How I Stopped Punishing Myself Even When I Did Not Achieve My Goals

stop punishing myself

Your results don’t reflect your worth. They never do. You are much more than that. ~ Mai Pham

My whole body was trembling. My head was pounding against the wall. I tightened my fists until my nails left deep marks on my skin. I patted my chest, trying to sooth the pain inside me. I felt suffocating.

Tears running down my face, I couldn’t breathe because my nose was blocked from all the crying. I bite my lips until it burned, trying to not make a sound out of my mouth. Some uncontrollable sobbing escaped my body but was overlapped by the sound of running water.

That was my secret time to release my stresses, pressures, and disappointment.

People told me that I had a good life that they desired. A good husband, a well-paying job and many remarkable achievements from time to time.

And I tried to show them exactly what they thought of me.

I never show my weaknesses to anyone, I always act like everything is possible. I worked 2 times harder than everyone to achieve my goals and pretended they didn’t matter so much when I failed.

But indeed, it hurt me badly.

People always have very high expectation of me. And I set unrealistic goals for myself. I went to bed at 2 am and woke up at 4 am to work, to try to achieve my goals. I ended up burn-out.

When I failed, I blamed myself for not trying hard enough, for not working more, and for resting.

Every hour of resting, every hour of sleeping was a failure.

I felt like a loser when things didn’t go my way. I was trapped in a loop of “unrealistic goals, work, burnout, fail, cry” and I couldn’t get out of it.

That night, after an hour crying in the shower, my eyes were swelling and I needed to put ice on them. I looked at myself in the mirror through my red, swollen eyes, and I realized I didn’t have to be miserable. I realized if I could forgive people easily, I could have done so for myself and stop punishing myself.

I have been hating myself this whole time

In the following days, I tried to look at myself from a third person’s angle and tried to treat myself like my dear ones. How would I treat my beloved ones when they fail? Would I give them hell or cheer them up?

That made me realize I have been too hard on myself.

I wanted to achieve things faster than everyone, accomplish more things than everyone and succeed in more things than everyone. And I made myself work harder than everyone.

When I read an article about how many incredibly successful people worked, I tried to go for the extreme version. If they slept 6 hours a day, I aimed to sleep 4 hours top. If they wrote one article per day, I made myself write 2 a day. If they had to sacrifice one thing for the next, I pushed myself to nail both things. Because giving up is for losers. And I never wanted to be a loser.

I constantly compared myself with others’ achievement. I felt like it was my task, my duty to achieve the same thing. Instead of being happy for them, I was jealous, bitter and beating myself up.

“You are such a loser. How come you couldn’t do the same? Shame on you. I am so disappointed in you.”

I kept hearing that voice in my head over and over again.

Would I say that to my beloved ones when they are not the best of their peers, when someone outgrows them? Of course not. I couldn’t bare the thought of hurting them.

But why would I feel the need of punishing myself when I failed?

The impossible task of letting go

After the eye-opening realization of how badly I have been treating myself, I determined to change. I wanted to love myself for my flaw and failures. However, it was much harder than I thought.

When I fell asleep in the afternoon, I felt lazy. When I spent a night watching my favorite movie show, I felt selfish and guilty.

My head was full of all the things I could have done, all the works I could have completed and all the chores I could have finished.

Even when I tried to stop myself from cursing me out, I could not lighten up my mood. I was sad, depressed and angry.

Instead of enjoying my hobbies, my depression outweighed the joy they brought, pushing me away from the thought of having my own time for myself again.

Learning to love myself for my failures instead of punishment

Why did I always feel guilty for things I did not accomplish? Did I have a good reason for being guilty?

Indeed, I did.

Because I wanted to do many things in my life, I kept spreading myself over those things, thinking the more I had, the happier I felt.

But the truth is, my package was full already.

I have been putting more things into my life, without giving up anything. My luggage was full, it was about to break.

It was like going to a vacation, instead of packing only enough clothes for couple days, I tried to put all of my wardrobes in my luggage. And it just couldn’t fit no matter how hard I pushed them.

I focus on what matters to me

I learned to accept the fact that I have changed. Things that used to matter to me don’t matter anymore. And I need to let them go. 

Do I need to complete that project on my own to prove myself better than everyone else? No. I just need to get the project done.

Do I really want that job promotion? No. I don’t care about it as I plan to start my own business one day.

Do I need to work 16 hours a day to complete all the house chores and my work? No. The house doesn’t need cleaning every day and I can always get some help with the chores.

I drew a picture of what I really wanted in my life, and I set my attention toward it. Other things that would not be a part of my picture are not worth to worry about.

I focus on the journey rather than the destination

I was raised and pushed to be the best of my peers, and people constantly compared me with others. That gave me the tendency to always aim for perfection. I never thought of getting the job done for the sake of completion, but for the perfection.

I never understood the concept of “getting done” or “good enough”. I was raising the bar too high for myself and it was always out of my reach.

Today, instead of aiming for perfection, my goal is to get things done. I know I am not perfect, and my work is far from it, and it is ok to be that way.

I started to see my mistakes as lessons and everything I do as a piece of a big picture. Every single piece, either big or small, is needed to complete my picture.

I tell myself how much I love me

In the past, I used my achievements as the measurement of my self-love. If I achieved my goals, it meant I had the right to like myself. If I didn’t, I was not worthy of any affection.

Today, I no longer cursing myself out. Every morning, I looked at myself in the mirror, smiled and told myself how much I loved me. I tell myself I am worthy of love, happiness and my flaws are what make me worthy.

Once I learned to accept myself the way I am, I no longer use my achievement to validate my self-worth. Because I know I am worth.

I am still learning to accept myself

Sometimes when I did not achieve my goals, a thought crossed my mind: “Am I being too easy on myself? I have been lazy lately. How am I going to succeed if I don’t work hard?”

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and started talking to myself like to my dearest one.

“You are not being easy on yourself. You are being realistic. I have seen you work. You are working hard enough. You are doing good enough. You just need to give yourself sometimes. You need to be patient with yourself. Because I have faith in you. I know what you can do”.

I have been repeating that to myself for thousands times before I could actually let go and believed that I was not a loser.

Even when I failed.

A failure is no longer a failure to me. It is a learning opportunity and a challenge that makes life interesting. And I allowed myself to make mistakes, to fall and to rise up.

Now I allow myself to give my body the rest it needs, to do things that I enjoy without the feeling of guilt or disappointment. No more secret crying in the shower every night, no more hatreds toward the person I see in the mirror for not doing things she should do.

I now choose to focus on things that matter, I have faith in myself.

And I have faith in you too.

Mai Pham

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