Imagine that your partner said to you:
“You look awful today. I can see your stomach bulging over your pants and you haven’t even bothered to put any makeup on. You’ve really let yourself go.”
Imagine that your best friend said to you:
“Wow your house looks terrible. How can you live in this mess? You’re never going to be able to get on top of everything.”
Imagine that your children said to you:
“You never take us to the park, you hardly ever play with us, and you’re always on the phone or doing work. You’re the worst mum in the world.”
How would you feel?
These certainly aren’t things any of us would want to hear from the most important people in our lives.
Then, why do we say them to ourselves?
Many of the negative messages we hear about ourselves, come from ourselves.
We’re experts at noticing the things that we aren’t good at, the mistakes we’ve made and the things we’re not.
Some of us spend so much time talking to ourselves negatively, that we don’t even notice anymore. It sounds objective and accurate (It’s NOT!).
Why do we do it?
The reason we speak to ourselves so poorly, is that we all have an inner critic.
Your inner critic has observed you carefully throughout your life. She remembers all the things you were criticised for, the expectations of others and those you put on yourself, all the stressful or traumatic events in your life and even the way that your parents spoke to themselves.
Your inner critic sounds like she doesn’t like you, but ironically, she’s trying to protect you.
Every time you do something that she perceives as emotionally risky or threatening, she steps in. She says whatever she needs to say to make sure you avoid any hurt, disappointment, rejection, criticism or failure.
For example, let’s say you’ve made a decision to make healthier food choices. Your inner critic is worried that you might slip up and even worse, fail. She’d rather you didn’t commit to something that might lead to disappointment. So, when your eyes fall on the Tim Tams in the cupboard, she says “you might as well eat one, you’re never going to be able to stick to eating better anyway. You’ve failed every time you’ve tried. Just forget about it. Go on, you know you’ve got no self-control.”
Why you should speak kindly to yourself
Speaking to yourself this way, does more damage than good.
You may experience guilt, shame, self-doubt and feelings of worthlessness. Being overly self-critical is linked to low self-esteem, depression and anxiety.
The other problem is, that the more you repeat the negative messages, the more your brain finds evidence to support them and the more it believes them. Even when they were never true in the first place!
Here’s an example of how this plays out. Let’s say that you wore a new dress today and received 8 compliments and then 1 person said to you, “that dress is unusual”. You forget all about the compliments and focus on that 1 comment, which you would interpret as negative.
You know the old saying “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”?
Well, this applies to the way you talk to yourself too!
When you speak kindly to yourself consistently, you can experience more self-belief, confidence and happiness. And less stress.
Despite what some people think, this is much more motivating in the long term, than being critical of yourself.
Lastly, when you have a negative mindset, you’re more likely to attract negative situations that reinforce the negative messages about yourself. Conversely, when you have a positive mindset, you’ll attract more positive experiences in your life.
How to speak kindly to yourself
Start speaking more kindly to yourself with these 3 strategies:
1. Learn to notice when you’re being critical of yourself and stop the thought in its tracks.
This takes practice so don’t give up too early!
I’ve found it useful to imagine that my inner critic is separate to me. When she’s being critical of me, I speak to her directly (out loud or in my mind); “not helpful”.
2. Replace the critical thought with something more positive and helpful.
For example, if you’ve just told yourself that you’re a terrible mum because you made a mistake, then replace that with something like “Everyone makes mistakes. I’m a good mum and I will learn from this mistake.”
3. If you’re unsure whether something you’ve said to yourself is positive enough, consider if you would say it to a good friend.
We tend to be far more encouraging and supportive of our friends than of ourselves. If you wouldn’t say it to your friend, then don’t say it to yourself either!
Or, alternatively, think of someone who speaks to you and other people very kindly. Use them as an example of how to speak kindly and apply it to yourself.
What if it’s really hard to be positive about yourself?
If you’re really struggling to find positive words to say to yourself, then it might be helpful to retrain your mind to see all the positive things about you, more readily.
Try any or all of these exercises:
1. Every night for a month, write down 3 things you liked about yourself that day.
They can be anything at all, big or small. For example, I felt confident when I made that important phone call, I was patient with my kids, I supported my friend really well, or I made time for myself.
2. Ask people you trust to share what they like about you and what they think your strengths are.
Even your kids could provide valuable perspective. Write them down!
3. Write down any compliments you receive, no matter how small.
Don’t dismiss the compliments that make you feel uncomfortable or that you disagree with. The reason you feel this way is, that the compliments conflict with your own view of yourself. This will happen less as you change the way you see yourself. Just keep going!
Which ever exercise you choose, review these lists every morning and whenever you need encouragement. Consider writing your favourites on a card and keeping them in your bag, so they’re with you all the time.
Remember, your mind believes what you tell it repeatedly.
What do you want your mind to believe about you?
Speaking to yourself more kindly has the power to change the way you see and feel about yourself. It can impact the way you live your life, parent, interact with others and the way you look after yourself. Having a positive mindset in relation to yourself can bring more positive circumstances your way.
That’s an outcome you deserve, lovely mum.
What’s 1 change you can make today to help you speak kindly to yourself?