When I think about self-love I think about the foundation of what it means to love ourselves. It means acts of self-care, it means self-acceptance, and it means focusing on self-talk and the tone and words of our inner voice.
The way I used to talk to myself was incredibly abusive. I remember a specific time several years ago when I had misplaced my wallet. I called myself every terrible name I could think of. I verbally ripped myself apart. I was so stupid. I couldn’t do anything right. Shit like this always happened to me.
It went on and on. There was a happy ending though because I found my wallet. But I still think of that day and the way that I talked to myself. I think the reason that it bothers me so much is because, at that point in my life I knew better. I had spent my whole life with this vicious voice in my head that tore me down at every opportunity and I’d worked so hard to change it.
That day felt like it unraveled all of my work.
But the reason that I remembered it so clearly was that it was the last time that I talked to myself like that. I still get frustrated, the voice inside of my head is not always 100% kind, but she’s a friend. I rely on her to get me through hard times.
When I’m anxious that voice in my head is comforting. When I’m afraid to move out of my comfort zone that voice is encouraging. It’s much different from the jeering, hateful, I-told-you-so voice that used to live rent-free in my head.
Let’s talk about how to change your self-talk.
My biggest piece of advice: talk back. We tend to just accept that inner voice that says whatever it wants to say. But the truth is – we can often teach it how to be kinder. Think of it as teaching yourself manners.
When your inner voice is unkind – here are some things you can try.
“Where is the proof that this thought is true?” This is helpful when your voice pretends to be a know-it-all and says things like “no one likes you” or “you’ll never be able to do XYZ”. What proof is there that the statement is true? There isn’t any. Even if you’re going through a hard time like disagreeing with a friend or going through a break-up it doesn’t mean that no one likes you.
“Who told me that and why should I believe it?” My partner struggles with this one. He went through a lot of abuse as a kid and was constantly belittled by his father. He’s in therapy and working through it but the voice in his head often mirrors the things he was told as a child. Sometimes our inner voice is “taught” how to talk to us by the people who have hurt us.
“Would I say the same thing to someone I cared about?”
Or “what would someone I care about say to me?” This is a good exercise because often people who struggle with their inner voice are outwardly kind and compassionate people, we just have trouble turning that inward. If you’re really struggling with what your inner voice should say/sound like – think of it as the voice of a friend. You wouldn’t tell your friend that they are worthless because they made a mistake so it’s easier to see how it hurts to use that language toward yourself.
“Is it really “always” or “never” or are am I just frustrated?” The inner voice can do this thing called overgeneralizing. If you do one thing wrong, or even several things wrong, it tells you that you always do things wrong. But none of us have a 100% record for failure. So always and never are not factual.
“Am I expecting myself to be perfect?”
Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone messes up and gets things wrong and even fails. And that’s okay. It’s not the end of the world despite how it feels sometimes.
“How can I reframe this?” Reframing is a fancy way of saying looking at it from a different perspective or creating a different narrative around it. I like to add modifiers to my inner voice. “For now. At this moment. But…”
So, “Everything sucks.” turns into “Everything sucks right now.” Which is a more accurate way of looking at it.
“What have I learned from this? What’s a positive?” Sometimes things do suck but there are often positives that come from them. Try to remind yourself of them.
Self-talk doesn’t have to be positive.
You can shoot for neutral or factual. The idea of going from negative self-talk to positive self-talk can be daunting. Baby steps count!