Why Are We So Hard on Ourselves?

Like a hard-to-please gymnastics judge, we fault our less-than-perfect performance.

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Do you judge yourself more harshly than you'd ever judge anyone else?

One time, when my kids were little, I was angry that laundry had been left in the dryer by the other adult living in this house, apparently awaiting the arrival of the Magic Cleaning Fairy to fold it and put it away.

In a huff, I kicked the empty laundry basket down the hallway while loudly declaring (OK, shouting): “WHY AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO DOES ANYTHING AROUND HERE?”

A few days later, I sent my young son to his room to pick up his toys. He was mad, and, as he kicked a plastic toy across the room, he yelled, “Why am I the only one who does anything around here?”


What is it they say, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery?

Not my finest moment.

Among dozens of other “not-so-fine” moments.

I mess up. A lot.

And then, as if to make up for all my mess-ups, I berate myself incessantly thereafter.

For years after.

The “laundry basket incident” was nearly a decade ago. My kids have no memory of it.

But I can’t forget. Or stop judging myself over it.

Here’s what I tell myself: I’m a bad mom, an impatient mom, a mom who yells.

Here’s what I know: A better mom handles that situation calmly and with ease.

Here’s how far I’ll take that narrative: A better mom enjoys the task of folding laundry, spritzing it with lavender-scented spray, before carefully adding perfectly folded shirts and undies to the organized drawers of the appropriate dressers with a smile of good service.

I’m not that mom.

And because I know I’ll never measure up to that mom, that little judge in my brain puts me on trial for every transgression, no matter how small.

How small?

I’m the mom who got angry when someone else signed up for “plates and napkins” for the class party. That’s my domain!

Clearly… I’m selfish and possessive and I DON’T BAKE!

I’m the mom who sent her kindergartner to school on the day there was no kindergarten and sheepishly returned to the office later to retrieve him.

So that must mean… I’m forgetful and disorganized and WHAT DAY OF THE WEEK IS IT AGAIN?

I hate when the home phone rings late at night, at dinnertime, really any time. I hate having to call any service provider that requires me to deal with an automated response line. I’m the customer who immediately and angrily presses every button, shouting, “REPRESENTATIVE!”

Because… I’m impatient and easily frustrated and WHY CAN’T A HUMAN BEING PICK UP THE PHONE.

You know those glass half-full and glass half-empty people?

I’m neither. I can’t find my glass. WHERE DID I LEAVE MY GLASS?

I once had a mug that declared me “World’s Greatest Mom.” I don’t have that mug anymore. I don’t know where it is. Maybe someone found out about me and took it away.

On the scale of Mom-hood, I give myself a 4.

I’m a very judgmental Judge Judy.

And what I judge harsher than anything is myself.

I get upset at little things, like when the power goes out for a blip and all of the clocks in the house need to be re-set. Why are there so many digital clocks in this house? How does one get them to announce the same time?

Sometimes I get a productive rush and I tend to multiple tasks at once.

I feel powerful, like I can accomplish anything.

Then I arrive in a room and can’t recall why I am there.

I wait for a minute, hoping it will come back to me.

Nope, it’s gone.

Never mind.

I never balance the checkbook, can’t help my kids with Algebra and need someone else to figure out splitting the bill.

I forget every password I have. I keep resetting the passwords and then forgetting them again.

I’m forgetful and disorganized and fretful!

And feeling a little lumpy too.

Like the Russian judge who takes points off for minor infractions, I can’t give myself a break. I’m Judge Judgeanova, hard to impress and always finding fault with my performance.

Why do I do this?

I don’t know. I’ve done it for so long I don’t think I know how to go not do it. But I know having this type of unhelpful inner narrator isn’t helping me, nor is ruminating on past mistakes.

Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’re a Judgy mom too, criticizing your best efforts, focusing on your failure and passing off successes to someone else.

Maybe each day you do your daily routine but take off points when you fail to stick the landing.

They got rid of the Perfect 10 in gymnastics years ago. Now it’s a complex set of numerals with winning scores like 15.96825…

Here’s what I can tell you, Judgy McJudgeFace, from one judge to another. There’s no one scoring this thing but us, in our own heads, on some sort of system that docks us points for being human.

There’s no podium or gold medal or victory photo on a Wheaties box.

There is, likely, an empty Wheaties box in my pantry because I’m out of cereal and have to go to the supermarket.

Also, no one else ever takes out the recycling.


Valerie Gordon put hundreds of stories on the air in her twenty year television career. The owner of career and communication firm Commander-in-She, she helps high-achieving women take command of their career success and satisfaction. Read her other humor articles HERE.

Originally published at

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