A few weeks ago, I made an appearance on a local morning show. I was on there talking about what I call "bucket list living" and giving tips for people on how they can get started living a more meaningful and exciting life, instead of putting it off until later.
It's a topic I am super passionate about. I've written about it numerous times and taught many webinars, as well as my e-course on the same topic. Yet, there I was... a nervous wreck before airtime, giving myself a stomach ache and after it was over... well, that's when the real attack started.
But I don't mean an attack by someone else. In fact, all I got on my way out of the studio was compliments on how great the segment was and how much everyone loved my advice (it was the same type of response I had received on my other appearances before that too). No, the attack that immediately took place was in MY MIND.
It's not even a conscious thing most of the time. It's just something that would sort of "automatically" happen. I would do something... whether it was as significant as a TV appearance or as insignificant as lunch with a friend and as soon as I walked away from it, the dialogue would start:
Did I sound dumb when I said....?
Do I look awful in this outfit?
Should I have talked slower?
Did I ask enough questions?
Did he/she understand what I meant when I said...?
Why did I say that? I am such an idiot.
I hate how my voice sounds.
I wish my hair looked better.
And on and on it would go. A constant berating that half the time wasn't grounded in truth at all.
It's a "habit" that I've had for almost as long as I can remember, but it hasn't been until recently, that I started realizing what was going on.
Here I was, just coming off of a television appearance... that's pretty cool, right? And they obviously liked me enough to have me on multiple times. I am super passionate about the subject matter and I was getting a chance to inspire lots of people both in the studio and the viewing audience... yet, I wasn't focusing on any of that. No, instead of thinking about any of those positive things, I was mentally criticizing every single word I spoke or move I made.
Unfortunately, this is all too common of an occurrence with women (and I'm sure some men too!) of all ages, races, income levels, backgrounds and lifestyles. In fact, a few months back, I did a little survey to see just how bad the struggle with perfectionism was... not necessarily the classic "definition" of perfectionism as in being the perfect wife, perfect friend, perfect employee. But to an even larger degree... being the perfect person and not allowing ourselves any mistakes or flaws.
The results were sadly what I expected.
Women from all walks of life... successful women with great jobs, beautiful families and amazing talents... virtually unable to enjoy any of it because of the constant negative chatter in their brains.
I asked them if they knew where it originated from and (like me) many of them had the same answer - FAMILY. Ah yes, the wonders of childhood and just how damaging it can be. But it wasn't just for those people that had traumatic or tumultuous childhoods, it could be something as simple as a mother's outlook or a father's belief system that set the stage for all the self-bashing that would come later in life. One woman shared with me a story about how she sat down to learn to cross-stitch as a young girl with her grandmother. She accidentally missed a stitch on one line and when her grandmother realized it, she pulled it away, undid the entire thing and told her to start over.
She said she never attempted cross-stitch again.
It's amazing how these seemingly small interactions and experiences can have such a lasting impression and negative impact on the way we view ourselves for months, even years afterward.
And for those of us that did grow up in environments that were stressful, the effect can be even more intense. For example, I learned to be the mediator or "peacemaker" in my family as a young child, so I became good at trying to control everything that I could control to make sure it was "just right." At the time, I'm sure my young self thought it would serve a purpose - if I acted just right and looked just right and everything around me was just right, then there'd be peace. Right?
But what starts as a young child's survival mechanism can morph into an endless negative soundtrack in our minds throughout our adult lives if we're not careful.
But you wanna hear the good news?
We can shut off that voice in our heads!
In fact, the first step is just recognizing that it's there in the first place, so if you've already done that, you're well on your way!
Now, I could write an entire book about how to get over ourselves (in fact... I am!) but for now, here are a few tips to get you started and get that negative Nancy that's been shacking up in your brain to take a hike:
1. Ignore those thoughts.
This might sound kind of crazy, but for most people, this is actually a BIG step. Because as human beings, we just naturally tend to pay attention to everything we think. If we think "I look ugly in these pants," then we assume that is indeed the truth and I DO look ugly in these pants. Except you might go out that day and get 5 compliments from total strangers. So then guess what, that thought wasn't very true was it? Point being, we have thousands of thoughts that pass through our brain every day, many of them on "auto pilot." So, we cannot and SHOULD not give every one of them our time and attention. Now that you are becoming more aware of this negative voice in your head and realizing that you don't want it there anymore, you can choose to stop listening to it. The thoughts may still come, but you can recognize them in the moment and simply redirect your attention or let the thought go immediately. You can even say something out loud like "no", "delete!" or "get ye out of my brain!" Whatever works for you. ;)
The point is, thoughts DO NOT always equal truth.
2. Replace them with good things.
Now, I will admit this is the part that I had trouble with for a long time. Whenever I heard about positive affirmations, I was the first to roll my eyes uber-dramatically. One, because I thought they were super cheesy and two, because I thought, "I am never going to believe myself, so what's the point?"
Well, now I get the point.
The point is you can't just will away the negative thoughts and then do nothing to fill in the empty space. Your brain has been chugging away for years thinking negative things about yourself - you're not smart enough, you're not tall enough, you're not skinny enough, you're not talented enough... you're not ENOUGH. So, you have to start filling it up with good things about yourself. Whether you believe them at first, doesn't really matter. Because in the beginning anyway, that's not even so much what it's about. First, you need to just start loading it up with positive things to think about. And don't be surprised if you feel resistance. A lot of it. Your brain is a stubborn thing and it will revolt a little at first because it's going to say "this is not the program!" But you simply say, "oh yes, it is" and you keep on going.
You can start with simple affirmations like:
I am good enough.
I am loved.
I am talented.
I am beautiful.
Or you can get very descriptive for your life:
I am confident about speaking at suchandsuch conference.
I am a loving and competent mother to Johnny and Suzie.
My body is beautiful and strong just the way it is.
You can start with affirmations from other people or just make up your own based on what feels right for you. Just make sure you start battling those negative thoughts with some positive ones!
3. Shed the guilt and shame.
So much of the negative soundtrack and self-berating talk comes from old issues that we still have with ourselves from the past. Now I don't know if anyone's told you this lately, but shame and guilt do absolutely NOTHING to change a situation. Nothing. Feeling guilt or shame over a past event will not erase the event, it will not change the effects of the event and most likely, it won't prevent the event from happening again. All it will actually do, is keep you feeling miserable in the present moment. It's kind of like forcing yourself to relive something over and over again on loop, with no end in sight.
Sounds pretty crazy, right?
Now, I know from experience, that often this can be easier said then done. But you CAN shed the guilt and shame, it will just take some effort. Often times, even though we are carrying these past experiences super close to ourselves, we've still never really stopped to let ourselves process them. And once we actually do, it can be a lot easier to let them go. You can speak to a counselor, pray, journal about it or all of the above, but take some time to actually face those demons, extract whatever lessons you need to learn from the situation(s) and then release it. For good.
4. Stop getting your worth from others.
Again, easier said then done, I know. But most (if not all) of these self-berating thoughts are usually based on what others will think. What will they think of how I look, how I act, what I say, what I have. It's all focused on "them" except... who are "they" anyway? They're just a bunch of other people who are concerned with what you think about them!
So, it's time to stop worrying about them and remember that your worth comes from God. You were created to be the special, unique YOU that you are. No one else. So in essence, it doesn't really matter anyway! Your hair wasn't supposed to look like theirs... your voice is supposed to sound different and you certainly weren't made to live their life, so stop trying to!
5. Be graceful with yourself.
This was actually one of the most challenging things for me to do. It's funny because I am a nurturer by nature... I like to take care of others and I am always kind, understanding and patient when they are going through a trial or feeling down. But then when it would come to me, that would all go right out the window! I'd forget all about being patient or compassionate and just try to "shake it off", "get over it" or worse, shove it all inside. And again, I know I am not alone. Women are especially susceptible to this because by nature we are caregivers - feeling like we need to put everyone else's needs before our own.
Except, you matter too.
It's important for us all to slow down, take a breath and be patient with ourselves. Extend some grace and some compassion. If you have to, think about how you would act if it were a close friend or family member that was suffering and then treat yourself the same way. Or better yet, picture it is a child that is upset. You wouldn't demean a child for something that they said or did, would you? So why do it to yourself?
Loving yourself and lifting yourself up is not selfish or inappropriate. It's necessary. You cannot effectively love others or be the person that God created you to be if you are constantly tearing yourself inside.
So, stop the madness. Be aware. Be forgiving. Be kind. And tell that negative voice in your head once and for all... it's time to GET OUT!
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