Lately there seems to be a rash of “I get so angry at myself” –itis. Clients complain that whatever they do it isn’t ever good enough. They beat themselves up with what amounts to verbal self-abuse. Boy, do I know how that feels:
“Why did I get an 89 on that report? It should have been 100. I’m an idiot!”
“What was I thinking when I called in sick? I should have gone into work anyway. Now my boss will think I’m a bum. I am a bum!”
“Why did I eat that pie? Why did I eat two pieces of pie? I’m fat and out of control!”
A lot of us are guilty of being mean to ourselves. It has got to stop! Here’s how:
1) Tune in, like you would a radio dial, to the voices in your head. How are they sounding? Supportive or nasty? Sometimes we aren’t even aware of how cruel we can be to ourselves until we detach just enough to listen as an observer. Write some of it down. Let that help you realize the extent of the verbal self-abuse you’ve been sustaining. During an episode of depression I did this and was surprised to learn how unkind I was to myself.
2) Whose voice is it? It isn’t yours. Your genuine voice is thoughtful, even when you legitimately need a kick in the butt. Trust me on this. Often that harsh voice you hear is a parent or other adult who had an impression on us when we were kids. Back then our brains were sponges that soaked up and internalized everything, including repeated criticisms.
Isolate and defuse that negative voice. Identify where it came from and realize its origin was outside of yourself. Take another moment to filter through the ‘noise’ of the mean voice. Underneath all that muck is your genuine voice or your ‘gut’. That voice is reasonable and supportive. Listen to it.
3) Talk back! Don’t just take the mean stuff. Challenge the put downs. Dialog boxes are helpful to exercise this new skill. On a piece of paper draw two columns, on the left write whatever the nasty voice is saying (try to keep it to a sound bite). On the right come up with a more reasonable response. An example of this might be: “You are such a loser!” vs. “I could do better and I will next time. That doesn’t make me a loser.” Go back and forth, from left to right, writing the dialog, until you feel a sense of mastery over the negative voice.
4) Mind the “absolute” language, and I don’t mean the vodka. Avoid words like “always, never, can’t, forever.” These words leave no room for hope; they are toxic when applied to ourselves. Or, turn about is fair play. Use positive absolute words like “Gorgeous, fabulous, winner, the best!”
5) Talk to yourself as you would a friend. A good friend pointed out to me that the way I was talking about myself was unacceptable. “No one talks to my friend like that!” she said. This was such an eye opener I took it a step further. If it were my friend and if she said she felt like a failure what would I be saying to her? It sure as hell wouldn’t be “You are such a loser!” Wouldn’t I be busy pointing out all my friend’s strengths and good qualities, bucking her up, showing support? You bet I would! So be your best girlfriend.
6) Talk to yourself as you would a child. No, I don’t mean baby talk! Just imagine all that meanness being directed to a little kid. You would never allow someone to talk to a child the way you do to yourself when you are cruel. I’ll go further: You wouldn’t even talk to a dog that way! Take the kindness that you have for others and turn it inward. If your inner child messes up, i.e. isn’t perfect, try to sooth her/him with encouragement and kindness.
7) Take responsibility for whatever your inner voice says you could do better, but no more. We are not perfect. Sometimes we do need to be self-critical. That’s good as long as we are disciplined enough to not go overboard.
Having that second piece of pie doesn’t make me a fat loser but next time I will remember to be nicer to myself by only having one.