When I received this as a suggestion for an awesome challenge, I was puzzled. Probably because my self-talk tends not to be terribly awesome – at least not in a positive way.
So to face this challenge, I decided to spend a couple of days becoming aware of the type of self-talk that actually goes on in my head. The results unfortunately confirmed what I already know: I am often my harshest critic.
Lose a glove in the dryer? “Idiot!”
Trip over a box in the hallway? “Klutz!”
Forget to make a phone call? “Moron! You are always f***ing up!”
If anyone spoke to the people I love the way I speak to myself, I would have to hire a hit man. Yet I allow myself to continue unabated.
It’s perfectionism, I think. That all-or-nothing attitude that says if I didn’t get it right this time, I will never get it right. It’s either perfect or a piece of crap. Black or white, never a shade of gray.
Once aware of my tendency to castigate myself over even the simplest human foibles, I determined to turn this behavior around … at least for a day. Every time I heard that nasty little bitch in my head (see? Even that’s an insult!) chiding me for some actual or perceived error in judgment, I would replace her with a kinder, gentler version, reminding me that I’m being the best me I can be today. And that is good enough.
I didn’t realize how much work this would be. Or how often I’d have to stop myself from negative self-talk. Pretty much my whole morning routine was spent with the tape playing in the background that said, “Hurry up, you’re gonna be late, you don’t have time to do that, you shouldn’t have knocked the alarm off the second time …” I found myself having to stop, take a deep breath, look at the clock and remind myself that there was plenty of time, the deadlines I was concerned with were more or less self-imposed, and the world would not end if I walked into the room five minutes late.
As I brushed my hair, I heard her again. “Ugh, another bad hair day. It’s flipping OVER instead of UNDER. It did that last night too for the party. It never looks the same as it does at the hairdresser’s. You must be doing something wrong …” Stop! My hair is fine. I am grateful I have so much of it, and I’m pretty sure not one single soul at the party last night went onto Facebook to tell everyone that Joni’s AWFUL hair absolutely ruined the festivities.
When I started my workday, my stomach did a flip. “Oh my God, there’s way too much work here to finish on time!” Never mind that EVERY time I’ve thought that, I’ve somehow managed to complete my assignments promptly. That is still the first thought to pop into my head – “I’m not good enough. I’m a phony. Someone will eventually catch on to me and reveal my total inadequacy.”
By mid-morning, I had already caught myself talking negatively to myself over a dozen times. I felt like the guy with the little angel on one shoulder and the little devil on the other, having a constant tug-of-war over which of them was in charge. Eventually I gave up trying.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, ”No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” Yet I give myself permission to do so many times every day. And I wonder if I even have the capability of stopping it.
Who knows? Maybe that nasty little bitch in my head will someday leave and be replaced by that “still, small voice” I’ve heard so much about … the one that loves me unconditionally. Even if I lose a glove, trip over a box or forget to make a phone call.