Many will say that we are our own worst critic; and many will say this because it is true. We all constantly communicate with ourselves, whether we are aware of it or not. And most of the time, unfortunately, our default method of communication is harsh criticism and unjustified critique. “Why did I do this,” or, “I could have done this better,” or, “I’m such a moron, why am I acting this way?” This incessant self-talk has been found to have a profound effect on our overall sense of well-being, self-confidence, and general contentedness. In short, the way in which we speak to ourselves affects the way we feel and act. Marilyn Sorenson, PhD, explains, “You become the architect and creator of the emotions you later experience through self-talk. Emotions do not come as the result of an observation or an experience, but rather as the result of the things we say to ourselves about those situations. Thus, two people can have the same experience or observe the same event and come away with very different emotions.”
While it is very human to unfairly critique our own actions from time-to-time, healthy self-talk relies on encouragement, support, and a deep understanding of human fallibility. Of course, there is a big difference between forgiving ourselves for making mistakes and condoning repetitious, negative behavior. But many of us forget that we are human, and disallow ourselves any room for error. We hold ourselves up to unrealistically high standards, and when we fail to meet these standards, we condemn ourselves as inadequate or incapable or less than. Around 80 years ago (give or take), Norman Vincent Peale, an American minister and author, first championed the concept of positive thinking. His bestselling book The Power of Positive Thinking became a pillar of American self-help culture during the 1950s, and while his techniques were controversial throughout the psychiatric community, he truly popularized the concept of positive self-talk.
Some of us will develop erroneous patterns of thinking, based off of a negative core belief (or another faulty and self-defeating conviction, often one that was instilled in early adolescence). These “thinking errors” become entrenched through repeated affirmation and ongoing self-talk. When these “thinking errors” are created and realistic thinking and language in our self-talk is abandoned, our emotional self will suffer greatly. For example, we may be taught from an early age that we are bad, and therefore unlovable. We will adopt this belief, and convince ourselves (later on in life) that we will always be alone. For years upon years we may speak to ourselves (without even realizing we are doing so), in a way that endorses this belief. “What’s the point of dating, I’ll always be alone,” we may tell ourselves. “No one will ever love me.” “I’d better get used to being alone, things are never going to change.”
When such language is used, we are essentially laying a thick, residual layer of discouragement, hopelessness, and fear over our emotional selves. If we go on speaking to ourselves like this for years, we lay down layers upon layers – eventually, the layers begin to bear their own weight. They are substantial and smothering, and lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental ailments that disallow us the ability to function in an emotionally healthy way. Changing any old pattern takes ample time and practice, and engaging in positive self-talk is no different. Rather than saying to yourself, “I’ll always be alone,” try saying something more along the lines of, “Finding the right person takes time. But I am lovable, and I have a lot to offer, and I will continue reaching out.”
Treating Ourselves with Love
Buddha once said, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” Still, many of us find it much easier to treat others with respect and kindness – treating ourselves with the same level of compassion is difficult. But we cannot pour from an empty glass, so to speak, and treating ourselves with love and affection (expressed through a healthy self-dialogue and realistic thinking) will open the door for a healthy and fulfilled emotional existence. The old adage goes, “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” Of course, we must also remember to treat ourselves as we would like to be treated. And again, while instilling new patterns of thinking takes ample time, there is no better time to start than today. So give yourself a quick pat on the back, wipe a smile on your face, and say to yourself, “Thank you for showing up for me today. You’re awesome, capable, and really quite essential.”