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16. How Do You Treat Yourself?

"You idiot! What did you do that for? Will you never learn? You make the same mistakes again and again and again. You're useless, absolutely useless. You're pathetic. You're never going to be any good if you carry on like this." So what sort of scenario do you think this is? A stressed out parent shouting at a child who's messed up their homework? An angry spouse in a dangerously fragile relationship? A boss, perhaps, yelling at an underperforming member of staff? Well, actually it's none of these. This is typical of what a friend of mine says to himself when he puts a ball into the net in a game of tennis. If fear clutched at your heart when you read the first few lines of this email, even for a moment, then you will have had a glimpse of what it feels like to be at the receiving end of such a tirade. Can you imagine what life would be like if you were treated like this all the time? Well in fact you do know, because that is how most of us treat ourselves on a routine basis. That's what this week's tip is about, how you treat yourself. "Every normal person, in fact, is only normal on the average. His ego approximates to that of the psychotic in some part or other and to a greater or lesser extent." Sigmund Freud You may think of yourself as one person, but Sigmund Freud would have disagreed. According to him there are no less than three of us, all competing with each other to run our lives. The first of these is the id, the instinctual part of us and the source of our impulses and desires. This part of us can get us into trouble, so we develop a second part of our personality to negotiate with the id so that we can get on in life: the ego. The ego knows how to behave, how to succeed, how to gain approval. The trouble is that the id is always trying to overrule the ego, and sometimes succeeds, so then we realise that we need a policeman or overseer to make sure the ego keeps on the straight and narrow. Enter the superego. In a game of tennis the id wants us to demolish the opposition. Completely. The ego, however, knows that this sort of approach doesn't go down too well in adult society and wants us to appear civilised yet competent (while demolishing the opposition). So we do our best to play well and we try to appear affable and unconcerned with the result. If we start rampaging around the court because we think someone has called our ball out when it's in, the superego gets very agitated and tells us to stop behaving like a spoilt brat. If we put the ball into the net, the superego rages at us for being incompetent. This little drama plays out all the time in our psyches. If you could hear what people say to themselves you would be truly horrified. If you heard someone talking like that to a child in the street you would reach for your mobile phone and ring social services. People may be cruel to each other, but they are never more cruel than when they talk to themselves. But it is all in a good cause - the superego knows that the id, given it's way, would cause havoc in our lives. Jobs would be lost, bank accounts overdrawn, spouses deserted, unsuspecting individuals leapt upon for sexual gratification. But the trouble with the superego is that it is only about eight years old and doesn't understand that people are motivated by encouragement and kindness, not by aggression and insults. If we constantly berate ourselves we get demoralized, we lose confidence, and our performance deteriorates. So what can be done? Well the first thing to do is to find your superego. Try this: 1. Think of a current situation in which you are unhappy with yourself in some way. Maybe you're having trouble with a project, or with losing weight, or with learning a skill, or with handling a relationship. 2. Take a piece of paper and draw picture of yourself in this situation. Just a pin figure will do, it doesn't have to be a Picasso (though you may notice that your superego would like it to be). This is You. 3. Now think of the voice in your head that tells you that you're not handling things as well as you could and imagine that that voice comes from a separate person. Draw that person in your picture. This is your Superego. 4. What is your Superego saying to You? What tone of voice is s/he using? What sort of mood is s/he in? Angry, contemptuous, goading, or 'disappointed', or perhaps polite and apparently trying to be helpful? 5. Now look at You. How does that person feel when they hear what the Superego is saying? What effect is it having on them and their motivation? 6. Take a look at the whole scene. What is this relationship like? Who is in charge? Who is suffering? 7. Now consider, what does the You in the picture need at the moment? What would s/he like to say to your Superego? 8. Finally, scribble out the picture of your Supego, or tear it off and scrunch up the paper. What difference does that make? Do let me know how you get on, and have a good week!