“She’d sit for hours doing her homework“
Is the response you could expect to receive from my mother if you asked her who was the more diligent child: My younger brother or I. In elementary school, I would come home and spend most of my afternoons studying, completing homework, and working on school tasks. My brother on the other hand, barely opened his books, yet still managed to pass all his classes. No resentment there. In my mind I was just being a good student, wanting to turn in quality work.
I maintained this work ethic well into high school and throughout university. A Top All Around Student Award in high school, valedictorian of my high school graduating class, a scholarship in college. Sometime during my younger years though, I developed a hardened sense of self-discipline. Where it came from, and why I developed it, I don’t really know, though I do have some theories. However, I can recall a pivotal moment when my hardened self-discipline crossed the line into self-punishment. I was 8.
Negative Self-Talk rears it’s ugly head
In Grade 3, during one of the standard parent-teacher conferences (parents meet with their kid’s teacher to discuss educational performance, classroom etiquette, their offspring being a little shit, you name it), my teacher pulled my mum aside to tell her he had heard me call myself stupid. I didn’t do well, or something did not go the way I had wanted it to, but I had been swift and harsh in punishing my little 8 year old self … and had been caught doing it.
Now, I would consider self-discipline to be a fairly admirable trait. But when it’s to the extent you have an 8 year old calling herself stupid because she didn’t do well, it goes from admirable to horrifying pretty friggin’ fast.
To this day, I don’t remember the incident, or calling myself stupid and I don’t believe my teacher would make up such a heinous tale (in my free time I like to tell lies to the parents of children I teach), but it seems I have blocked the event out of my memory. I do remember mum crying when she told me about the conversation once we were home. She took it hard and she took it personally, and interpreted it as though she had failed as a parent.
I notice it more now as an aware adult but she’s been self-critical of herself in the past too, so it’s possible I picked slivers of this trait up from her along the way, throughout my youthdom – not entirely sure that’s a word, but I just used it so hah – deal with it.
I can only speak from my lived experience and my upbringing but when you are 8 and you see your parents cry in front of you, it feels a bit like the sky is falling: You don’t know why it’s happening, you know it’s real bad, you know it shouldn’t be happening and it scares you.
I can’t say my years in high school, through college and university weren’t completely free of my hardened self-discipline either. I always strive to do and be the best I can, but have noticed within my personality (and have had people tell me before) that I am extremely hard on myself.
This negative self-talk has also seeped into romantic relationships, having had a detrimental impact to my connection with past partners. Of course within this context, I believe the negative self-talk to also be a result of low self-esteem and insecurities, but it also includes being unnecessarily hard on myself over trivial matters.
Time I Had a Conversation with Myself
I find it interesting, really. I place pressure on myself to try to do my best and be my best, to be top-notch in my work and how I am as a person, then stress and beat myself up when I don’t hit the target. However, if there was someone in my life who expected perfection out of me, that’s not the type of person I would want to have as a presence in my life. Perfection is unattainable, stressful and unrealistic – if someone were to place those expectations on me, you can bet money on it that i’d metaphorically drop-kick them out of my life.
The same goes for the negative words I call myself on occasion. I can call myself, an “idiot”, “stupid”, “bitch” without batting an eye. But I don’t call my friends those names. So why should I be calling myself those names? At the end of the day, I am my own friend, too. Likewise, if someone were to call me those names, I’d think twice about wanting to spend time with them, and would probably slowly distance myself.
So if I can recognize that a person who expects perfection out of me and/or calls me cruel names, doesn’t have my best interests in mind, then how is it acceptable for me to be placing myself on a pedestal built out of unrealistic expectations and unhealthy self-talk? All in order for me to achieve the version of myself which I strive for, or for me to achieve the goals I set for myself? And when I miss the mark, it causes me stress and anxiety, rather than being able to let it go.
Obviously, I can’t distance myself from myself, as is the case if it were another person expecting and saying the above to me. However, the direction I now face, involves working with what I have and working through it, in order to achieve a more peaceful, positive relationship with myself.
1. Look at the Bigger Picture
When I find myself in a situation where I am feeling self-criticism coming on – perhaps I have made a mistake, I am not reaching my goals or my target or the expectations I have placed upon myself, I hone in on the bigger picture. For starters, literally reminding myself that nobody is perfect, including me. I also remind myself that everybody makes mistakes, that I will continue to make mistakes and they are just a part of life.
2. Speak Kindly to Yourself – Terms of Endearment
Next, I begin to speak kindly to myself. This starts by using terms of endearment when speaking to myself – girl, honey, dear, girlfriend, love, sweetheart. It takes a bit of getting used to, referring to yourself as “love”, but what this does is train my critical inner voice to speak more kindly to me. As I have discovered when applying this, my inner voice has a hard time being critical when I speak to myself in a kind and loving manner. Alternatively, I start my sentences with one of the terms of endearment outlined above, before my mind has the chance to go on a negative self-talk rampage. It also improves my relationship with myself. As I said above, I am my own friend, too, so speaking to myself as my friends and I speak to each other, helps strengthen my bond with myself.
3. Forgive Instead of Criticize
I used to beat myself up after I would beat myself up – meaning I would engage with negative self-talk, then get upset with myself for stooping to such a low level. Then I would berate myself again, hold onto it and think about it for longer than the action or thought deserved. Nowadays, rather than jump straight to self-criticism, I am actively training my mind to jump to forgiveness instead. In moments when my brain is quick to judge and to make me feel like crap, I bring myself back to a level of forgiveness. Forgiving myself for making a mistake, forgiving myself for getting stressed out, and forgiving myself in cases when I do use negative self-talk.
By forgiving myself, I am able to engage with all parts of the process, I become proactive in recognizing my detrimental behavior, but even further I allow myself the space and the permission to let the behavior go. I continue to speak kindly to myself, I use terms of endearment, I acknowledge the situation, and forgive:
“Girlfriend, I said some pretty horrible things about myself back there. I know I was in a place of stress, but I recognize that is not an excuse to speak to myself as I did. I acknowledge I made a mistake and mistakes happen to all of us – I forgive myself for using that language when referring to my character and myself as a person.” In this case I used the word “I” to refer to myself, but you can also replace it with “you”.
4. Be Present & Mindful
While mistakes are bound to happen, when I am present and my attention is fully on the task at hand, less mistakes are made. When I used to talk negatively about myself, I’d often not even notice I was doing it. Now I’m working to be more in control of myself, and living more so in the present, enough to notice when my mind (or my mouth) starts spitting out ugly phrases directed back at me.
Not only am I present enough to recognize my own negative self-talk – i’m more attune to honing in on my when my loved ones and friends do it. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve picked up on how my mum has been self-critical of herself in the past. But, it’s honestly astonishing at how many people I care about in my life, belittle themselves, and don’t even know they’re doing it. I make a point now, when they critique something about themselves or call themselves names, to say “no you’re not” or “that’s not true”. Even a small act such as this, despite it being a negating one, might help them to recognize the completely negative, completely false things they are saying about themselves.
5. Recognize Fault as an Opportunity for Learning – not an as Opportunity to Bash Yourself
Part of honing in on the bigger picture also means recognizing that not everything that goes wrong is my fault. As I have discussed before (you can read about it here), feelings of irrational fault are something I deal with and continue to work through. There have been many instances where I have felt like something was my fault, where my mind has launched into a tirade of self-criticism. Often times, these situations were not directly my fault – it was simply how the situation played out, or it was something out of my control.
Recognizing when legitimate fault is warranted, eliminates not only unnecessary negative self-talk, but also consistent feelings of guilty, as well as irrational feelings of fault. I am trying to be more mindful that fault is actually an opportunity to learn for next time – whatever it was you were at fault for, has happened. You can’t change that it happened, but you can ultimately change how you react to it – will you take it in stride and recognize it as a point of learning? Or will you recognize it as a moment to beat yourself up for what went wrong? This is what I am actively working on.
Thank you for reading as always. I hope you enjoyed reading about my experience with Negative Self-Talk and the Solutions I use to combat it! If you liked what you read, give my post a like, hit the Follow button on the top right-hand corner of this post, and turn on post-notifications, so you never miss an LE blog post! Don’t forget to join my monthly email list by signing up below, for updates, bonus content, and recommendations from yours truly!