How to conquer the bully in your own head

I run on guilt. My biggest motivator, my fuel, my reason for action is guilt. And no, it wasn’t guilt from my mother, my family, my friends, my church, coaches, or anyone else like that. If anything, the people in my life were very loving and encouraging. The guilt was actually coming from myself.

For most of my adolescence, I spent my time trying to fix everything that was wrong with me. I bullied my own reflection, thinking that berating myself about my weight was going to mold my body into the shape I desired. If I ever made a mistake in school, I never let myself hear the end of it. I would beat myself up for hours about a flubbed test question or a quippy remark that accidentally hurt a friend’s feelings. Even scraping my car tire rims on the sidewalk when I was just getting the hang of parallel parking would send me into a vicious cycle of abusive self talk that I didn’t know how to break. I was bulldozing my own self esteem with my own thoughts.

“How could you do that?”

“You are so stupid!”

“Why do you even bother if you’re going to mess it up?”

And those were all coming from myself.

Finding and keeping a job was hard for me because I was waiting for the mean-spirited voice in my head to yell at me for not answering an interview question right, or for not finishing a project on time. I argued with myself every day, saying things like, “You need to finish this or you’re going to get fired.” “Get off your lazy butt and work out, or you’ll be fat your entire life!”

In case you were wondering, that didn’t really motivate me to do well. But weirdly enough, I found myself comforting my friends and encouraging them to work towards their goals. I helped my screenwriter pals by giving notes on their spec scripts. I went to all of my actor friends’ plays and sat in the front row, ready to give an enthusiastic standing ovation for their performances. I consoled those who were grieving, and praised others for their appearance before they went clubbing, knowing that I could help give them confidence with my supportive words.

 Why, then, did I allow myself to be motivated by guilt, when I saw first-hand that encouragement, love, and support actually lend towards a person’s success? The truth is, I didn’t know that what I was doing to myself was wrong. After years of living with a bully inside of my head, I had had enough. I was exhausting myself. I was the one holding myself back with my own self-talk, and I was tired of giving up when something wasn’t perfect.

I decided to try a tactic I didn’t know would ever work: I tried to be nice to myself.

Things changed. Instead of feeling guilt, I felt motivated by my desire to do things, and my love for doing them. I felt positive and brave! Instead of reprimanding myself, I gave myself words of encouragement, telling myself to take baby steps, and that if things got too hard, it was okay to take a little break. I treated myself as if I was a small child – I fed her healthier food, took her out for some exercise, let her have a little fun, and learned to love her for how silly she could be when she thought no one was looking.

 Here is what else being nice to myself has taught me, and how I learned to conquer the bully in my own head.

Saying “I don’t know” is okay

No one can know absolutely everything. What kind of fun would there be if we did? Admitting you don’t know something doesn’t make you a dummy or a failure. It actually opens up the possibility for you to learn something! Also, pretending like you know everything can get you in hot water once someone gets wise to your lies and calls you out on it. Believe me.

Feeling lost is also totally OK

In school people were asking me what I wanted to do after graduation, so I beat myself up thinking that I needed to get my act together and do something amazing. Well, it’s been 5 years since graduation, and I still don’t really know what I’m doing. And that is A-OK! I learned to curb my panic about my unknowable future, and not overwhelm myself with adulthood by taking it all one day at a time. Not knowing what I’m doing has given me a kind of freedom that I never thought my internal antagonist would ever let me experience. I don’t have a plan – and I don’t feel guilty about it! Instead, I’ve opened up myself to new opportunities and instead of worrying about my 5-year plan, I’ve tried so many new things on a much smaller scale!  I once sprained my ankle trying to learn how to play roller derby! When I fell (hard), I didn’t yell at myself or worry about the deductible and co-pay on my visit to the doctors’ office. Instead, I thought, “get back up!” My ankle is the one that ended up yelling at me to sit back down, but you get what I mean.

The funk can’t – and won’t – funk you up.

No, I don’t mean funk as in “Uptown Funk” (which, by the way, is so good). I mean the funk! The funk. The feeling you get when you’re down, not super motivated or excited about what’s going on in life. For me, my funks manifest by not being able to write a single word, or not being able to find the right harmony to my favorite Backstreet Boy songs. The funk comes and leaves a stench on you for however long you let it stay. When the funk comes to visit, don’t beat yourself up for how hard it is to concentrate on paying bills, doing laundry, and all that other adulthood stuff. Think of being visited by the funk as a time for self-care and self-encouragement. The key to a funk is to try to get out of its clutches by doing nice things for yourself like getting a manicure or a massage, and saying nice things like, “I know you’re feeling funky, but you’re still pretty great. Also, your eyebrows are on point.” Your funk can’t win unless you let it!

Self-care takes trial and error, and it can take a while to work out

Self-care isn’t always about saying, “TREAT YO SELF,” Parks and Recreation-style. Manicures, massages, and shopping sprees are not the end-all for self-care (though they’re nice now and then for sure!). Being nice to yourself in this case could include going through your closet and donating clothes you don’t need. It could mean painting your nails in that sparkly black color that’s been sitting on your dresser for weeks because you’re too afraid to try it. It could also mean calling in sick and binge watching old episodes of Friends (Note to any previous employers who are reading this…I’ve, uh, never done that.) The point is, self-care is about making yourself feel better by doing things for YOU. It’s about the little victories! Put the work and school assignments away for just a few hours, and concentrate on how you’re feeling and what you need.

It’s OK to be imperfect.

Being nice to yourself isn’t a crime, just as being perfect is not the overall goal. Loving and respecting yourself is a process. It takes years to love yourself and to unlearn negative self-talk. Believe me, it’s taken me so long to just be okay with taking a much-needed nap instead of doing laundry or finishing a work project. After years and years of bullying myself because I wasn’t perfect, I have learned that being imperfect is, well, actually perfect. There may be slip ups in life caused by you or someone else, but dwelling on the imperfections and mistakes is wasting time that could be spent finding the silver linings, or learning how to improve! You and I are only human, and we can’t control everything. It’s best to just let go, and see where the imperfections take us.

Nadia Vazquez is an actor, writer, and director living in Los Angeles. She loves everything about dogs, avocados, and Amy Poehler so much it hurts. When she’s not making incredible Spotify mixes, she watches The Simpsons with her cute boyfriend. Follow her on Twitter @tinyladynadia and check out

(Image via Shutterstock)

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