One of the hardest things about building a healthier relationship with ourselves is changing our inner dialogue. The inner critic can just be so darn loud.
For instance, when we even think about being nicer to ourselves, the nastiness starts.
Why do you think you deserve this? You still haven’t lost the weight. Who are you kidding?
Or the negative thought of all negative thoughts: Who do you think you are?
Margarita Tartakovsky is an associate editor at PsychCentral.com, an award-winning mental health website, and the voice behind Weightless, a blog that helps women deal with body image issues and disordered eating. She also writes a monthly feature for Beliefnet.com, covering topics such as patience and procrastination.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
We’re convinced that we need to be mean to ourselves in order to move about our days. In order to “get results.” In order to “get healthy.”
We assume we need to take on a punitive perspective to make positive changes.
We think being kind to ourselves is a weakness. We assume kindness is only reserved for people who’ve lost weight or anyone we deem perfect.
We assume that insults and name-calling are more effective.
Or we just feel overwhelmed by the barrage of hurtful thoughts. So we stay stuck in a negative body image. We stay stuck in surroundings and habits that don’t nourish us.
We stay stuck in self-criticism.
However, what if you tried something different? What if you decided to take a curious, lighthearted approach?
Louise L. Hay, author and publisher of Hay House, has said:
“You have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”
This is such a great quote. Instead of spinning the same vicious tales, and thinking — inaccurately — that they’re doing us some good, we can break the cycle.
I know that breaking the cycle is not easy. So we take small steps, even tiny ones. Because it’s these steps that build on each other, until we start approving of ourselves automatically, until we see our self-worth as independent of accomplishments, appearances and tasks.
This is what the small — or tiny — steps can look like:
The next time you think a crappy thought, respond to that thought. Say “I hear you, but the self-criticism hasn’t been working. So I’m focusing my energy on being open. I’m going to relax today, and savor that relaxation.”
Or “Yes, it’s true, I can’t do that exercise right now, but I’m going to play with other movements.”
Or “Today, I’m going to play with thinking I am worthy,” or “I know you’re — the inner critic — just trying to keep me safe, to stick to the familiar, but I’m experimenting with venturing out. I’m OK. You don’t need to worry.”
In addition to working with your thoughts, you can work with your actions. If your actions are also saturated in self-doubt, if you don’t take time for yourself, if you feel incredibly exhausted every day, try small shifts.
No matter what your thoughts declare and shout, take that extra 10 minutes to sip your coffee. Take a longer walk because you love feeling the breeze against your skin.
Smile at yourself in the mirror. Take a long bath. Accept a compliment. Do what makes you happy.
Again, this is in the spirit of study and experimentation. Act as if self-compassion is etched into your skin. Act as if you approve of yourself wholeheartedly.
Do this for a week, or two or three. Journal about it. See what it feels like. See what you do differently.
Let curiosity, compassion and gentleness lead the way. Ask yourself, what would be the kind or gentle thing to do here? And then do that.
Remember, you’re just exploring and playing around.