Take a moment to reflect upon the number of times you beat yourself up this past week. Perhaps you said to yourself, “I should have…” or “If I only would have…” Have you told yourself that you are fat, ugly, lazy, irresponsible, stupid, horrible, useless, pathetic, worthless, incompetent, unlovable, etc.?
If so, you aren’t alone. People frequently use negative self-talk to motivate themselves to change or improve a certain area of their life. This type of talk serves as a punishment, and it is your way of reprimanding yourself for a mistake or shortcoming. The cycle goes as such:
- You are disappointed by your circumstances
- You tell yourself you aren’t good enough
- You feel bad about yourself
- You change your behavior in order to feel better
The problem with this cycle is the belief that negative thoughts are necessary to change unwanted behaviors. In other words, you may be attached to the idea that the only way to be motivated to behave differently (and achieve a different result) is to punish yourself for what you perceive is a personal failure. The tricky part is that this thought process has probably helped you in the past, which is exactly why you continue to apply it in your life now.
However, just because you have experienced positive results from this cycle doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous. Feeling bad about yourself may be permissible when it results in change, but it comes at the cost of your self-esteem. Negative self-talk drives a negative self-image, which increases feelings of depression and anxiety – the very same feelings that you were likely trying to avoid in the first place. Before you know it, you’re caught in a downward cycle that repeats each time you experience a disappointment, mistake, or a situation in your life that you wish to change.
So how can you get out? The first step is challenging your thought that you aren’t good enough. You can start by repeating after me: I am enough.
From this, you can start practicing self-compassion.
Get in touch with your core self
Many people fear that they will remain static in their life if they are compassionate and forgiving of themselves. Clients often ask me, “How will I be motivated to change if I tell myself it’s okay?” I respond by encouraging them to reflect upon the characteristics they believe are at the core of their self.
Do you consider yourself to be motivated or driven? Are you continually looking for ways to improve your life? Do you believe that growth and change is part of being human?
I bet you answered yes to at least one of the above questions, and I say this because I argue that growth and change are a part of the fabric of our very being. We are constantly changing just because we are human. So is it true that you won’t change if you don’t punish or beat yourself up for something you are dissatisfied with?
Forgiving yourself doesn’t mean that you won’t grow. Your negative self-talk is an unnecessary layer that you add out of habit. Practice removing this element and see what happens.
Make yourself your friend
Next time you start judging your behavior, think about this: Would you talk to a friend that way? If not, then why are you speaking to yourself in that manner? Just because the dialogue is internal doesn’t mean that you can get away with being harsh and condescending. Your self-esteem is damaged every time you make negative judgments on your actions. Next time you start to be unkind to yourself, apply the friend rule. If you wouldn’t say it to a friend then don’t say it to yourself.
Learn to accept
Accepting where you’re at today (whether that be physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually) is one of the most important ways you can challenge your thought that you should be doing differently. Acceptance means to meet yourself where you are at in your life right now, and forgiving yourself for the disappointment or failure you may experience. Your mistakes don’t define you, so stop giving them power. You can still have acceptance and have a desire to change.