Be Kind To Yourself
Kindness is not a weakness. Being kind to yourself is a strength. It often takes more fortitude to say to ourselves, “I messed up AND that’s okay. Let’s try again.” Too many times, we berate ourselves and engage in negative inner dialogue: “See, I knew that wouldn’t work.” “You can’t get anything right.” “Failed again.” These thoughts lead us down a hole of despair and farther away from our potential, from reaching our goals. They also become part of a self-fulfilling prophecy for ourselves, a disaffirming narrative that predicts we will “mess” up and then uses our “mess ups” as proof our innate ineptitude. As Michael Jackson once sang as the Scarecrow in The Wiz, “you can’t win” with such internal speech. This type of internal speech, or self-talk, leads us to anxiety and depression, trapping us in a circle of trying, failing, speaking harshly to ourselves, trying a little less, failing, speaking harshly to ourselves, so on and so forth.
Internal speech, or self-talk, are the things we tell ourselves on a regular basis. Self-talk may be positive or negative in nature. Sometimes we may compliment ourselves on achieving a goal or acting in a certain way we deem valuable. At other times our self-talk may be hurtful. Sometimes negative self-talk sounds a lot like messages we hear from media, parents, or peers. For example, when I was in college I used to tell myself, “no one will ever love you if you are too feminine.” “You’re too short and skinny; no guys like that.” These were messages I had either read or heard in gay magazines or movies that informed by ideas about what was an “attractive” same-gender-loving (SGL) man. These thoughts threw me into anxiety anytime I found myself in situations where I felt I could be judged by other SGL men (e.g., parties, dates). I also found that sometimes although I said nice things to myself, they were conditional. For example, if I made an A+ on a test, I would praise myself but if I made an A- or a B, the harsh words would flow. My kindness for myself was based on me performing in a certain way. If I could not meet those standards, I deprived myself of my own love.
How often do you deprive yourself of your own love? How often do you find yourself saying to yourself, “You’re stupid!” Or, “that was dumb.” How many times do you beat yourself up for minor infractions that you would tell your friends not to worry about? You must begin to challenge your negative self-talk. Be as kind to yourself as you are to others.
I learned to challenge my negative self-talk by first noticing it. This may take awhile because self-talk is usually constant and part of the background noise in our heads. Bring that self-talk to the forefront sometimes and notice what’s there. Sometimes it might be helpful to examine self-talk when you notice you are feeling distressed. For example, all of a sudden you notice that you are frowning or that your chest is tight and your soldiers are near your ears, stop and take a listen to your self-talk. What are you saying? Is it something positive or negative?
If you find it is negative, examine the evidence for those negative thoughts. Often self-talk is incessant and it can seem like its true but that is sometimes not the case. When you tell yourself, “I should not have said that, now everyone will see how much I don’t know. They will think I’m a Dandy.” Ask yourself: “How do I know that is true? What evidence do I have that people will think I don’t know enough or think of me as a Dandy? Do people even know what a Dandy is? Am I jumping to conclusions? If I was that other person, would I think that?”
Until we can learn to be gentle with ourselves, we won’t be able to fully accept others’ compassion and we will find it hard to move beyond our small “mess ups.” Be patient with yourself, not hasty. We’re all works-in-progress. Be kind to yourself along the journey.