I started reading Brene Brown’s most recent book, Rising Strong, recently. I am a die-hard fan of her work, so really the only surprise there is that I waited as long as I did to get around to reading this one.
Rising Strong is, as all her books are, wonderful and enlightening. I’ll be sure to post a complete review once I’ve finished reading it, but for now — here’s a passage that grabbed my attention:
“I am clear on the fact that self-righteousness is a tremendous threat to self-respect… I must accept responsibility for my own life and my decisions. When I was finding fault with everyone who walked by that day at the airport, my self-respect was suffering. That’s why things felt so dark.”
Brown, Brene (2015-08-25). Rising Strong (Kindle Locations 1998-2000). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
I have had a thing about self-righteousness for a long time. It’s an emotion I don’t like when I recognize it in myself and it’s an emotion that I struggle to deal with when it shows up in other people.
Basically self-righteousness makes me grumpy.
Which isn’t to say that I don’t fall victim to it just like everyone else. Sometimes people behave in ways I feel are inappropriate and that pisses me off and I get all self-righteous and uppity about it.
But I don’t like the person I am when I’m being so judgmental.
And those few sentences from Brene Brown put the finger on exactly why I find self-righteousness so irksome.
Self-righteousness is the enemy of self-respect.
(My hunch is that what follows is reasonably universal — but if it’s not true for you, feel free to skip to the end and let me know your thoughts in the comments. I love a dissenting view!)
We get self-righteous when we’re upset — and interestingly, as Karla McLaren points out in her book The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You, anger is the emotion that helps us set and maintain healthy boundaries. For a more detailed look at McLaren’s view on anger, try here.
So we get angry, and then we get self-righteous, but usually the reason we’re angry in the first place is because someone violated a boundary.
It seems to me that the self-righteousness itself is the product of that anger — except instead of looking at how we played a part in allowing the violation of our boundaries, we choose to take the easy way out and blame the other person for “behaving badly” and not respecting boundaries we didn’t tell them they were crossing.
They shouldn’t have been mean to us. They shouldn’t have laughed at us. They shouldn’t have done that. They should have behaved more appropriately.
We get self-righteous.
But the self-righteousness is the product of a loss of self respect.
The problem began when we didn’t stand up for our boundaries, when we didn’t speak up about our needs, when we didn’t give them an honest no and when we settled for a resentful and dishonest yes.
And now we’re angry and we’re making it their fault because it’s easier than admitting that it is we who were at fault.
I invite you to do it differently as you move forward — I will certainly be paying more attention to this!
I invite you to notice self-righteous feelings as a signal that a boundary violation has occurred. That in some way you didn’t stand up for yourself when you should have. That instead of anchoring your words and actions in self-respect, you disrespected yourself — and now you’re angry because the other person followed your lead and disrespected you, too.
Notice, and then do it differently.
What would have been respectful of yourself, your needs, your boundaries in that situation? What was it you really needed to say, to do, to insist upon? What should you have been unwilling to tolerate or settle for?
Your turn! What’s an experience which left you feeling self-righteous? Do you think it was the result of a boundary violation? Was self-righteousness easier than the shame of admitting you didn’t stand up for yourself? Let me know in the comments below!
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