Most of us know that the words we use make a huge difference in our communication with others. I wrote an entire post a few months back on how to be more effective in the way we communicate with people in our lives. When we meet others with curiosity rather than criticism, praise rather than admonishment, and compassion rather than judgment, they are more willing and able to hear us with open minds and hearts. Still, many of us struggle with how to talk to the most important person in our lives - ourselves.
Often, without conscious awareness, we criticize and shame ourselves. Since we all know how damaging and hurtful it can feel when we experience shame from others, why do we continue to do it to ourselves? The answer is generally that we learn to be critical from our upbringing. We are used to receiving 'feedback' from parents, teachers, bosses, etc. so it is only natural that we would internalize what is 'right' and 'wrong' and lecture ourselves on it. There are several issues with this. First, and perhaps most fundamental, there are very few things that actually have a clear-cut 'right' and wrong' approach. We ought not cause harm and damage to ourselves and others, but other than that 'right' and 'wrong' are often much more subjective judgments than we are aware of. Second, in a world of criticism, it is already challenging enough to build healthy self-esteem without adding the additional pressure of self-criticism. Many of us remember being young and making a poor choice or mistake and having to sit and listen to a long-winded lecture that only poured salt on an already painful wound. Yet we do this to ourselves.
Self-talk is a powerful tool that can have a huge impact on our mental and emotional wellbeing. Speaking kindly to ourselves can help reduce stress, boost our confidence, and improve our overall mood. When we are gentle with ourselves, it can help us to be more forgiving of our mistakes, be more open to trying new things, and be more resilient in the face of adversity. It can also help us to recognize our positive attributes and be more accepting of ourselves. By speaking kindly to ourselves, we can create a more positive inner dialogue and a healthier relationship with ourselves. If you are having trouble engaging in positive self-talk, here are some suggestions to get started:
Write a list of things you like about yourself: For a lot of us it may be easy to come up with our areas for improvement, but how often do we acknowledge all of our positive attributes? If writing this list feels difficult, that's a sign you may really need it! Start small, I like my eyes, I like my nose, then think of the compliments you've received over the years, I am smart, I am funny, I am resilient. Write down as many things you like about yourself as you can think of and keep the list handy - these are your new daily mantras.
Be aware of your self-talk: We can't very well change a pattern we aren't seeing! One of the best ways to speak more kindly to ourselves is to be mindful of our self-talk. When we find ourselves in negative thought patterns, taking a second to recognize and acknowledge them can help us to reframe our thinking. The next time you say something unkind to yourself (something you wouldn't say to a love one in the same situation) replace that thought with a compliment. You've already got a list of nice things about you from the step above! For example, if you make a mistake at work and start to tell yourself that you are stupid or bad at your job instead say, everyone makes mistakes I'm still smart and worthy.
Surround yourself with supportive people: If the input we hear on a regular basis is critical, we are more likely to be critical of ourselves. The reality is that just because someone doesn't like me or has criticisms of me doesn't mean there is anything wrong with me. There are a lot of reasons why people may be critical, and very few of them are directly related to another person's character. We may not be in control of how our boss behaves, but we are in control of the job we have. We can't control our parents or family, but we can control how often we engage with them. Perhaps most importantly, we can pick our friends. As difficult as it can be to end or edit relationships, it is more painful to walk through life with low self-esteem. Find people who lift you up and hold them close, they will be the mirrors through which you see yourself.
There are a lot of ways we can begin to rebuild our view of ourselves and live life with a more compassionate view. Learning to be gentle and kind to ourselves is one important approach to good living. Our words matter, to others and to ourselves. I hope this approach helps in your journey to increased self-esteem and I'm here to offer more as needed!