“I wouldn’t even try that; you’ll probably just embarrass yourself.” “You should be ashamed of the way you look right now.” “You aren’t a very good Mom.” “You really can’t keep it together can you?” “You’ve been working at this for weeks but it doesn’t look like you’ve even made any progress. Clearly you’re not trying hard enough.”
I would never dream of saying any of those things to another person. Yet, I have said all of those things, and worse, to myself over and over and over. I’m not proud of that fact. Seeing those nasty words in black and white makes me sad.
It has been a process to come to view this behavior as unacceptable. Why on earth would I speak to myself in such a horrible, demeaning way when I would never dream of saying such hateful things to any other human being?
I didn’t realize all of the ways that this toxic attitude I had towards myself could spill over into my relationships with others. I didn’t see the extent to which my self-hatred was preventing me from sharing, forgiving, nurturing, and loving those around me.
But the thing is, what we think of ourselves and how we treat others are inextricably connected.
Here’s an example of this: I was at the park when one of my children threw wood chips at another child. Because I have the tendency of heaping blame upon my own shoulders I immediately began to question my parenting. “How have I failed my son that he would treat another child that way? I must not be teaching him well.” The self-loathing clouded my perspective so much that I couldn’t see the situation for what it was: A two-and-a-half year old who was exercising his ability to act independently. A little boy who made a mistake and needed gentle correction. But though I think I responded appropriately in the way I helped my son apologize for his mistake and work towards being kind next time, my response to immediately berate myself for another person’s actions was not healthy.
I was mortified by my child’s behavior because I saw his actions as a reflection on ME. I think most parents can’t help but experience that to some extent, and of course our children are somewhat a product of the way we raise them. But for me, to be so down on myself for another person’s actions, was not reasonable. Maybe in that instance I handled things okay with my son, but it would have been easy to overreact when I was clinging so desperately to my fatalistic I’m-such-a-bad-mom thought process. It’s easy to be impatient with others when we view their missteps as an extension of our own.
How could I possibly teach my children how to be kind when I was not kind to myself? How could I teach them that they are precious and valuable when I was not treating myself as someone precious and valuable? How could I offer them the grace that I so staunchly refused to extend to myself?
I love my family more than anything in this world. The thought of someone bullying my precious little boys is unthinkable. What if I unintentionally passed on my tendencies to berate and belittle myself?
Though I have by no means completed my journey towards self-acceptance, I have found a few techniques that have helped me be a little kinder to myself. I think in some instances, professional help might be necessary, and I would encourage you to seek that as well if you feel like you need it.
1. Stand up for yourself. I think one of the first steps to silencing your inner bully is to identify unproductive thoughts and then redirect them. There have been so many times where my response to something going wrong has been to criticize myself. Lashing out at myself was basically a reflex.
Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” Obviously, the idea of beating a good attitude into someone is ludicrous, but I’ve done it many times to myself. Maybe you have too. Unconsciously, it felt like if I was hard enough on myself, I would avoid mistakes, achieve more, and be better. Of course this wasn’t the case. In fact, the exact opposite attitude of grace and patience would have served me so much better in helping bring out my best self.
It has been a process to re-learn how I talk to myself. For example:
Instead of responding with, “That was really stupid,” I tried to think, “Maybe next time I could try…”
Instead of, “I’m terrible at this,” I used, “You are learning. You will get there with some time.”
Instead of, “Get it together,” I focus on “I’m trying. My efforts are imperfect, but they are sincere.”
Trying to re-frame your thinking is hard. After all, your thoughts are with you every moment of the day. They’re inescapable. Re-learning how to talk to yourself after years of abuse takes practice. The temptation to give up and get after yourself will be pretty strong at times. Being hard on yourself for being hard on yourself! How counter intuitive is that? But I do believe that with lots of practice and patience, it is possible.
One phrase that I’ve had to tell myself over and over is something that my Mom has said to me for years when she can see me being too hard on myself. She says, “Be nice to Whitney.” It’s so simple. “Be nice.” But I need the reminders. Sometimes hourly. Sometimes minute by minute. Sometimes out loud. But standing up for myself, to myself, has probably been the most important step.
2. Let go of perfectionism. I have always had high expectations of myself. And while those expectations have led to many successes and achievements, I have to be careful not to fall into the trap of expecting more than is realistically possible.
There are only 24 hours in the day. Even with my trusty to-do list in hand and my team by my side, I can only do so much. One thing my husband sometimes reminds me is there is opportunity/cost in everything. So when I feel discouraged that I didn’t return that phone call or finish folding the pile of laundry that’s been sitting in the corner for three days, I have to remind myself of all of the good things I DID accomplish for the day. I made it to the gym. I taught preschool. We went to the library. I made a healthy dinner. The boys and I played hide and seek. We took a walk. All of those things are good things. Most of those things were the best things that I could be doing in that moment. Yes, even especially, that game of hide and seek. The rest will have to wait. Choosing to focus on the things I did accomplish as opposed to fretting over all the things that still need done, has helped me feel a lot better about myself and my efforts.
3. Learn to forgive. No matter how intensely I desire to do my best there will be times I make mistakes. I will sometimes drop the ball. I will occasionally lose my temper. I might unintentionally hurt someones feelings or leave someone out. I am sure I will be impatient with my kids. At some point I will forget someone’s birthday, miss an appointment, or lose my car keys. I am human. Learning to forgive myself for mistakes and accidents big and small has been tough. Especially when it comes to things I could have prevented. But going down the road of “What if…” has never brought me happiness.
Guilt over mistakes and wrongdoings only serves a purpose inasmuch as it serves as a catalyst for change. Once I have done my very best to rectify the situation, and hopefully prevent it from happening again, it is time to move on. Ruminating over past failures doesn’t prevent them from recurring. If anything, it paralyzes me from going forward and doing good.
And I have found that forgiving myself makes it SO much easier for me to move on when someone, especially family members, hurt or wrong me. When I view my mistakes as simply that… mistakes, and stop internalizing them as an expression of some horrible flaw, then I am able to move past them more easily. The same is true when I treat others mistakes or bad days, as transitory as opposed to intrinsic.
4. Pray for help. How could I possibly extend grace to myself without relying on Him from whom grace comes? When I draw closer to God through prayer, I am able to see myself as He sees me– as his daughter of infinite worth. I believe that He wants me to be happy. I believe that He finds me capable of doing good and being good. He has helped me remind myself of my great worth and purpose, especially during the times when it’s hard to remember.
I would love to say that through these steps and my efforts I am “cured” and that my inner bully never bothers me anymore. Alas, there is no foolproof one-size-fits-all method for mastering the art of being kind to yourself. And there are times that the bully inside my head comes back to torment me. But I am able to recognize her more easily and banish her more quickly than I used to be able to do. I am happier with myself than I have ever been. I hope that through some of these means/any others you are able to find some inner peace too.
What are some of YOUR tips for “silencing your inner bully?!”