Why Do We Take Ourselves Too Seriously?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being serious from time to time. After all, it is a fundamental character trait that is in many ways intertwined with adult maturity. However, some do see seriousness as a negative representation of who they are, or as an undeveloped sense of humor they never acquired.

No doubt about it, there is a place for seriousness in our lives. But like most everything else we do, there needs to be a dose of balance and flexibility.

On one hand, it is important for us to be serious when attending to certain matters of life. However on the other hand, we need not be so serious about life matters that it causes a disruption in our emotional equilibrium. Disruptions in our state of calmness can impact our quality of life so much to the point of impairing our psyche. When this happens, our internal world can sometimes transform into a dark, overly structured, rigid, micromanaging command center of negativity. When this kind internal environment is produced life can become overwhelming and unbearable at times.

Taking ourselves too seriously (TOTS) is a perception of how we see ourselves. It is a self-imposed concept , residing in our internal command center, where compulsions to strictly adhere to rules and guidelines lie dormant. TOTS stems from an imbalanced state of mind consistently being weighed down by negative-fused thoughts that are interconnected to worry and frustration. Worry and frustration in turn breed over-thinking, analyzing and ruminating over matters that appear bigger than what they truly are.

Within the TOTS command center are high expectations of self. Sadly, due to one’s inability to meet unreasonable, and likely unrealistic markers in life of where they should be, the impact of high expectations most often leads to disappointment. TOTS abides by a long list of assumptions of “must” and “should” thoughts, streaming perfectionism, approval-seeking and self-judgmental fears of rejection or ridicule. In this command center, we, in a sense, become the judge, jury and executioner of our own self. We charge ourselves with not living up to our own expectations, find us guilty, then sentence ourselves as life prisoners in our internal world. Once inside our internal prison cell, we mentally and emotionally punish ourselves over and over again with constant round the clock self-criticism and judgment.

An example of this would be if Sally started a new position in a new field just months after completing her undergrad. She had been on the job for three weeks and was understandably struggling to learn new skills involved with her new role. After her fourth week, Sally became frustrated with herself and began to judge herself too harshly for not being able to learn new skills as quickly as she assumed others to have learned them. Sally began beating herself up by making self-degradating comments. The more she judged and criticized herself, the more she believed she did not have the ability to learn new skills. The more she bought into the thought that she did not have the ability to learn skills, the more she felt vulnerable around others who had mastered the skills. The more she felt vulnerable around those she assumed had mastered the skills, the more she alienated herself from them. The more she alienated from others, the more hopeless she became about learning new skills. The more hopeless she became, the more she gave up, and the less effort she put into learning the skills she needed to learn to maintain her new position. A few weeks later Sally resigned.

In this example, Sally took herself way too seriously and paid the price dearly. She did not acknowledge that she was a novice in her field and had little experience to compare progress to. She gave up prematurely, was not patient with herself, and, unfortunately, missed out on an opportunity to grow and develop as an individual and a professional in her field.

No one wants the heavy burden of taking themselves too seriously because the cost is too high. However, once the cycle of self-judgement begins, it is difficult to stop.

In many ways, TOTS can escalate into taking everyone else too seriously as well. When this happens, our relationship with others may begin to suffer. The same judgement and criticism you inflict on yourself, is the same, if not more, as you inflict on others. If we feel that there is no room for error in ourselves, then we project that same opinion and treatment onto others. This kind of self-destructive behavior becomes a barrier to healthy meaningful relationships we long to have.

The impact of TOTS begins with a tsunami of anxiety and depressive episodes, progressively leading to a debilitating and never-ending cycle of:

  • Low confidence: “I can’t do this.”
  • Low self-esteem: “I knew I couldn’t do it.”
  • Low self-worth: “I’ll never be able to do it.”
  • Isolation and withdrawal: “I’m ashamed and embarrassed because I can’t do it.”
  • Hopelessness: “What’s the use even trying?

To prevent the impact of TOTS from infiltrating and engulfing our internal world, we must first become mindfully aware when we are taking ourselves too seriously. Once we observe ourselves engaging in this unhealthy behavior, we must immediately hit the pause button. It is during this moment when we acknowledge what we are doing and choose a healthier way to respond to life’s matters.

In some ways, a brief moment of relaxation and humor can bring clarity to a situation that ordinarily would seem insurmountably serious.

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