“I’m so clumsy.” “Oh, what an idiot I am.” “I just know I’m going to screw this relationship up.”
Since negative self-talk is so commonplace, we may not think twice before these words slip out of our mouths. Some of them may have been implanted by those who raised us and we took them on as valid. Others are as a result of interpreting life experiences and deciding they mean we are doomed to repeat our past failures and disappointments.
They are more an impulsive reaction than a well-considered response to external occurrences such as tripping over something in our way, anticipating a test, or a big event looming in the future. Sometimes it seems we attract the same person in a different body as we meet new partners. Much of this is self-fulfilling prophecy.
This morning, I read a thread on a friend’s Facebook page and was deeply touched by a story she shared about an interaction with her young son. Jamie Barone is what I call an Inspirista who has treasures to share with her readers.
“My Beautiful Boy:
So, today, as I sat alongside my beautiful boy, who’s 10 years young, helping him with his fifth grade homework, a particular subject that he’s been struggling with stumped him, and as he worked to erase the wrong answer, he looked defeated and ready to give up, it was then… that I witnessed him saying aloud that, he’s too stupid and can’t do it… and… my heart dropped into the pit of my stomach.
And, it was then, struggling to hold the tears back, that I took his sweet little hands in mine, looked deeply into his eyes and held his gaze, and gently said, “I do not ever want to hear you speak badly about My Son again.
My, Beautiful, Son, is incredibly smart, amazingly talented, brilliant actually, so funny, always has me laughing and my heart filled with pure joy… and, he is so kind and Loving… My Son is filled with a compassion and Love that is a rare, rare gem in this world… My Son is gentle, and strong, and can do whatever he needs to do in this life. What. Ever. He. Needs. To. Do. So, no, do not ever speak badly about My Son. Do you understand what I am saying?”
Time stopped. His eyes filled with tears and they brightened in such a way as though a light bulb went on and he realized what he just did, and he realized just how valuable he is… on a deeper level than ever. And we held each other in a beautiful mama and son embrace. I shared with him how to uplift his beautiful spirit and just how powerful he is. How to speak positive affirmations over himself. We’ve done this all along but, today, something clicked.
And he went on to uplift himself… And he went on to ACE the difficulty he was having. And a newfound belief in himself.
My Beautiful Boy…
My Beautiful Boy…
This brought me to tears as I realized what a transformation occurred when this astute mother knew just what to say to bolster her son’s flagging sense of self.
Further, it occurred to me how often adults speak to themselves the way they would NEVER speak to a friend or loved one. We are often harder on ourselves than we ever would be on anyone else, even as we might want them to alter their behavior. In many decades as a therapist, I have not seen my clients change by berating them for the actions they have taken that may have led to some pretty dire consequences. I have said to them, as well as to friends whom I have observed being excessively harsh and critical toward themselves, “Don’t you dare be mean to my client/friend and speak to them that way! ” My protective mama bear bares her claws and helps the other person stand up to the internal bully. I am learning to do the same for myself. She is not always as readily available for me as she is for others.
I have my own inner critic, who I call Perfectionista, who looks over her glasses perched on the edge of her nose as she glares at me, admonishing, “You should know better. After all, you are a therapist, have all this education and you still fall into co-dependent and addictive patterns. When will you learn?”
When I am at my wit’s end with her, rather than butting heads relentlessly, I give her the important job of organizing the details of my life,, such as scheduling the many and varied jobs I juggle, running daily errands and packing for recent back to back trips to Canada and Oregon. She’s really good at that. It keeps her occupied and keeps me sane and vertical.
Brené Brown, PhD, the well-known research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and author of The Gifts Of Imperfection, refers to her nagging inner critic as The Gremlin. She blatantly and with conviction shares her own flaws and faux pas, both as a means of reminding herself that she is fully human, as well as to model for others that it really is acceptable for them to be as well. Her TED Talk on vulnerability speaks to that. Lately, I have been taking a page from this therapeutic, journalistic colleague’s life book as I embrace my own.
Often, I catch myself in a downward spiral into inner-critic hell as I feel shame creep in that my life isn’t always as I would have it be. Several years ago, I saw a sign by a punch clock where I worked that read, “The beatings will continue until morale improves around here,” as if somehow we will become more adept by putting ourselves down. What I have learned is that it is important to buoy ourselves up, rather than bullying ourselves down.