“I just can’t do ANYTHING right,” my client sighed as she settled further into the couch. ‘I should just accept that I am fat, depressed and a failure at relationships. Nothing will help me.”
And as long as she chooses to continue talking to, and about, herself that way, she WILL be overweight, depressed and alone, and most importantly, unable to change, regardless of her therapist’s skills. For the fact is that every cell in our body responds to what we think and say about ourselves.
Although most of us are familiar with the “love our neighbors as ourselves” directive, we miss the meaning of the last part. Most of us wouldn’t dream of calling our neighbor names or criticizing them point-blank to their faces, yet we look in the mirror and do it to ourselves every day. We feel compassion for our friend’s struggles with food, relationships or other issues, yet we are merciless and impatient with our own. Self love is a vital key to health, and self condemnation the thing that most often keeps us from our goals. For instance, if you are having trouble ending an unhealthy relationship, AND you “beat yourself up” for your “weakness,” we now have THREE issues to overcome—the relationship, the self loathing, AND the damage done to your self image by the insult! Self love, forgiveness for our mistakes, and patience with our failures leads to the strength and discipline necessary to move forward into a healthy, balanced life.
To become your own encourager and best friend requires a deep examination of who taught you to be self-critical in the first place. Where did the “I’m not OK” message come from? It is most often from one of two sources—either what was said about you by your parent, or what a parent said about themselves in front of you. If you heard negativity modeled in your growing up years, the pattern was set for you to live that way as well. Children really do learn what they live. But like any learned behavior, this thinking pattern can be changed; sometimes by yourself, and sometimes with the help of a counselor if the pattern is persistent or severe.
To remain vital and healthy in your thinking throughout your lifetime, practice catching yourself when you are saying or thinking self-critical things. Immediately visualize a big red STOP sign to interrupt the pattern. Replace the self-criticism with a positive, encouraging thought, such as “I’m proud of myself for trying to change.”
If you focus on what you DON”T like about yourself, you will get more of it, but focusing on the successes in your life will lead to more success. Congratulate yourself on victories, whether it’s a ten minute walk when you really just wanted to watch television, or keeping your temper in traffic.
All of us respond to love and encouragement, including when we give it to ourselves. Give yourself the gift of acceptance!