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What do you think about 

I have struggled all my life with being self-critical. Sometimes it is good because it motivates me to do what I need to do and to grow as a person. But other times I am so hard on myself, telling myself that I’m an “idiot” or “stupid,” and it just makes me feel down. I am wondering how I can keep the motivating part without beating myself up all the time? 

While it’s true that being self-critical can help motivate us at times, I have found that for most people it is done in an unhealthy manner that stunts or stagnates growth. Dr. Abraham Twersky often notes in his books the difference between guilt and shame, with guilt being healthy and shame being unhealthy. He points out that guilt motivates change by creating the feeling that one is better than x behavior, while shame tells a person that he is defective and not capable of or worth changing. Guilt motivates action while shame results in inaction. The same can be said here. If you find that what you’re saying to yourself is motivating you to be better, then you’re likely doing it correctly. If you find that it’s just making you feel bad about yourself then what you’re doing is counterproductive. It will create a vicious cycle of inaction, leading to self-hate and then more inaction. It can be argued that learning to be self-compassionate may be the greatest tool we have to motivate us and encourage change and growth, while harsh criticism and self-hate may be the biggest impediment.  We see a similar dynamic with people who struggle with perfectionism and believe that it motivates them to be better when in fact the opposite is true. One of the most striking qualities you will see with successful people is their “relationship” with mistakes and failure. Invariably you’ll see that they don’t harp on it, obsess about it, or define themselves in any way by it. Rather, they tend to move on relatively quickly, trying to take some lesson from it and continue to focus on what they want. 

I have found it helpful when facing a mistake or setback to ask the following: What would a loving parent say to their child in this situation? You can do this regardless of whether you had a parent like that. We know that healthy loving parents support, believe in, and motivate their children to be the best they can be. And that comes without name calling, speaking harshly, or being condescending.  You may find that the more critical voice remains “louder” in your head but even by just introducing a positive message and creating a small space for it, time will allow it to grow and eventually be the more prominent message you are telling yourself. 

Another important point is that we always have the option of viewing things through more than one lens.  

In a famous tale from India,  a water-bearer carries two large pots on a yoke across his shoulders up the hill from the river to his master’s house each day. One has a crack and leaks half its water out each day before arriving at the house. The other pot is perfect and always delivers a full portion of water.

Finally, after years of arriving half-empty and feeling guilty, the cracked pot apologizes to the water-bearer: “I’m sorry that I couldn’t accomplish what the perfect pot did.”

The water-bearer says, “What do you have to apologize for?”

“After all this time, I still only deliver half my load of water. I make more work for you because of my flaw.”

The man smiled and tells the pot, “Take note of all the lovely flowers growing on the side of the path where I carried you. The flowers grew so lovely because of the water you leaked. There are no flowers on the perfect pot’s side.”

In any struggle or failure, we have an opportunity to learn from our experience. We may realize that what we learned from the struggle was more valuable than anything we could have learned if things had gone as planned. 

I want to take this opportunity to say goodbye to the readers as this will be my last Ask the Therapist column due to other responsibilities that I must tend to. I would like to thank all the readers for their comments and questions each month. I would also like to thank the staff at the Jewish Echo for all their help over the past few years. From Ita and her never-ending patience with my articles consistently being submitted late, to Rayle and all her ideas, suggestions, and feedback to help keep the column relevant and helpful to our readers. I began writing for the magazine back in August 2016, and it has been a wonderful opportunity that I am grateful for. Thank you, Shea, for trusting in me and giving me this platform, which I hope I have used to help foster change and awareness in the importance of mental health. 

the NYC plastic bag ban? 

Wow! I did not know this!  The supermarket I shop at just put up a sign informing customers that boxes for delivery will now cost 50 cents per box. What’s next?1 I don’t think bags are wasteful since I personally use my shopping bags at least twice and often many times before they make their way to the garbage for disposal. You know what this means, though, everyone will stock up like crazy now, and plastic bags will still be used anyways.    S.G.

No, I need my bags! I use them for so many things other than transporting items from stores.  They serve double or even triple duty. I use them to dispose diapers, so they won’t stink up the garbage. I also use them for my bathroom, laundry room,  basement and recycling garbage cans. I also use them to carry my lunch and snacks to work, and overall  to carry stuff generally. Anita Glass

No. I use them to wrap diapers and to for garbage can liners in the bathroom. H. K.

Plastic bags serve a multitude of purposes. I have used them to cover broken limbs (in cast) and keep them dry while showering, amongst a bunch of other uses.  In New York going to require us to stop using garbage bags when throwing out garbage forcing sanitation workers to pick up the cans and dump the garbage? Are we only expected to go grocery shopping when we have our own bags with us? So, on the way home from work if I want to pick up some items I can’t because I have nothing to carry them in? If they are serious about this, they should outlaw those wasteful and annoying circulars that come around daily, which most people don’t even use; that will make up for any grocery bags people weekly. What about the fact that plastic bags are recycled? Chana Mendlowitz

No! I better start hoarding them now! My plastic bags get a lot of use out of them. I use them as makeshift gloves when cleaning with harsh chemicals. I have used them to cover my shoes during snowstorms. I don’t have a dog, but I see people using them after their pet does his “business.” Some men also cover their Shabbos hats with them. Baruch G. 

I have noticed that CVS started using paper bags; I imagine other stores will do likewise.  Zev Steinhardt

Reusable bags are unsanitary. Bacteria, E-Coli, Listeria, and Salmonella from food spill to other foods, or the bacteria can lay dormant in the material.  Most people do not wash their reusable bags and this could lead to cross contamination. Eli C.

Yes, ban them. Plastic bags are harmful to the environment, animals, and to humans due to the toxicity in them. Because they are lightweight (and people’s general disregard) they are found scattered all over the street,  floating in oceans, stuck in tree branches, and clogging up corner sewer basin drains. Marine life, like seagulls and fish are susceptible to getting caught in plastic bags, and cats, dogs, and pigeons can ingest them too.  We should all use biodegradable cloth bags. Jacky B.

I read(in more than one place)  that in order to off set the environmental impact of producing the reusable  cloth bags, it would take up 20,000 to compete with using a plastic bag. Certainly some food for thought….. P Baum

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