Let Yourself Off the Hook

Originally published as a TinyLetter


HGTV Magazine has a recurring feature called, “How bad is it…” It presents common everyday scenarios, like “…to swipe $20 from your spouse’s wallet?” and “…to not start bagging your groceries yourself at checkout?” and gives it a rating (kinda bad! and not so bad!).

Darren and I joke that if the two of us were to write the “How bad is it…” feature, our ratings would look like this:

How bad is it…

…to send your kid to the school’s evening fall festival in his uniform instead of his Halloween costume? 
Melia’s rating: Kinda bad! / Darren’s rating: Not so bad!

…to leave a large, fallen tree branch in your front yard until it’s brown and dry?
Melia’s rating: Pretty bad! / Darren’s rating: Not bad at all!

…to delay getting our our old house ready to list because we’ve had a lot of other things going on?  
Melia’s rating: Really bad! / Darren’s rating: Not so bad!

You can see the pattern here. Darren almost always lets himself off the hook, truly believing that he’s always doing his best with the knowledge and the bandwidth that he has at the time. I can count on one hand the times that I’ve ever seen him get mad at himself for something. I simultaneously admire and am annoyed that he’s so easy on himself, because I come down hard on myself literally every day for infractions both big and small. I carry a list of grievances against myself that I run through in my mind, like Arya Stark reciting her list of enemies.

The time I was late for that meeting with my boss (pretty bad!). The time I forgot to send money with my then-three-year-old for the circus, so he couldn’t play games or buy snacks (super bad!). The list goes on.

I want to be clear that I don’t hold other people by anywhere near the same standards. It’s somehow okay for them to do these kinds of things, but not for me.

A few weeks ago, Elizabeth Gilbert linked to an interview that she’d given for an online course called the Self-Acceptance Summit. (It’s not cheap, but it’s cheaper than therapy!) It spoke to the issue of being much harder on ourselves than we are on anyone else.  Here’s an excerpt from the transcript of “Test Everything Against Love”:

And sometimes I feel like when I’m really beating myself up about my best not having been good enough, “You should’ve known, you should’ve done better, you should’ve seen this coming. Ten times you were warned, why didn’t you…” All of that stuff that you do to yourself, it’s so savage—so savage. I just think—I have to almost go out of myself, and I have to not see myself as Liz who failed. I have to see myself as a member of the human family, as a human being. And I have to look at all the other human beings who I know and love, and look at all of the things that they’ve failed at, and say, “Knowing that person as well as you know them, Liz, and loving them as much as you love them, was their best good enough? Were they doing their best? Was there anything they could have done differently, really?” And the answer is always no.

And what I think we do is that we want to love humanity and we want to be people who love and embrace and forgive and accept humanity, but we forget to include ourselves in that. And sometimes the only way I can forgive myself is by thinking of myself as a human being, not as Liz. And here is a tenet that I believe: I believe that all human beings are deserving of grace and forgiveness and compassion and second chances and humanity. I believe that all human beings are worthy and deserving of that. And I believe that as a member of the human species, I therefore also must be worth and deserving of that.

And if I hold myself outside of that, there’s a dark narcissism to that that says only I, Liz Gilbert, am exempt from forgiveness and grace and compassion. Everyone else gets to have it from me, but I don’t get to have it because I’m some sort of a special case. If I think I’m some sort of a special case, I basically think I’m God. I basically think I’m the only one who isn’t a human among the family of humans. I’m the only one who is held to a higher standard. I’m the only one who actually should be perfect. Everybody else doesn’t have to be. 

And the thing that I tell myself, again and again, when I get on that perfectionist bent of “Your best wasn’t good enough, you should’ve known better, why did you fuck up again, you’re the worst, worst, worst, worst, worst” is I say, “Liz, if you are not innocent, nobody is. If you are not innocent, then everyone has to be held to the same standard, that same harsh cruel standard that you’re holding yourself to. If you’re not innocent, nobody is. That means if you’re guilty of everything in your life, then everybody else is too. And if that’s the case, you don’t need to worry about going to hell because you’re already there. You’re living in a planet that is hell, where no one is innocent, where no one gets a reprieve, where no one is entitled to grace, where no one is allowed to say, ‘I should’ve known better but I didn’t,’ where no one gets second chances, where no one gets to be let out of the hole of shame. And if that’s where you live, you are in hell. You are in hell and so are all the other humans.”

And until you can extend that same grace and compassion and forgiveness to yourself that you want and claim, especially as a spiritual person, if you’re listening to this, you’re a person on a spiritual path, which means you believe that human beings are entitled to compassion. Until you extend it to yourself, you won’t be able to actually have mercy for anybody else either, because there’ll be this secret dark little part of you that looks upon everyone else’s failings and everyone else’s errors and everyone else’s shortcomings and says, “They should’ve done better. They should’ve known better.” And then you’re just keeping everybody in hell. And that’s not good enough for me. If I’m going to be a perfectionist, I’m going to be a perfectionist about that.

So next time you’re running through your own list of grievances against yourself, ask yourself how Liz Gilbert and Darren would rate each infraction.

Not so bad!

Not bad at all!

Let yourself off the hook. Because you’re doing the best you can with the knowledge and bandwidth you have at any given time. Because if you’re not innocent, nobody is.

what’s fueling me

A Catfishing with a Happy Ending – The Atlantic (h/t Darren). I hope this stranger-than-fiction love story is made into a movie.

This is Your Brian on Nature – Hurry Slowly, a podcast about leveling up by slowing down. As a lover of “The Great Indoors,” I need to be intentional about getting outside. I’ve started taking a short walk outside during the work day to get some fresh air and sunshine and clear my head.

The Big Sick – This is the first movie that I’ve seen in ages, and I just loved it. Funny, poignant, original and based on a true story about the first year of comedian Kumail Nanjiani’s relationship with his wife, Emily.

Chocolate Riesen – I stumbled upon these at the supermarket the other day. How did I forget that these chewy little delights existed?


 If this post adds something to your life, please share it!

Stay in touch:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *