Learning To Reverse the Golden Rule

As we mentioned in our last article, Kitty and I recently taught a workshop on burnout. We did a ton of research around it. Obviously, we already knew that burnout sucks and is bad (not our hottest take, historically). But that research led us to a much deeper, scarier understanding of exactly how widespread and devastating burnout really is. It’s the difference between knowing how big a blue whale is because Google told you, and knowing how big a blue whale is because it’s rising up from the water beneath you.

The causes of burnout aren’t straightforward. A variety of cultural, organizational, and individual traits work together to burn a person out. Although bigger structural issues deserve the lion’s share of blame, individual struggles with perfectionism, breakneck compulsory productivity, and a cruel inner voice appear in story after story.

I recognize those struggles in the stories we’ve heard from readers. And from many personal friends and loved ones. And from my coblogger, Kitty.

But most especially, from myself.

Today I’m discussing why I hold myself to a higher standard than I hold everyone else. I want to think about how to let go of this unhealthy habit and start treating myself with more kindness and compassion. And since I know this is something I’m profoundly Not Alone in, I’ll share what I’ve learned.

Note: I talk about suicidal ideation and post-traumatic stress in this post. If you don’t feel ready for those topics, maybe skip this one! And if you struggle with suicidal thoughts, please call 988 for help and resources from the Suicide and Crisis Hotline.*

Being cruel to yourself

A friend of mine has a podcast—no, not Kitty! Not the award-winning and highly acclaimed (by Our Moms) Bitches Get Riches podcast! This is a different one. It’s called The Standard. Basically, it’s two bros reverse engineering a culture of positive masculinity through their work as firefighters and their efforts to be the best humans they can possibly be. It’s a thing of beauty.

On a recent episode, my friend Craig talked about his experience with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. It was a brutal story, but one with a happy ending: somehow Craig found the strength to get help. And he credits that help, in the form of ketamine treatment and use of polyvagal theory, with literally saving his life.

Hearing about anyone dealing with this sort of mental health crisis is distressing, let alone someone who has built his entire identity around service to others and healthy living. Yet one moment stood out to me. In explaining how he dragged himself out of the pit of despair, Craig explained:

“I was like, ‘Stop being such a pussy. What’s wrong with you?’ I was having a tantrum like a child and I couldn’t stop crying and I was like, ‘What would you tell your son?’ And I didn’t know what to say, which made it worse. […] Afterwards I came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t say anything. I’d just hold him and tell him everything’s going to be fine. But we can’t do that to ourselves. We have a really hard time giving ourselves the love and grace that we would give anybody else. If you came to me with my problem, I would not talk to you the same way I talked to myself. I would never be like ‘Why you being such a bitch?’ And that’s exactly what I was saying to myself. I would never talk to someone else the way I talked to myself.”

That hit me like a ton of bricks. I understood exactly what he meant.

Being compassionate to others

Since the dawn of Bitches Get Riches, Kitty and I have had a habit of being nice to each other. Like… too nice. But never to ourselves. Only to each other.

If Kitty doesn’t get to something she was supposed to do, I will contort my spine into a perfect ampersand to assure her that it didn’t need to be done. If I blow off an article, Kitty will dive on the grenade of my procrastinatory guilt. We forgive each other everything when it comes to running the business.

I do not, however, extend the same grace to myself. Nor does she.

If Kitty doesn’t get something done, she’ll come to me practically weeping apologies. If I fail to write an article, I’ll beat myself up about it for days. In other words: each Bitch is far easier on her fellow Bitch than she is on herself. We each treat our business partner like a beloved, precious angel who can do no wrong. Yet I know I speak for Kitty as well when I say I am a filthy, heinous slacker who needs to work harder and longer to atone for my sins of laziness.

Why the compassion and the cruelty both come so easy

This attitude is straight unhealthy!

If I can forgive Kitty for blowing off work, why can’t I forgive myself? Shouldn’t I treat myself with the same level of understanding with which I treat her? We have the same role here; the same goals and responsibilities. The only difference is that one of us is me (a “disgusting, inefficient waste of oxygen,” according to my inner monologue) and the other is her (a “precious cherub who can do no wrong and deserves many naps and snacks”).

Drs. Emily and Amelia Nagoski, in their book Burnout, write about how this attitude leads swiftly and directly to… well, burnout. According to the Nagoskis, being overly hard on yourself despite extenuating circumstances doesn’t prove you’re somehow better or more worthy. It just makes you miserable. Plus it negatively effects the quality of your work.

Yet I struggle to give myself a pass on things that I would consider no big deal for anyone else. Somehow I’ve internalized the belief that I alone need to be better, work harder, achieve more, and suffer in silence.

How to reverse the Golden Rule

I was supposed to write this article last week. Notice how I didn’t? I decided to take the week off and not make a big deal about it! Life was imitating art! And I think that’s neat.

Truthfully, I just had other things to do, and I couldn’t snatch enough time to myself to write. So I just… didn’t. I decided to practice what I preach and spent my limited spare time in rest and relaxation.

Rather than being disappointed in me, Kitty was proud. I believe her exact words were, “If you never force yourself to write another goddamn word for the blog when you just aren’t feeling it… I would die happy.”

This kind of radical permissiveness led me to a new understanding about a very old rule.

The Golden Rule

When we’re children we’re taught the Golden Rule:

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

In other words: If you want people to be nice to you, be nice to them. And if you don’t want people to be assholes to you, be not an asshole unto them!

The genius is in its simplicity. It’s a succinct early childhood lesson in empathy and the social contract. No five-year-old wants to get pushed off the swings by another child. So we convince little Chartreuse or Longinus to wait their turn and share instead of being a tiny playground tyrant.

By adulthood, we all should’ve mastered the Golden Rule. So that when you progress past the swing set stage of social interaction (and sadly, we all must), the Golden Rule can become more nuanced in its execution. It becomes less about pushing and shoving and more about supporting the well-being and needs of others.

I would never ever judge Kitty for needing to take a day off from our business. I would never turn my spouse away when he comes to me for comfort after a shitty day. And telling my friend to get a straw and suck it up when he’s so depressed he considers ending his own life sounds so fucking monstrous I want to throw up.

It’s a good rule to live by. So what happens if we turn it around?

The Golden Rule, reversed

The late 20th-century philosopher Missy Elliot wisely counseled mankind to “put [its] thing down, flip it, and reverse it.” The Golden Rule works in reverse, too. As in:

“Do unto yourself as you would do unto others.”

What if you could be as kind and compassionate to yourself as you are to others? What if you could extend to yourself the same grace and kindness you extend to your friends? How could you be transformed if you were as gentle and helpful with your own health and wellness as you were with the well-being of those you love?

We don’t learn this one in kindergarten. And I honestly wonder why. Because it would’ve saved me a lot of dollars in psychiatric care. And think of all the store brand Cheez-Its I could buy with that brain-bandaid money!

It’s at the root of everything I’ve been learning about managing burnout. It’s what Craig figured out when he sought help with his mental health. And it’s deceptively simple (the sneaky fucker).

Shameless plug time! If you need help with managing burnout, check out our new Burnout Workshop. It’s edutaining.

The benefits of reversing the Golden Rule

In Laziness Does Not Exist, Dr. Devon Price states, “Human beings are interdependent. We need social connections and community in order to thrive, yet many of us live in such deep fear of disappointing other people that we compromise our own values and abandon our well-being in the process.”

You are needed by the people around you! And they need you at your best. Dr. Price also says, “It’s really helpful to respond to a person’s ineffective behavior with curiosity rather than judgment.” Believe that those around you are going to react to your need for compassion or a break without judgment. So you should do the same for yourself.

There is no inherent weakness or laziness in getting help, nor is there shame in taking a break.

If you care for yourself, others won’t have to do it for you

Reversing the Golden Rule isn’t an excuse for self-indulgence, but it is self-care. Despite what big scary capitalism would have you believe, self-care is not, in fact, a montage of white ladies sitting serenely in the lotus position surrounded by overpriced candles.

That said, reversing the Golden Rule is more than self-care. Think of it instead as an act of service. If you’re fucked up, it’s hard to help anyone else, after all. When your oxygen mask is firmly affixed to your face, your ability to help others is limitless. But if you stuff down your own needs as a matter of course, you’ll eventually be one more hypoxic body in crisis.

I realize the irony of being a self-professed Internet Advice Giver who struggles to take her own advice. Every day I strive to encourage and guide Bitch Nation like a benevolent mother goddess figure–selfless, magnanimous, flawless hair flowing like a TRESemmé commercial.

Yet on the inside, I’m working through a long series of revelations about how to take care of myself. How to be ok. And it’s far easier for me to rationalize this level of self-care if it’s not really for me.

If you can’t do it for yourself…

If you find it hard to muster up the compassion to be fucking nice to yourself for your own sake… do it for the ones you love. Because believe me when I say you are useless to them if you’re not taking care of yourself.

If I work my fingers to the bone, I have nothing left to give to my loved ones. When I overextend myself on nine different work obligations, I am in no position to be there for my family. If my brain is so scrambled from a day of… [checks notes] mining hamburgers for fifteen hours, how can I then find the energy to buy my baby a rock and roll disk?

Being good to yourself is being good to your people. It took me three decades, many scholarly books, a podcast episode about a close friend almost dying of despair, and Kitty telling me at least sixty times that my whole girlboss-workaholic persona “just isn’t cute” for me to realize that.

Don’t be like me. Ask for help. Go easier on yourself. Treat yourself the way you generously treat others. Reverse the Golden Rule.

Golden rule me, baby

One last thing, my lambs: You should pay me.

Normally I’d say “If you found this helpful, consider donating to our Patreon or PayPal! (ᵕᴗ ᵕ⁎)” But nah. Not today.

This time I’m just coming right out and saying it: pay me because I worked hard on researching and writing all this for you. It was work. I labored over it. And labor deserves compensation.

A genuine (ᵕᴗ ᵕ⁎) to all of our Patrons who’ve already done their part.

12 thoughts to “Learning To Reverse the Golden Rule”

  1. I just wanted to say that this is the article that finally got me off my ass to become a Patron. I’m attempting to recover from burnout and major surgery at the same time and I absolutely needed to read this today. Thank you for your work!

      1. I realized as soon as I hit Send on my suggestion, that it wasn’t quite what I wanted to say. I wanted to share the resource, and the kids were in the shower, so I decided to shoot off the suggestion before they got out and ate the rest of my evening. But I should have said…

        Yes, THIS! Thank you, Piggy, for sharing your story and spreading the gospel of self-compassion. I’m still working on mine, but even at the work-in-progress stage, this has been game-changing for me. Now, instead of melting into a puddle of disappointment in myself when I screw up, I hear a new little voice going, “Okay, you had a human moment. Congratulations, you are not a machine, you’re human, that means you will make mistakes.” Or if I’m REALLY harshing on myself, “Whoa, hold on. That’s [kids’] mom, [spouse’s] spouse, [BFF’s] best friend, and they all think I’m awesome.”

        I’m especially glad that you’re sharing this with the Bitch Nation. A single mistake in an interview is probably NOT the reason you didn’t get that job offer, there were just so many other qualified candidates. A moment of financial weakness doesn’t mean you can’t right your boat or get ahead, it’s an opportunity to figure out why you were tempted and how you can meet that need without spending.

        Even the concept of, “Well, I did my best.” Fuck that noise. My personal best is AMAZING, and I only have the bandwidth to perform at that level in short bursts. I’m not holding myself to that standard anymore. “I did pretty damn good, considering” is my new goal. 🙂

        (“Pretty damn well,” for my sister and all the other grammaticians out there.)

        Thank you (and Kitty, and Ducky) for all you do, always.

  2. When I was a wee one, Revlon ran a series of TV adds for hair colouring trying to convince women to buy the more expensive (aka their) product. The tag line was “Because you’re worth it”. The ads must have come out at a particularly formative part of my brain development because did I ever internalize this message! Example, I regularly (almost always) cook myself meals, from scratch, which I then serve at a table, complete with tablecloth, placements and cloth napkin, which I then eat All. By. Myself. I regularly get comments like “oh, I can’t be bothered if it’s just me eating” from both friends and strangers. To which I respond – “I’m worth it”.

    1. Yes! I saw a while back a meme on socials about someone who tells themselves “Nike L’Oreal” because their slogans together work out to “Just do it because you’re worth it.” And I thought that was genius.

  3. Wow did I need to read this today. I’ve been burning the candles on ALL ends recently. And I needed this reminder. :’) I fucking love you bitches and am SO thankful I found your blog this year. <3

  4. Wow I have a lot of thoughts on this one! Because yes, many many of us struggle with this weird hypocrisy (?). I heard this kind of idea years ago about negative self talk, along the lines of “if you wouldn’t say that to your bff, why would you ever say it to yourself?” I tried to be more aware of it and gentle to myself, but it’s so easy to slip back into old, familiar habits.

    I have found affirmations (and therapy of course!) have helped me a lot. I crowd out the negative thoughts & beliefs with intentional positive ones.

    If memory serves, one or both of our Head Bitches are singers. I am too, so one of the things I just recently did a social post about was how the choral concept of sneak or catch breath could help us in our allyship & work for change. No one judges if you need to drop a note or word in a choral setting to catch a quick breath so you can keep singing your best. Your singing neighbors keep going and cover for you, because later on in the song maybe they will need to do it too.

    So I think that can be a really helpful concept for how we can take breaks to recharge ourselves without letting others down. You know it won’t be forever. It’s healthy for you AND for the overall group! And then you can cover for someone else when it’s their time to take care of themselves. And in that way we can all keep singing (working) in harmony, at our strongest and best, for the best results.

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