Last Updated on February 12, 2024

Why we feel bad about ourselves

Everybody feels bad about themselves sometimes.

I think we only feel ashamed because we believe something that is false:

“The only, or best way, to motivate change is through fear and pain.”

The Punishment Paradigm

This is the essence of what my friend Joy calls “The Punishment Paradigm.”

We shame ourselves, as punishment for “being bad.”

The idea is that if we feel bad enough, then we will be motivated!

The problem is, punishment often increases the behaviors we are trying to change.

Like when a child “misbehaves” and a parent harshly punishes them.

This often increases the behavior the parent would like to stop.

That’s because the child is trying to reassert their autonomy.

The real need isn’t being met.

Similarly when an adult engages in an unwanted behavior, like scrolling social media endlessly. (guilty!)

We feel bad, so we do something in an attempt to feel better.

Our bad habits therefore are an attempt at self-regulation!

They are acts of love.

But then if we shame ourselves for our behaviors, we feel even worse.

Thus we do more of the thing that isn’t working.

The Progress Paradigm

How do we exit this loop?

Instead of shaming ourselves, we can do the opposite.

What’s the opposite of shame?


We are only doing the “bad habit” because we feel bad.

And what helps us to feel better?

Being deeply kind to ourselves.

That’s the place to start, always.

Then we can, if we so choose, apply some tool or another to change our state (like a Pattern Interrupt Method).

From there we can make progress towards where we want to go instead.

It’s OK if you feel bad sometimes.

We all do.

And through practice, we can also train ourselves to realize that motivation doesn’t have to come from fear and pain.

It can instead come from love.

Take care,