Reverse Golden Rule: Treat Yourself as You Would Treat Others

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“What the heck is wrong with you?”
“You are an idiot.”
“How could you make such a stupid mistake?”


These may sound like nasty, abusive comments that someone might say to his spouse during a major fight.

Actually, they are typical, everyday comments that many people say to themselves on a regular basis. Many of these people would NEVER say anything that hurtful to their spouse or anyone else.  These are thoughtful, caring people who would not want to hurt another person that way, because they feel compassion for others. The problem is that they do not have that same amount of compassion for themselves.

Why would a person “talk” to herself this way?  I have often found the roots of it to lie in Childhood Emotional Neglect.  When our parents don’t teach us in childhood the process of:  1) acknowledging a mistake; 2) figuring out what we can learn from it; and 3) forgiving ourselves and putting it behind us, we have no choice but to become our own internal “parent,” which we then carry forward through our adulthood.

In the absence of a balanced, forgiving parent who holds us accountable, we become our own internal parent.  A child-like parent who is excessively harsh.

Attacking putdowns like these can become almost a habit. When you do not treat yourself with the same compassion you have for others, you gradually break down your own self-esteem and self-confidence without even realizing it. You are doing as much damage to yourself as you would if you were living with someone who put you down and attacked you constantly.

If you were emotionally neglected in this way, and find yourself with that harsh internal voice, the good news is that it can be fixed.

Here’s the Reverse Golden Rule:  Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone you love and care about.

Start paying attention, and catch yourself in your “automatic putdowns.”  Consciously put in the effort to challenge those destructive comments, and counter them with more productive one. This does take work, but it is well worth it. And please don’t hesitate to find a good therapist near you.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, see my first book Running on Empty. 


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Roy - July 15, 2022 Reply

Hi Dr. J!, I’m Roy. Thank you soooo much for your book and work! Now I can be saved, thanks! I will be starting on all of your programs here that you offer on your site just as soon as l get to finishing your book and getting all my worksheets in order… but, life just changed for the worse again (pay cut at work, can’t afford by counselor anymore so I found you just in time lol!) so I will be recovering from that as well (l’m a PRO at greiving losses ;-), no worries). Hopefully l can figure out this website to find a counselor to talk to locally here in LA and all the other cool healing stuff you offer (not too tech savvy – 54 also afflicted with O.L.D. lol). Thanks again Doc, talk again soon… Roy

    Jonice - July 26, 2022 Reply

    Dear Roy, I’m so glad you’ve found these answers. You have plenty of time to heal. Now it’s a matter of learning everything you can and doing the work. You can do it.

Leah - November 23, 2018 Reply

My dad still says the golden rule to me every time I allow him to speak to me. it is not a way to live a full life.
He repeats the golden rule and “Remember Leah— you are third. God first, others second, and you always last.”
I am stopping this curse in my own parenting of my children. I am not angry with my dad anymore…. I’m sad that he is so conflicted inside. I know that pain.
Dr Webb, you are opening a world of healing for so many of us. Thank you

Preet - November 22, 2018 Reply

Hi Dr. Webb,
I am 22 yrs old. At 13 yrs I was diagnosed with PCOS . The doctor prescribed birth control pills to regulate my periods. Those tablets had losts of side effects and I experienced a lot of pain during the following period. I said my parents the same. They said we have to experience pain for some good. I took the pills for the next month too.The following period was painful and I found difficulty in doing my basic cores too. I skipped the pills the next month without informing my parents, when they found out I was not taking the pills ,I argued with my dad and he hit me with a chair. I am not able to forget it neither forgive Daddy. Should I forgive him, he never apologized for his behavior and I doubt he ever will.

    Jonice - November 23, 2018 Reply

    Deer Preet, I never recommend forgiving someone for hurting you unless they apologize in a meaningful way that indicates that they will never hurt you that way again. No father should ever his child with a chair. I hope you will talk with a therapist about this traumatic experience. All my best to you!

Richard Kram - November 21, 2018 Reply

I guess I got hit with a double whammy, I actually say those things to others. My wife commented in the past about my mom saying things like “don’t be so stupid”… It never dawned on me how badly that would effect my life. I have a lot of work to do. Thanks for the insight, have a great day.

Jon - November 1, 2018 Reply

I do this so often. It’s almost like there are two of me: the screwup child and the reprimanding adult. And the reprimanding adult HATES the screwup child so much. He won’t give the kid an inch because he is a dirty, nasty little monster and he doesn’t deserve it. I know in my head that this is my past talking, but it doesn’t change the fact that it FEELS true.

Cara Rogers - May 8, 2013 Reply

I use to do this so often, and one day my friend was like knock it off. I didn’t understand why but she said it her her to hear me talk about myself in that way. I had a hard time stopping that, but with motivation from my BEST FRIEND I now have self confidence and am strong and positive about myself.

    Jonice Webb - May 8, 2013 Reply

    Good for you Cara, that you were able to hear your friend, take her seriously, and make healthy changes in how you treat yourself. And also good for you for having such a great friend.

seltzerrespecttherespect - - March 4, 2013 Reply

[…] Reasons to why you might not be treating yourself to the “Golden-Rule” and how you can fix them can be found at: […]

jack stock - July 12, 2012 Reply

long have and still do put myself down with self-deprecating thoughts and exaggerated or distorted judgments against myself. As a basically empathetic person, i would always try to avoid treating any other person insuch a callous, unkindly way. In spite of recent improvements, all too often I accuse myself of being small, useless, over-serious, too busy awarding myself Merit Badges or Demerits, loving the sound
of my own voice and gloating over my supposed intelligence and glibness. That’s why I believe in a #2 Golden Rule that reminds us that every one of us humans is as worthy as every other human and is entitled to the same respect, dignity from oneself as Golden Rule # 1 requires to all others.

Jack Stock

    Jonice Webb - July 17, 2012 Reply

    Hi Jack, thank you for your sincere and candid comments. I hope you will really try to follow the Reverse Golden Rule. I’ve found that it’s often the people who deserve the least harsh judgments who judge themselves the most harshly. Take care! Dr. Webb

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