Let’s see how many of us relate to the statement, “I am my worst critic.” How many of us habitually put ourselves down? How many of us look at some work we have done and fixate on only the flaws? How many of us look in the mirror and evaluate our features negatively? How many of us ending up hurting ourself when we are at our lowest?
If your answer to any of these questions is a yes, or even a partial agreement, then this article is for you! Many of us don’t even realise that we engage in self depreciation orself defeating, it happens unconsciously. From the unconscious, only some of it makes it to the surface of our conscious minds in different forms. Labelling ourself, negatively evaluating ourselves, putting ourself down has become a part of our relationship with ourselves. If you can’t recognize it directly, pay attention to the times when you feel very guilty, frustrated with yourself, feel insignificant, feel very anxious, regretful, depressed or even shameful. These moments are signs that consciously or unconsciously negative self talk is taking place. We become masters at belittling ourselves over small things, a constant stream of judgement, commentary over every action, emotion or thought of ours prevails. This signifies that there are certain parts of ourselves that we have trouble accepting. But eventually for the parts we want to change about ourself, it is important to accept those parts first and then bring the change. It does no good to dislike those parts and beat ourself up for not living up-to our overly complicated, idealistic image of ourself.
In order to accept ourselves, to set in motion the process of change, we have to become kinder to ourselves, treat ourselves gently with positive regard. This does not mean we treat ourselves with kid gloves and overlook the things we have to improve in ourselves. It implies that in order to overcome these shortcomings, we embrace them first instead of keeping a knife to our thoughts and bullying ourselves in to submission.
It is important to learn kindness and compassion towards oneself and change our relationship with our self. Given below are easy ways to inculcate kindness and compassion towards one self.
1. Identify Self defeating thoughts
Make note of your negative self defeating, critical thoughts, keeping a daily record. You can start by writing it in columns of situation, thoughts about yourself that are putting you down, emotions and behaviors that follow eg. Distracted myself by suppressing, isolated myself, felt angry at myself, felt small and inconsequential, and so on. Keeping a record will help you see the patterns of repetitive negative thoughts that have power over you. You will see that there are some statements which you believe in, about yourself which are very self harming and depriciative of yourself. These lines are filled with criticism, disrespect, self blaming and are overall unhelpful. Even something as simple as “I have to do more!” can be a pressurizing thought that makes one feel inadequate about oneself. This activity does not imply that you suppress these thoughts in fact it makes you more aware of your inner speech and how you correct yourself and adapt to a situation.
2. Become aware of situations/ triggers where you put yourself down
Along with recording the self defeating thoughts, one needs to record the situations or triggers in which these thoughts come up. These may be external situations eg. A family argument, or internal triggers eg. Thoughts about the future, comparisons with other peers. When you identify these triggers repeatedly , gradually when the trigger comes up, you can respond to it with more awareness, bringing a kinder and gentler approach to how you speak to yourself during those times. Knowing the thoughts and when they arise is an important step in changing your inner speech.
3. Find alternate supportive and positive thoughts
To be kinder to yourself, you need to first identify when you are not being kind to yourself. Once you have a hold of keeping a daily record for two to three weeks, you can begin to write down the alternate supportive and positive thought next to your self defeating thought. This may seem counter-intuitive at first but it is only because you are not used to treating yourself gently. The alternate thought can be a neutral realistic or a positive thought. For eg, if your self defeating thought is “I’m not doing good enough!”, your alternate thought/s can be “my growth is not a linear vertical graph and I am okay with that. I am okay with what is. I can always do better next time.”
These thoughts are realistic and instead of being blame ridden, they are supportive and motivating and most importantly you are being kinder to yourself. The writing practice daily, of the self defeating thought along with the alternative supportive thought will train your mind to slowly take a gentler approach in real life situations and change the way you speak to yourself.
4. Address your inner child
It is important to be aware of your inner child and it’s conditioned responses. Speaking to yourself the way you would if you were to speak to a child or even a friend, gives a different perspective to your thoughts. Because we are many times more kind to a child or a friend. To extend this kindness to ourselves cuts through our critical self talk and helps accept the negative parts of us. Your inner child may be hurt in some situations so handling it with care and love is the best way to accept and adapt to life situations.
5. Watch your Vocab
Notice how certain words carry a lot of weight for us and affect us negatively. Rectifying our inner speech is a part of being kinder to ourselves. Sentences such as “I can’t get things right!” “I’m acting crazy.” “I’m no good.” “I feel like a loser.” These are unnecessarily harmful statements that don’t actually motivate us even though we think we need the ‘push’. Identify which words do you use for yourself that make you feel negative emotions or make you feel anxious or guilty. Look for words that are more neutral and realistic rather than laced with negative judgement.
6. Practice Gratitude towards yourself
We tend to focus on what is left to achieve rather than acknowledging what is already there or that we are doing in the present. Once we attain something that we wanted, be it at work, in relationships, or in personal activities, it becomes redundant to us and we immediately move onto the next thing we can learn, do, achieve or be. This redundancy keeps us from being content for even a short amount of time. Practicing gratitude helps bring us in the present, helps to acknowledge and accept what is there instead of being in a constant yearning to be better or do better. From this gratitude, kindness and compassion can flow into how we deal with ourselves. It is after all never ending how much there still is to be done, but to learn to okay with what is and grateful for it is a mark of a gentle and self loving individual.
At ZorbaWellness Rehabilitation Center, we aim to inculcate into our clients an attitude of self introspection and practice kindness towards oneself. Many of our clients are suffering from Substance use disorders, which makes them have the label of addicts which is looked down upon by society. Many others have high levels of anxiety or depression or obsessive thinking which makes them less functional is some areas of their lives. This also produces a lot of self stigma, self hatred and they see themselves as bad or failed or negative people due to this. Practicing being gentle and kind and compassionate towards oneself then, is something that they learn in the program. They learn to take responsibility for their actions but instead of blaming themselves they learn from it. They change the way they speak to themselves, address themselves and respond to life situations. They way to overcome any mental health issue is to begin by seeing ourselves as human being who are allowed to have flaws and make mistakes and learn from them. Remember, it doesn’t take a lot to be kind to yourself, but it costs a lot in the long run of you aren’t!