat healthy and drink enough water. Do I follow my own advice? Of course, not! Why? I have no idea.

Maybe I need to schedule self care in my daily routine. Maybe i’ll do it if I put it on my to-do-list, because I need to cross it off in order to feel good, right? I will always continue pushing myself, because I see it as one of the qualities that make me stand out and gives me an advantage. But in order to succeed, I need to take care of myself too. Because I can keep on pushing myself, but I can only celebrate my wins and progress if I genuinely feel good about it. And to be honest: I value feeling happy more than pursuing and achieving goals. And so should everyone!

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Author: Renée Prenger

Freelance journalist, copywriter, feminist, fashion lover

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