My observation is that the four horsemen of the marriage apocalypse from my previous four blog posts also apply to another important relationship: our relationship with ourselves.

These are the four horsemen from Dr. Gottman’s excellent book, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” (titles are linked to a blog post on each):

  1. Criticism
  2. Contempt
  3. Defensiveness
  4. Stonewalling

As I reflected on the progression from one to the next, it seemed to me that this model might flag problems in my relationship with myself, as well. In order to grow personally, I need a healthy relationship with myself.

Nobody is perfect. That’s a given. But sometimes we can be quite unkind to ourselves. We say things to ourselves about ourselves that we would never say to a loved one. We say things to ourselves about ourselves that we would never say to a loved one. Click To TweetHave you ever called yourself an “idiot” under your breath when you’ve done something that you feel stupid about? But how do you react when a friend does something he or she feels stupid about? Do you call him or her an idiot? Likely not.  🙂

Harsh self-talk can hold us back from personal growth. The four horsemen can come galloping into our relationship with ourselves just like they appear in a marriage. Here’s how it might go:

I Criticize Myself

First, Let’s say I have done something over and over that I don’t like (or something really bad). Instead of patting myself on the back and telling myself, “Nobody’s perfect and neither are you. Let’s move on,” I start to criticize myself. My mistakes become, to me, indicators of my character and personality. I start to define myself as my weaknesses, deficiencies or mistakes. Rather than saying to myself, “That was a stupid thing to do,” I say, “I am so stupid. How can I be such an idiot?”

I Have Contempt for Myself

Second, when I have been critical of myself for a while, I might start to hold myself in contempt. This might surface as shame. Not only do I critically judge myself, but I begin to feel real shame about who I am. I look at myself in the mirror with contempt.

I Use Defensiveness to Blame Others

Third, I get defensive and start making excuses to myself. I blame this thing that causes me to look at myself with contempt on other people. My parents. My coworkers. My children. My spouse. The way I talk to myself is so painfully full of contempt for myself that my reaction is to blame others for something that is my responsibility. “If only so-and-so would do this or that, then I would be able to be the kind of person I want to be.” Defensiveness pushes personal responsibility onto someone or something else.

I Give Up

Finally, I stonewall myself. I look at something that I don’t like about myself and say, “Screw it. It’s not worth trying. I am the way I am.” There is a way of self-acceptance that is healthy. It is loving myself, faults and all. It is speaking kind and hopeful words to myself. This is not that. This is feeling despair, giving up on even interacting with myself about how I might be able to grow and change.

If any of these horsemen appear in my relationship with myself, I need to back my way down the list. I need to find where I criticize myself and judge myself. Then I need to learn to be kinder to myself. I need to speak to myself about my faults the way I would speak to my best friend about his faults. Rather than letting the horsemen into my self-talk about my faults, I need to speak to myself with truth and love. If I do that, over time I will grow. I need to speak to myself about my faults the way I would speak to my best friend about his faults. Click To Tweet

For my readers who look to the Bible for guidance, that’s how the Apostle Paul told us that we will grow spiritually:

…speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4:15, NIV)

What do you think? Does this seem true to you? I’d be interested in your comments.



If you the marriage posts about the four horsemen helpful, consider reading the entire book from which they are drawn. Click below to go to Amazon to take a look.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert

(NOTE: Affiliate link. See disclosures.)