The case for being kinder to ourselves
Have you ever noticed that if someone says 10 positive things about you and one negative thing, it’s that negative thing that sticks in your brain? Negative self-talk is a little like that. You glom onto the most hurtful things you could think or say about yourself and you repeat them over and over in your mind. Did someone once tell you that you had a dumb idea? Suddenly every idea you’ve ever had feels dumb. Did you hate the way you looked in that picture someone posted? Suddenly you can’t stop thinking about how unattractive you are. But what you need to remember is that talking to yourself like this is a vicious cycle and it can be broken. Your inner voice should talk to you in the same way you would talk to a friend — a best friend who you seriously love, admire, and are proud of. You’ve gotta look out for number one, you!
Half of the things I tell myself when I’m having a hard day, I would never, ever, say or think about someone else. You should wear your hair down, your ears are too big. This probably isn’t very good, I won’t share it with anyone. She didn’t invite me to that? She’s probably really mad at me. I just totally wasted a day. My life completely sucks right now. And that’s just a taste test.
A few years ago I was in a really bad place. Everything hurt. All the time. I was depressed and the depression had taken ahold of every aspect of my life. I was tired of everything. I didn’t feel smart. I didn’t feel capable. I didn’t feel pretty. Everything felt . . . off. I began seeing a counselor and after about six months of therapy and a series of massive life changes (see: ending friendships that hurt me, forgiving myself for mistakes I had made, and learning to heal from painful experiences) I started to feel better and fuller. Of all the exercises I did to try to retrain myself in the ways in which I perceived my worth, there was one exercise that really changed my life.
The challenge is simple. On a sticky note write every lie you tell yourself. A lie is anything that can’t be proven with a fact. Some of the lies I told myself at that time were that I was unlovable, I was too damaged, and I wasn’t ambitious. On a separate sticky note write every factually supported truth about yourself, big or small. Some of my accomplishments were what I thought, at the time, were insignificant, like getting a small raise at work or being a Big Sister in the Big Brother Big Sister organization. But they were things I could trace, and they were things that really did happen.
Now on the left side of the mirror you use to get ready each morning, place the sticky note with all the lies. And on the right side of the mirror, place the sticky note with all the truths. Each morning read both sticky notes. Do this for a month.
It’s hard to explain entirely how this reshaped how I felt about myself, but the longer I read those stupid lies each morning, the more absurd they sounded in comparison to the actual things I had accomplished. And after about a month of reading the lies, I just threw them away. They weren’t true. They had never been true. All this time I was so scared I was unlovable, or broken, that I forgot about all of the signs pointing to the truth that I was the exact opposite. I forgot how strong my relationship with my family was. I forgot how hard I worked to get good grades each semester. I forgot about how much my “little sister” meant to me. I forgot that people loved me. I had filled my brain with so many lies, I forgot my truths.
I’m not saying that writing on sticky notes is going to forever cure the wounded parts of your heart. Changing the way we treat ourselves is something that takes a good long while, and is often a bumpy road. But you are so worth that challenge. Some of us have been mean to ourselves our whole lives, and we know where that has gotten us. This world is full of hot coffee and unexpected magic, but it can also be a murky shadow, and it’s up to us to treat our hearts like gems, so that we can be the strong and amazing people we are meant to be.
Talking negatively to yourself is an unfortunately common habit, and one that can really break you down. But you don’t have to be your own bully anymore. Start in small steps, try easing up on yourself when you make a small mistake. Try looking in the mirror and saying one nice thing about yourself out loud. One of the first things I said that I liked about myself was a freckle in my left ear. Not much, right? Amazing what allowing myself to like a part of myself did for my attitude the rest of the day. And do everything in your power to stop comparing yourself to the people around you.
But start with the sticky note exercise, you’ll be surprised at how many wonderful things about yourself you’ve forgotten. And at the very least love yourself, and be kind. The world needs it, and so do you.
[Image via Shutterstock]