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It’s easy to be mean to ourselves. For some of us, it’s even second nature: Why did I say that? I’m such an idiot. I should do better. There are so many ways to say these things to ourselves that it can become a source of daily abuse, something that wears on us until we feel down in the dumps. So many of us struggle with our self-talk so much that our inner dialogue brings little positivity to the table. One way of breaking this pattern is to talk to ourselves as if we are a child. Would we ever say these things to child who has made a mistake, disappointed us, or made us angry? The vast majority of people would not, because speaking that way to a child is cruel—wrong. So why do we speak to ourselves this way?
Somewhere along the line we forgot where we came from. The reality that everyone starts somewhere turns into a losing battle to know ever, impossibly more—before even laying the foundations to start out. There are many specialists in the world and the obvious fact is that we can’t specialize in everything. So why do we try? We want to be instantly good at everything, to make a good impression, to impress and be impressive for fear that we won’t just let others down; we’ll let ourselves down. And that is a painful feeling.
Imagine a skill you have now that you worked hard at to get good at. It could be a technical skill, like HTML coding, an academic one like writing research papers, or a physical one like playing a sport. When you first started learning this skill, you didn’t have the first clue what to do. You watched masters and professionals in awe, hoping that one day you would even approach their level of expertise. You spent long hours practicing and practicing, knowing that one day all your perseverance would pay off. And it did.
Now, imagine your child-self struggling to learn the simplest thing, like tying shoes, writing your own name, or colouring between the lines. Do you remember the frustration of mastering shoelace tying, writing, and other basic skills that in retrospect seem so easy to you? Imagine this child version of yourself struggling to master a simple skill, only to be insulted, put down, and criticized. Would that child version of you want to keep trying after a failure? Would they feel good and optimistic about themselves? Would they believe in their ability to bounce back and be resilient at times when things didn’t go as planned, when hardship struck?
We have the chance change this self-talk; to bring it to a place of self-compassion and self-acceptance. The first (and most important) step is to catch these criticisms and think, Could I be nicer to myself? (The answer is usually yes.)
Here are some common phrases that can be shifted to be kinder and more understanding: When you say to yourself, I should do better, it nullifies all of the work we put into showing up, trying our best, and being brave enough to commit to something. Instead, acknowledge where you’re at on that particular day, and how it’s a stepping stone on your path of growth and development as a person. When we say, I’m such an idiot, we put pressure on ourselves to be perfect at all times—something even the most brilliant people can’t do. Rather than be so harsh, it’s important to think, Yeah, I misunderstood something or I messed up. What can I learn from this? And how can I be grateful to myself for trying, even though I didn’t do as well as I wanted to?
When we’re harsh and overly critical of ourselves, we only hurt that child-version of ourselves that lives in our center. Our inner child is vulnerable, easily wounded, and must be treated with care. So, let’s take those difficult steps to be kinder to ourselves. We deserve it.