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How often are you demonstrating aggression against yourself?


Today is October 27 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you demonstrating aggression against yourself?” It is difficult, if not impossible, to navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well if you are demonstrating aggression against yourself. Those who learn to navigate the chaos eventually find that being gentle and caring towards their own self, their own development, and their dreams, is a viable strategy to use. The more aggression you level against yourself, the more difficult it will be to translate one dream after another into reality.


In When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times, author and American Tibetan Buddhist, Pema Chödrön wrote: “We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It is just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. The way to allow this room to exist is to honest and gentle with ourselves. The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”


Dr. Judith Sillis examined this theme of aggression against one’s self in a November 2, 2014, Psychology Today article "Let It Go!" According to Sillis “It's an axiom of psychology that we are some recombination of all of our yesterdays. To move forward wisely, we are therefore often urged to look back. But there is a point where appreciation and analysis of the past become gum on your psychological shoe. It sticks you in place, impedes forward motion, and, like gum, it does not just disappear on its own. You need to do some scraping.”


This ‘scraping’ is part of today’s reflection and requires you to spend a few moments and ask yourself how often you have the courage and the respect to look at yourself honestly and gently. This exercise in self-awareness will most likely involve, what Sillis labeled “a radical reboot to get past yesterday.” If you want to navigate the chaos and translate one dream after another into reality, then ‘a radical reboot’ may be the one strategy to help you make the necessary forward progress.


You need to ask yourself how much effort you are willing to expend to get unstuck to reconfigure a relationship so that you are honest and gentle with yourself. “Getting unstuck,” argues Sillis, “requires being truthful with yourself about how you feel—still angry, sad, or anxious, even though you wish you weren't—but holding out the possibility that someday you might feel better.”


Demonstrating aggression towards one’s self is synonymous with the phrase “We’re all our own worst critics.” As Charlotte Lieberman wrote in "Why You Should Stop Being So Hard on Yourself," in the New York Times on May 22, 2018, “evolutionary psychologists have defined this approach as our natural ‘negativity bias,’ that makes negative experiences seem more significant than they really are.” When we demonstrate aggression towards ourselves “we have evolved to give more weight to our flaws, mistakes and shortcomings than our successes.” Such an approach to life can have serious physical and cerebral implications for us.


“Self-criticism can take a toll on our minds and bodies,” said Dr. Richard Davidson, founder, and director of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he also teaches psychology and psychiatry. “It can lead to ruminative thoughts that interfere with our productivity, and it can impact our bodies by stimulating inflammatory mechanisms that lead to chronic illness and accelerate aging,” he said.


For today’s reflection, let’s unpack the quotes and ask critical questions about the level of self-aggression.

  • Can you accept the realization that ‘things don't really get solved...they come together and they fall apart’ on an ongoing basis?

  • Is your need to control every life situation so great that you completely ignore the damage such aggression does to yourself?

  • How often do you allow room for grief, relief, misery, or joy in order for healing to occur?

  • Do you recognize that when you shun your emotions you are causing harm to yourself?

  • How often are you honest and gentle with yourself?

  • How often are you harming yourself by remaining ignorant and not having the courage and respect to look at yourself honestly and gently?

  • Who or what is holding you back from looking at yourself honestly?

  • How often does looking backward ‘become gum on your psychological shoe and impede your forward motion?”

  • What have you done lately to scrape the gum off of your psychological shoe in order to treat yourself with kindness?