The Big Lie: “If you’re hard on yourself then you’re a better person.”

by Emanuel Kuntzelman

If Rick Hanson is right, and I am sadly sure he is, and it takes 5 positive experiences to overcome one bad one, then we’ve got a lot of work to do!  In the workshop I did last summer with Rick Hanson, he talked about this and discussed the idea that the reason why the negative impacts us more than the positive might be due as much to cultural conditioning as it is to the hardwiring of the brain. 

This is a very important point and, in my view, and I think Rick Hanson shares it to some degree, is that part of the socialization process we have been exposed to—that which has its roots in the Protestant Ethic, the fundamentalist traditions and Buddhism included, silently implores us to think that we suffer because we deserve to suffer.  Experiencing, relishing and enjoying joy has been a bit culturally taboo because, well, I’m not so sure, but I guess we have programmed ourselves to think that we shouldn’t let ourselves have all that much fun.  There is, of course, the hard survival mechansisms that have been burned into our brains as well.  Once we touch a hot stove the learning mechanism leaves us with a powerful memory.  Whereas having a wonderful and joyful day is, unfortunately, more easily forgotten.

In his blogs and writings, Hanson has stressed the idea of TIG:  Take In the Good.  It is extremely important for us to do this in order to overcome the negative impressions we constantly receive.  To quote Hanson from the notes I took in his seminar:  “Just having positive experiences is not enough.  They pass through the brain like water through a sieve, while negative experiences are caught.  We need to engage positive experiences actively to weave them into the brain.  You can use your mind to change your brain to change your mind for the better.”

As to how we actually do this and put TIG into practice, Hanson recommends

1.  Look for positive facts and register them. 

2.  Savor the experience. 

3.  Let the experience soak in deeply into emotional memory.  


To conclude, Hanson also said two things that I really liked:

“Self-compassion is much more effective than Self-esteem.”

“Try to avoid being swayed by the Big Lie:  if you are hard on yourself then you are a better person.”


I have recently been trying to let that last lie evaporate from my memory.  I’m working hard to be light on myself. 

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