Most people are hard on themselves, more so than they are on others. I have found this common thread running through clients, friends, and myself. We tell ourselves we are stupid, we shouldn’t have done that, said that, should have done something different. We ask ‘what’s wrong with me?’, “why am I like this?” and so on.
Once I gain a client’s trust and make a real connection (which does not always happen, I am not going to pretend I’m the best therapist for everyone), there often comes a point where we get down to what’s going on inside his or her head. Now, some people don’t notice their thoughts, and it’s all a muddle of swirling words and image, but most people are aware of at least some ‘self-talk’ — and that is where change can begin.
Let me break it down:
What do you tell yourself? Do you criticize yourself, tell yourself you’re a loser, a failure, will never amount to anything? Do you berate yourself endlessly for saying the wrong thing, for wishing you had done something differently? Do you call yourself names?
Imagine you are your best friend. Would you tell your friend they are a failure, or ask what’s wrong with them? For most people, of course the answer is no. So why are you treating yourself worse than your friend? You would likely tell your friend everyone makes mistakes, no one’s perfect, or something along those lines.
So why are you holding yourself to a higher standard than your friend? For many people, I believe it’s important to ask ‘why’, and answers often emerge during individual therapy. But there is something most of us can do, starting right now:
- Whenever possible, notice your thoughts. Awareness always comes first
- When you notice yourself being critical or negative about yourself, DON’T FIGHT IT. By fighting against the thought you are actually reinforcing it. So –
- Accept the thought. “Oh, there I go again, calling myself stupid”. Just notice and accept. You can tell yourself it’s OK to think/feel that way, you are human. Humans make mistakes. Humans are not perfect.
- As you become more accepting, change the thought (reframe it): “I’m not stupid, I did the best I could at the time”.
Each person has to find the best way to listen and talk to themselves. The idea is to develop, over time, the habit of observing your thoughts, and to be compassionate with yourself.
I have used this method, and over time have found that I rarely think badly of myself. When I do slip up I find that there is little of the emotional intensity behind it. None of what I have said is original, and a lot has been written about how changing your thinking changes the brain, but right now I am just focusing on keeping it simple — how to feel better about yourself.
I welcome your comments!