I will never forget the time I confused the time of my Biology exam when I was at university and showed up too late. I was devastated. I had studied so hard for this exam, and then to show up at the wrong time was just such a let down. I walked back to my little car in the university carpark and just sat there for a moment trying not to cry. How could I have done this! I turned on my car radio and the song playing was “Stupid Girl” by Garbage, the lyrics reflecting exactly how I was already feeling about myself;
“You Stupid Girl
You Stupid Girl
All you had you wasted
All you had you wasted”
I honestly felt like I was stupid, and that I had wasted this opportunity. I wasn’t surprised as I already thought very little of myself. What was I even thinking? As if I was smart enough to be at university! (I was completely ignoring the fact that I was in my final year of university, and that I was not only passing, but receiving distinctions and high distinctions.) Somehow I was able to dismiss anything I had already achieved and quickly decide I was a failure, and that I was stupid.
I felt like a ‘fake’ like somehow I had simply fooled people into thinking I was smart enough to be at university, when really I was just stupid, unintelligent and undeserving. Finally by missing this exam I had proven myself right.
It might sound ridiculous, and to be honest looking back it saddens me that I wasted so much of my life believing these self-defeating thoughts! Why was I so hard on myself!? What made me think it was OK to talk to myself the way I did? My internal dialogue was cruel and harsh, yet I had spoken this way to myself for so long that I couldn’t even recognise it was a problem. Instead of looking at the evidence right in front of my eyes, I chose to keep believing the lies I was telling myself.
My thought pattern was so ill-conceived, what seems obvious now, was not then.
The evidence was that I was in my final year, I had never missed an exam before, my marks were very high. Yet I chose to ignore all of that and conclude I was fake, stupid, and worthless.
The reason I am telling you this is to demonstrate how powerful our internal dialogue is, and how if we tell ourselves negative things it can become easy to believe them, despite clear evidence to the contrary.
Our inner critic can develop a strange logic that believes if we already only expect the worst of ourselves then we are less likely to be hurt if someone else criticises us, or we fail at something. It believes it is protecting us, when in fact it can limit us and hurt us. When something or someone offends us we need to be our own cheerleader, not our worst critic. Think about the times you have made mistakes, did you call yourself stupid, or think you were a looser? This kind of negative self-talk only serves to make you feel worse, it serves no helpful purpose.
You may think these small remarks don’t really matter, but imagine now you were talking to a small child (you can picture a younger version of yourself, or a child you know), imagine now you are telling this child they are stupid, fake, fat, ugly, worthless. Imagine that child’s face as you tell them this. Imagine telling them this a few times each day. Imagine telling that little child that year after year.
It goes without saying that they will take on this belief about themselves and will see it as their truth. It is the same when you tell yourself these things over and over, you truly start to see it as your truth despite the evidence that clearly says otherwise.
The positive news though is you can change your thought pattern! Even though you may have had a negative and critical internal dialogue for years, it is possible, with work, to change and begin to see yourself for the beautiful, intelligent person you are! By paying attention to the way you talk to yourself, and by realising you are in control of your inner voice, you can change the messages you are giving yourself.
You truly need to become your own friend, your own advocate. Just like you wouldn’t put up with someone saying horrible things about someone you love, your child, your best friend, your pet, don’t put up with you saying horrible things to yourself!
Chose the words you say to yourself carefully. Really think about your dialogue, and your tone.
Become mindful of your words. If you are saying harsh things, become critical of these, examine the evidence to dismiss the criticism and search for the truth based on fact, not old patterns of thought. Alliteratively, if you are being positive and choosing kind words then believe these thoughts and don’t dismiss them so easily.
Instead of saying things like “I should have been doing this . . .”, say “I will do this . . .”. Instead of saying “I have to do this and this and this . . .”, try saying “First I will do this . . . today, and then I will move on to my next task”.
Don’t make sweeping statements like “I am stupid”, instead say “I made a mistake, now I will look at what I can do to make this better, or solve this issue.”
For me it felt very strange when I first started trying to be kind to myself. I had set up a lifelong pattern of not being good enough and believing the negative thoughts and internal dialogue I used. It felt foreign to compliment myself. The thought of attempting to believe I deserved good things, or that I could ever possibly love myself felt utterly ridiculous. When we have spent a lifetime telling ourselves we are unworthy, it isn’t going to be something we can change overnight. But with persistence, and learning to catch myself out when my self-talk was critical and hurtful I soon began to examine the real evidence and see that I was in fact a good person, and someone worthy of happiness and love.
Loving yourself isn’t about believing you are perfect and incapable of mistakes, it is about knowing it is ok to make mistakes and accepting you are still a good person who is loveable and deserving of wonderful things in your life.
If you are struggling with how you talk to yourself, just think of yourself as that little child, and each time you go to put her or him down, stop yourself and change what you are saying. Catch yourself out and refuse to put yourself down. Accept that mistakes are ok, and you will learn from them. Then say something nice about yourself. Even if at first it feels wrong to compliment yourself just persist, trust me if I can get there, you can too.
In case you were wondering, I spoke to my examiner and was able to sit the exam later. I graduated later that same year.
Thanks for joining me, love Mackenzie xx
Don’t forget to stop by and link up every Monday with #mg link up. And Thursday for #abloggingggodtime.