Why do we frequently beat ourselves up in our heads? Have you ever really listened to how you talk to yourself? When you notice your inner voice, it usually isn’t pretty. We tend to be much more critical of and downright mean to ourselves than we would ever be to another person. Many of us seem to think we need to speak to ourselves in this rude and demeaning way in order to keep us in line.
“If I didn’t speak to myself this way, I might fail.”
“If I wasn’t constantly yelling at myself, I’d probably just eat everything in sight and be so gross.”
“…I would probably never wash the dishes.”
The list goes on and on…
I have heard this type of rationale from clients for years and have certainly been there myself as well. We all seem to do this (at least everyone I know) but no one talks about it. Why?
Somehow we think that if we are nice to ourselves in our self-talk, we will not be successful or not follow through on things we want in life. Somehow we will do exactly the opposite of what we really want to do. We have to yell at ourselves and sometimes even punish ourselves in order to stay on track.
I am asking you to experiment with another way. You are not signing a contract or anything, I’m just asking you to try the following three steps and determine if a compassionate approach might work better.
Notice your own thoughts and try to be aware of how you talk to yourself. Notice if you tend to talk down to yourself or if you are incredibly kind and gentle. If you are kind, gentle and loving toward yourself in your thoughts, you can stop here – that’s wonderful. I bet most, if not all, of you are not noticing a lot of loving-kindness though, are you? You are probably hearing a lot of nasty comments and they may even be shocking. You may not have noticed the way in which you talk to yourself before. Many of us talk to ourselves and don’t have any awareness of it at all. That’s okay. You are starting to be aware now and that means you are at least halfway to being nicer to yourself.
Once you notice your inner dialogue, you can slowly start to change it. When you are aware of negative self-talk, try replacing it with something more compassionate and kind toward yourself. You do not have to be perfect. You will not catch yourself very often at first, but you will become more aware with time. Even if you can make this conscious change once a week or once a day, you’re cultivating more awareness. There are not giant leaps here, just baby steps.
Once you have tried this for a while, notice if your worst fear happens. Are you really not accomplishing anything? Did you really eat everything in sight? Is the sink filled with dishes that haven’t been done for months? OR, do you notice a lighter feeling? Are you freer? Is there less pressure on your shoulders? Can you breath more fully now? Is there less anxiety?
Kimberly Atwood is a psychotherapist in private practice in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. She specializes in working with women and men in their late teens, 20’s and 30’s dealing with eating disorders, sexual and relationship issues, anxiety, life transitions and personal growth. Please visit www.Kimberlyatwood.com for more information.