Our tendency to be self-critical in how we talk to ourselves can be influenced and fueled by our upbringing, social norms and paradigms, mental illness, and a myriad of other factors.
However, the way we talk to ourselves and about ourselves makes a huge difference to our mental health. Whether we have a mental illness or not, verbal abuse directed toward ourselves can have a significant detrimental effect on our well-being.
To be your own bully is to live in an unsafe place 24/7, where we can never relax because we never know when the next blow to our sense of self-worth and self-esteem might come.
Which makes sense. If you had a roommate who followed you around everywhere you went telling you that you are worthless, stupid, and a failure, it would quickly drag you down. You wouldn’t stand for that kind of abuse, right? And yet each of us may find that we go around telling ourselves those same kinds of things in our minds.
When you make a mistake at work, do you think something like “You’re so stupid”? If you’re single, do you find yourself thinking “No one is going to ever find me attractive, I’m so out of shape”? If your anxiety or depression prevents you from accomplishing a task you hoped or needed to do, do you say to yourself “What a failure”?
If you had a friend who made these kind of comments to you, you’d probably stop hanging out with them. But you can’t stop hanging out with yourself. Wherever you go, you are always there. But what you can do is change the way you talk to yourself in your mind.
It’s not easy. Negative self-talk is a really difficult habit to break. Often those negative comments are influenced by negative beliefs about ourselves that can be deeply ingrained. But the more we catch ourselves being a bully to ourselves and kindly replace those negative thoughts with more balanced and more compassionate thoughts about ourselves, the more positive, resilient, and peaceful we’ll become.
The key is to talk to yourself the way you would to your best friend or to a child–to be gentle and kind, even when you’re being honest about a shortcoming, because you care about hurting your own feelings just like you would care about hurting their feelings.
So next time you screw up at work, instead of saying “You’re an idiot” maybe try “You made a mistake, but its gonna be okay, w’ell figure out a way to fix this!”
Next time you think you are too unattractive to ever find a date, try telling yourself “I love you just the way you are. A good mate will love you just the way you are, too. I don’t want you to be loved for your looks, I want you to be loved for your heart, and you have a good heart.”
Next time your mental illness prevents you from accomplishing something important, try telling yourself “I’m sorry, this is so disappointing and discouraging, isn’t it? Cut yourself some slack, you are dealing with a lot. I believe in you, and maybe tomorrow you will be up for it. Whatever happens, I’m on your team. We’re in this together.”
An awesome lady in our ward shared a great thought in church about self-talk that I wanted to share on here as well. She said that because the Holy Spirit testifies of truth, whenever you think true thoughts about yourself, the Spirit can be with you. But, when you are thinking untrue thoughts about yourself (that negative self-talk like “I am worthless” or “I’ll never be good enough”), the peace and light of the Spirit can’t dwell there.
This made a lot of sense to me, and really helps explain another reason why self-critical and self-bullying thoughts lead to despair and sometimes to yielding to temptations to sin.
Even when we make moral mistakes, God’s message to us isn’t “you’re worthless, it’s hopeless” it is “Repent, and I will receive you.”
There really is no good reason to bully yourself. It is like shooting yourself in the foot in so many ways.
There is every reason to be kind, compassionate, and encouraging with yourself. It will give you the strength and resilience you need to keep moving forward and have a fulfilling life.