The last time that you made a mistake what was the first thing that you said to yourself? Was it “Oh well mistakes happen. I will do better next time.” Or was it more along the lines of “I’m such an idiot. I can’t believe that I did that.”? For the majority of us we are more closely aligned with the second statement. It can be incredibly difficult to be kind to ourselves because it is generally not something that is taught at home. We are taught to be kind to the neighbors, the adults in our lives, to pets and even to inanimate objects like our toys and the furniture but rarely are we taught to be kind to ourselves. If you think about that it is no wonder that most adults have a hard time with intimacy. How can we practice forgiveness, kindness and acceptance with our friends and families if we are haven’t first perfected it within ourselves?
As a parent I strive to teach my daughter to be a good person, to be self assured and confidant but as we all know children learn more by osmosis then by the words I tell her. Sure I can tell her to love herself just the way she is but if I am constantly criticizing my hair or body she will learn to do the same. If I tell her that she is smart and can learn anything if she applies herself to the task but then I give up after the first attempt to put together her doll house she will think that its ok to quit when things get hard. If I tell her that is ok that she spilled her cereal all over the table because mistakes happen then when I spill my tea on the floor I call myself and idiot she will think that this type of self talk is the right way to go. If I loose my temper and raise my voice at her and hurt her feelings but don’t apologize to her once I have calmed down then I am teaching her that it is ok to take my frustrations out on other people without consequence or without making amends.
I have also observed many people who are extremely hard on themselves when it comes to dealing with loss. It seems that the further outside of our control the loss is, the harder people are on themselves. The expectation is that we should be able to bounce back from being laid off, the death of a loved one or the end of a relationship within two to three weeks. When that grieving process actually can take months or years. Instead of treating ourselves with compassion and kindness we will often berate ourselves, heap on guilt and lots of negative self talk about how weak we are or how we should “be over it” already. The irony of this situation is that the more we berate ourselves instead of allowing ourselves to sit in the pain until it runs its course is that it will often extend the grieving process.
Once I began to recognize this pattern within myself and in those around me I devised a system to help me be kinder to myself so that others would be able to mirror the behavior.
Step 1: When I find myself using negative self talk I stop and reverse that statement. For example if I have missed a due date for a project at work instead of berating myself I say “I missed the mark there but I will do my best to hit the next target.” This allows me to acknowledge my misstep but encourage me to move forward.
Step 2: Recognize and acknowledge that I am human and that mistakes will happen. I make an effort to learn from the mistakes that I have made and I do my best to make better choices next time. Often times we will hold ourselves to much higher standards than we apply to other people, however the more we do this the more likely it is that our self talk will be negative and will lead to anger and irritation.
Step 3: If I have lost my temper with someone else or hurt their feelings, instead of ignoring the offense or trying to downplay it I go to them and acknowledge my poor behavior, extend a sincere apology and ask for their forgiveness. This step is something that must be done as soon as I realize that my behavior was unfair. I have found that the longer that I procrastinate with this step the more likely it will be that I won’t do it at all which will lead to more guilt and negative self talk.
While I would love to tell you that by following these three steps I have completely eliminated negative self talk and am living a completely joyous life, that is not the case. However what I can truthfully say is that these three steps have greatly reduced the frequency and duration of my negative self talk. I have also watched my daughter improve her self talk and watched her confidence in herself bloom as a result of her seeing me walk this process out and talk to her about these step. I have watched her practice these steps with her close friends and their friendships seem much stronger because of it. I have seen my personal and professional relationships deepen because of this process as well. I highly encourage you to implement these processes in your daily life in order to improve your self image and peace of mind.